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WHEATFIELD – The SPCA of Niagara has made great strides in the past 16 months, but it still lacks the funds to do as well as it could.

That was the verdict Wednesday from Barbara Carr, executive director of the SPCA Serving Erie County, who made a return visit to the Niagara County shelter last month and issued a three-page report.

Carr’s scathing report in January 2012 about mismanagement and unnecessary animal euthanasia at the Wheatfield shelter led to a housecleaning there, including an entirely new board of directors and new leadership.

“Things were great when I arrived,” Carr said of her visit Wednesday. “I really found everything just terrific. … This organization in no way resembles the organization that I found in January 2012.”

She said practices and standard operating procedures have been upgraded.

“The major difference is Amy,” Carr said, referring to shelter director Amy Lewis, who was hired last year. “She knows what she’s doing. … If they stay on track, I don’t foresee that there’s going to be much of a problem here.”

But Carr said that, despite the efforts of Lewis and the new board, finances remain a problem. She warned that, per capita, Niagara County residents give the SPCA only 35 percent of what Erie County residents do.

“Folks have to step up to the plate,” Carr said at a news conference outside the shelter.

She recommended that the organization hire a full-time director of development but recognized that without some kind of sponsorship, the SPCA of Niagara probably can’t afford it.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if a donor came forward and funded such a position for one year? After that, one would think it would be self-funding,” Carr said.

She said it’s too hard for a volunteer board with day jobs to serve as a development department.

“Right now, they’re relying on an awful lot of small fundraisers that are very labor-intensive and don’t make tons of money,” Carr commented. “To keep the organization stable, they really need to have an annual fund that is made of not just those types of events but annual donors, monthly donors, major donors. They need a real fundraising plan.”

Board President Bryan Barish said, “We’re still in the process of creating our long-term strategic plan.” After the board finishes that, it will search for a new executive director.

Carr’s opinion is that it’s unrealistic to seek an executive director who is effective both at running an animal shelter and at fundraising.

“In my experience, this is an unlikely combination of skills,” she wrote.

Lewis tried to fill that dual role before stepping aside from the business aspect last year.

On the animal care side, Lewis said the SPCA could use more medical, behavioral and kennel staff. She said its capacity of 74 dog kennels and 110 cat cages is usually close to full.

“The shelter’s pretty small compared to the municipalities we serve,” Lewis said.

She said she would like to see an animal surgery facility and outreach efforts to spay and neuter more animals.

Carr had no objection to the SPCA board’s move to require $1,000 donations for members to qualify to vote in the board elections. She said that before the SPCA Serving Erie County dropped the membership model, it was charging $500 for voting rights.

Until this year, the SPCA of Niagara charged $25 for a voting membership. Carr said it’s expensive to inform a lot of members about elections and meetings, and most don’t respond.

In Erie County, “Maybe two or three members came out of thousands. It’s not the best use of the resources of the organization,” Carr said.

Michelle Madigan, secretary of the SPCA of Niagara board, said 26 people are eligible to vote in Tuesday’s board election. The SPCA of Niagara still is offering nonvoting memberships for lower prices, and at last count there were 310 of those. Last year’s highly publicized board election drew 120 voters out of 368 eligible members.

Animal activists have demanded a “no-kill” policy at the Wheatfield shelter. Carr said the Niagara SPCA is close to that goal.

“I don’t really understand no-kill,” she said. “What does that mean? That an animal has a broken back, and we don’t euthanize it? If you’re talking about saving all the healthy and treatable animals, I think you’re there.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com