By Rick Pfeiffer
— WHEATFIELD -- The last time Erie County SPCA Executive Director Barbara Carr faced cameras and microphones at the SPCA of Niagara, she was wiping tears from her eyes.
On Wednesday, she was smiling broadly.
"This organization, in no way, resembles the organization I looked at in January 2012," Carr said of the local shelter.
Called in to review the shelter's operations in the wake of a Gazette investigation that revealed the routine killing of dogs and cats and a pervasive failure to provide necessary medical care to animals left at its shelter among other equally severe problems, Carr delivered a stinging indictment of the SPCA of Niagara's Board of Directors and its executive director.
Carr labeled the Lockport Road shelter “dysfunctional" and said it engaged in "awful ... excruciatingly painful” methods of euthanization.
She said she had not been back to the shelter until she was invited by the new SPCA board to conduct a follow-up review of its operations. Her original report in the shelter was 115 pages long and took three weeks to investigate and prepare.
Carr's report of an April 4 inspection of the facility was just three pages.
"I didn't do a 'turn everything over' (inspection) on this shelter visit," Carr said. "I didn't have to."
Carr said records that had been incomplete or lacking a year earlier were now easily accessed and up-to-date. She said major issues concerning medical practices at the shelter "have all been remedied."
Asked by reporters to pinpoint the reason for the turn around, Carr gave the credit to current shelter Director Amy Lewis.
"The major difference (from last year) is Amy," Carr said. "She knows what she's doing. She understands how to care for animals and how to ask for help if she needs it."
Carr also said the shelter's new board of directors, elected in May 2012 when the old board stepped down, has "met frequently" and "worked hard to bring forward movement to the organization."
"The new board is fully invested in change," Carr said.
Among Carr's recommendations in her latest report are calls for additional staff training and "professional development" for board members.
"I anticipate all those things will happen," she said.
Carr said her greatest concern for the shelter, in the future, is a continuing lack of adequate financial support from the community.
"If (the community) wants a great SPCA, they have to step up to the plate and support the organization," Carr said. "I was very sorry to find that donations from the community have remained fairly low."
Carr backs plans by the new board to bring on an administrative and fundraising executive. Board President Bryan Barish said finding that person remains a priority.
"We're still in the process of creating a long-term strategic plan and when that is completed, we'll look at getting (a fundraiser) on board."
Lewis said membership at the shelter is up from 2012 and adoption rates have doubled from the height of the animal care crisis.
"They are at the point where they are saving all the healthy animals that come to them," Carr said.
Despite continued limited resources, Carr said that, unlike her last visit, the Niagara County shelter is now "well run" and full of "happy healthy animals."
"It was my first time back and it was delightful to be here," Carr said.