By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette — WHEATFIELD — One of the architects of the turnaround of the SPCA of Niagara is stepping away.
The organization's board of directors announced on Thursday that Shelter Executive Director Andrew Bell would be leaving his post to return to the full-time operation of Grandpaw's Place, his Lewiston pet retail business.
Bell became the shelter's executive director in October in a management reorganization put in place by the SPCA board. At that time, the board of directors decided to split what had been a single executive position into two posts.
The move saw Bell, who had been the board president, step into the executive director's post. At the same time, the then executive director, Amy Lewis, moved into a new position as shelter director.
The SPCA board said it hoped that the reorganization would allow Lewis to devote all her efforts to animal care and converting the Lockport Road facility into a "No Kill" shelter. Bell was expected to take over administrative and fundraising duties.
In a statement posted on the shelter's website, the board praised Bell's work.
"During his tenure, Andrew was instrumental in stabilizing the organization and preparing our shelter to meet future challenges and goals." the board statement read. "Andrew worked diligently on the business aspect of the shelter and afforded Shelter Director Amy Lewis the time necessary to bring our No-Kill initiative to fruition."
The shelter had been rocked by reports of mismanagement and animal maltreatment contained in a Gazette investigation that broke on New Year's Day 2012. The Gazette storlies led to the firing of the then shelter Executive Director John Faso and a review of operations there by Erie County SPCA Executive Director Barbara Carr.
In a scathing 115-page review, Carr called the operation of the shelter “chaotic” and “dysfunctional” and said many of the practices there were “totally improper,” “awful” and “excruciatingly painful” to some of the animals in its care.
The report led the shelter's then board of directors to call for the election of a new board and the rewriting of the organization's by-laws.
Since the election of the shelter's current board of directors, and under the direction of Bell and Lewis, survival rates have risen from 88 percent in early 2012 to 95 percent by the end of year. That rate has remained steady in 2013.
"Andrew worked closely with the staff and volunteers and, together, they brought a new and positive feeling of success to the SPCA family and (the) public," the Board statement read. "The Board of Directors offers its heartfelt thanks to Andrew for his dedication and hard work and wishes him well in the future."
Reached late Thursday evening, Bell indicted that he had viewed his job as the shelter executive director as transitional.
"I think I achieved what I wanted to do," he said. "We're moving in the right direction."
Bell said he would "be around to help" while the search for his successor is under way.
The board said it is "in the process of formulating plans to launch a nationwide search for a permanent executive director experienced in nonprofit organizations."
Board President Bryan Barish said he expected the search to begin within the next month.
"We brought Andrew in to help us stabilize the operation," Barish said. "Once that happened, Andrew decided that he would go back to his business."