Bell back to Grandpaws pet store
by Susan Mikula Campbell
A Dumpster fire outside the SPCA of Niagara on Lockport Road in Wheatfield Tuesday afternoon will result in some extra security measures at the facility.
Town of Niagara Police responded to the call at 12:39 p.m. at the request of the Niagara County Sheriff's Office. The fire was extinguished by the Sanborn Volunteer Fire Co., and the Bergholz Fire Volunteer Co. also responded. At one point, flames were reported as high as the nearby SPCA building.
Town of Niagara Police Lt. Craig Guiliani said the cause of the fire will be listed as undetermined and the case closed, since there was no evidence left at the scene and the contents of the Dumpster burned.
SPCA officials aren't so sure it was an accident.
Shelter Director Amy Lewis and board of directors President Bryan Barish agreed that the thought of possible arson crossed their minds, but there was no proof.
"Dumpsters, especially in 36-degree weather, filled with mostly newspapers and old blankets, don't spontaneously combust," Lewis said.
Some old, soiled blankets had been put in the Dumpster on Tuesday and its door was closed. An SPCA driver left the facility and everything around the Dumpster was fine. Five minutes later, another driver pulled in and saw the door to the Dumpster open and flames inside, Lewis said.
The SPCA has been the victim of trespassers before, notably last summer, when during an outside event, someone entered the facility, released dogs from their kennels and opened an exit door.
If Tuesday's Dumpster fire had spread to the facility, it would have been at the point where the kennels for strays are. Lewis said no people or animals were harmed by the fire, but due to smoky conditions in the kennels, the large garage doors on the side of the building were opened to clear the air.
Barish said an alarm system is being installed this week and the board also is considering security cameras.
If the fire was deliberately set, "it's a shame, because we're accomplishing so much," he said, noting that the shelter under new management is now a no-kill shelter saving 95 to 99 percent of the animals that come through its doors. "We're doing a fantastic job with extremely limited funds."
A year ago, the shelter was under attack for the high percentage of animals euthanized and for using the heart-stick method of euthanasia.
Lewis was brought in to take over running of the shelter and turning it into a no-kill facility. Then, Andrew Bell, owner of Grandpaws pet store in Lewiston and the then new SPCA board president, stepped in on a temporary basis to stabilize things financially and administratively, while Lewis focused on the shelter, Barish said.
Bell achieved those goals as executive director and stepped down on Feb. 22.
Barish said the SPCA's board is in the process of developing a new strategic plan and goals, which will be followed by a nationwide search for a permanent executive director experienced in nonprofit organizations.
"The deal I had with the board always was when they felt the organization was stabilized and headed in the right direction, my work would be done," said Bell. "We've reached that point."
He's back at his business "until the next project comes along." That could be a Wheatfield-Town of Niagara dog park that has been suggested for the SPCA facility. Bell was instrumental in helping get the Lewiston dog park started.