by Susan Mikula Campbell
The SPCA of Niagara still has problems to solve - hiring a new permanent director, nominating and electing a new board of directors, and regaining the trust of its public.
However, everyday routine at the facility carries on. Dogs in the kennel bark and caper for attention. Volunteers play with cats of all sizes and colors in the cat room. A black rabbit moves closer to the wall of its cage in the lobby, the better to be petted.
And, newly appointed interim director Amy Lewis already is quietly working to find more homes for the animals and bring down the stress level for the staff.
When she began working as interim director about two weeks ago tension in the building was high. Staff and volunteers had even received death threats.
"They were incredibly welcoming," she said of the staff. "They had suggestions and ideas for ways to move forward."
Much of her first week was spent on the telephone "putting out a lot of fires," she admits, however, she has begun making operational changes to make the shelter run smoothly and make the staff's job easier.
She has already started training the staff on PetPoint, an animal management program, straightened out a "kind of goofy" scheduling system for drivers and assigned a supervisor who reports to her for each department. Her style is "very open door, very hands on," she said.
Even before the protestors began marching outside the SPCA of Niagara, it had a bad reputation in the community for euthanizing animals. Niagara County residents would often surrender animals to the Erie County shelter, because they were hesitant to leave them at the Niagara County facility, Lewis said.
She now has a trained volunteer to do dog evaluations. "Any dog that does not pass the evaluation, I do a second one to see if there is something we can do at the shelter to correct the problem, if we can send it to a foster home, or if we can transfer it to a rescue organization," she said.
Also, as is done in Erie County, people who surrender an animal can make a deposit that ensures they will be notified so they can reclaim it if every attempt to place the animal fails.
"There are definitely going to be fewer euthanizations of animals; there's definitely fewer right now," Lewis said.
Tabby Town, a rescue group operating out of the McKinley Mall, has offered the SPCA of Niagara a permanent cage there.
"We're in the process of either building relationships with local rescue groups or repairing relationships that have fallen to the wayside," Lewis said.
Lewis has been an animal lover since she was a child growing up in Lockport. She now lives in Buffalo, where she has four cats and two dogs. She started working for the SPCA Serving Erie County seven and a half years ago, moving up through the ranks to animal rescue, admissions and behavior supervisor.
Lewis is unsure yet on whether she wants to be a candidate for the permanent position of director at the Lockport Road facility, but admits it is a possibility.
"I feel kind of at home here," she said.
Staff and volunteers agree.
"Her interest is here; it really and truly is," said volunteer Carol Iannello of Lewiston. "There's been good changes made in just the short period of time she's been here."
"It isn't all paperwork with her," said volunteer Denise Sirianni of LaSalle. "She stops and talks with you. She pays attention to the animals in the back. She's very calm; things don't get her riled."
In addition to Lewis, the SPCA's board of directors has appointed a supervising veterinarian, Dr. Peter J. Freyburger of Pendleton.
"Everything is kind of in place right now to actually move forward," Lewis said. "It's really important for the public to know that changes are being made every day, and in order for the organization to move forward, we need their support."
That support can be given, she said, as a donor, volunteer or new pet owner.