The nation’s second-oldest humane society has witnessed dramatic changes over the past 146 years in the way animals are sheltered, adopted and treated.

At a time when a number of SPCAs in the region have been the focus of controversy, the head of the SPCA Serving Erie County sees a bright future for her organization. Executive Director Barbara Carr sat down with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer. Here is a summary of some key issues covered in an interview that is part of the weekly “In Focus” series.

Meyer: How have the controversies [at other area SPCAs] affected operations here... as it relates to adoptions, donations, perceptions, et cetera?

Carr: Unfortunately, there are a lot of people that think that the SPCA is one huge organization and they’re just different branches or different members or whatever. Actually, we’re all separate, private not-for-profit organizations. We do the same work, but we’re not the same actual organization. So there are those people who think that we are part of the controversy, when in fact we’ve actually been helpers in all of these controversies ...

Meyer: Do people react by not giving you as much money?

Carr: Yes, we have seen our donations go down a little bit last year during all of this controversy. I’ve had people call and accuse us of being part of all of this. ... On the other hand, there have been an awful lot of people who’ve said, “Thank you so much for helping out. We’re so glad that the Erie County SPCA could be there to help these other organizations.”

Meyer: You’ve made some headway as it relates to the “no-kill” concerns [not euthanizing animals that can be adopted].

Carr: We have for years and years ... been doing really a great job when you compare us to other Rust Belt cities in keeping the numbers [of euthanasias] down ... of keeping the numbers of adoptions up. But in the last five years, we’ve been really excited to be the recipient of a national grant to help us get all the way to zero euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals. When we started with the Maddie’s Fund grant five years ago, our baseline year ... all the [local] organizations worked together, we came up with our numbers, and we found that there were about 1,800 euthanasias five years ago of healthy animals or treatable animals. That number is well below 50 in the past year, and we’re only in the third year of the grant. We have five years to reach zero, and we’re going to reach zero way ahead of anybody...

Meyer: There are still major problems with stray animals, particularly cats. You’re well aware of the fact that there was a trial balloon floated in City Hall not long ago about the possible licensing of cats. Is it something that makes sense?

Carr: It’s totally unrealistic, and every place that it’s been tried in the United States, it’s a monumental failure of resources – resources that could be used to actually address the problem of community cats. There are two sides to the issue. There’s one side that there are too many of them. You certainly want to manage their numbers by good spay/neuter programs in your community. But if you had none, if you had no community cats, let’s think about that for a minute. What would our community look like if there were no community cats?

Meyer: You’re talking about the rodent problem?

Carr: Oh my goodness. I mean, this is why we have cats. If you go back thousands of years, why did we want to live with cats? Because they protected us from infestations of rodents. They do a tremendous, tremendous job. If we didn’t have community cats, we would be overrun with mice and rats. So there’s a balance we need to follow.