by Susan Mikula Campbell
"He's the boss," said Andrew Bell, indicating the black and white cat sprawled on the desk at the SPCA of Niagara.
As Bell sat behind his new desk, Sam the cat regally accepted a scratch behind the ears and spread out bonelessly claiming more territory. Sam, after all, came to the SPCA first. Bell just started his new job as executive director on Oct. 1.
Bell, the owner of Grandpaws Pet Emporium in Lewiston, was elected to the SPCA's board of directors this year after the previous executive director and board failed to weather news and protests over high euthanasia rates and methods of euthanizing animals.
Amy Lewis, previously with the SPCA in Erie County, was hired as the SPCA of Niagara's executive director and Bell was eventually elected board president. The new board and Lewis soon had the SPCA on the road to a "no kill" shelter, but Lewis found herself putting in extra long hours at the facility, plus taking work home.
The board decided that with so much more work needing to be done, there wasn't enough time in the day for one person to run the entire operation. Bell was named executive director to focus on business needs and expenses. Lewis was named shelter director to focus on the no kill initiative.
Bryan Barish, of All Breed Obedience in Lockport, was voted in as new board president. Dave Bauer, a Niagara Falls Police officer, was voted new vice president.
"My focus will be getting the organization on a sound financial footing, regenerating our fundraising and making the customer experience a pleasant one," Bell said. "Mainly with moving to no kill, Amy was being stretched too thin. The board decided that by splitting the roles, both would be done better. This is in no way a criticism of work Amy Lewis has done. We want to allow her to concentrate on where her best skills are."
Bell noted that under Lewis' and the new board's direction, the no kill rate at the shelter broke the 90 percent mark last month, which generally is considered the benchmark of a no kill facility.
Bell said he will "absolutely" miss his Lewiston store, but has left it in the capable hands of his new manager Beth Skellen.
"I felt my time is really needed here, to really make this into a premier facility," he said. "There are so many good people associated with this organization now and so much good will in the community. We've already repaired some of the damage."
Lewis will be focusing on the animals, their care and fostering or adopting them out. Among her latest innovations is regular playgroups to help socialize the animals and make them more adoptable.
She's excited about the change, believing it another step in achieving the facility's new goals.
"I'm going to be more hands-on with the staff and the animals," she said. "I'm just pleased all around. This is kind of where my heart is."
Next up at the SPCA is a "Zombie Fest" fundraiser, featuring a zombie dog walk and costume contest, from 2 to 11 p.m. Oct. 27.
"The message I'd like to get out to the community is we do still need help both financially and in person (volunteers). Please give us a call if you have any interest, time or money," Bell reminded residents.
To view adoptable animals, at the SPCA of Niagara, visit 2100 Lockport Road, Wheatfield, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from noon to 8 p.m., Fridays from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m., or visit the website at www.niagaraspca.org.