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On the Cutting Edge of Animal Welfare (SPCA serving Erie County)

Julie Morris, VP National Shelter Outreach, ASPCA


On the Cutting Edge of Animal Welfare

Infected sores, broken shoulders and lameness were just a few of the conditions that draft horses who drew boats on the Erie Canal in the mid-1800s had to face. Local women activists noticed the plight of these animals and made their welfare the guiding force behind America’s second humane organization. In April 1867, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Serving Erie County (as it’s called today) was founded, second only to the ASPCA.

Two years later, the founders were replaced, having been denounced by women members as “do-nothing” men. But without being deputized as agents, the 19th century women had to carry out their own form of justice, often using their parasols to beat anyone they caught abusing an animal. By 1872, the women had once again accepted the financial assistance and cooperation of men.

A Thriving 21st Century Shelter

Today, at 135 years of age, the SPCA Serving Erie County (SPCAEC) is one of the premier humane societies in the United States. Barbara Carr is the current leader of the Western New York State society, which operates two shelters in the Buffalo area, one in Tonawanda and one in Angola. Between the two, nearly 12,000 dogs and cats are taken in annually, as are another 3,000 wild animals representing some 90 different species. The SPCAEC also operates a petting farm and a mobile adoption center called the Whisker Wag’n, and participates in nearly a dozen off-site adoption programs.

The shelter recently completed an extensive renovation of its kennels to replace the existing 40-year-old cages. The new cages are specially constructed with glass, glazed blocks and Dutch doors to help incorporate natural light—there are no bars or chain link fences. In addition, the shelter expanded the walkways between the kennels to allow adopters more freedom to observe the animals, and added a 600-square-foot “get acquainted” adoption gallery.

The SPCAEC’s Cruelty Investigation department examines more than 2,400 reports of suspected animal abuse every year. Its in-house veterinary staff provides health care for the SPCAEC’s animals, including the animals in its foster program and wildlife department, and performs more then 3,000 spay and neuter surgeries annually. The animal behavior and training department supervises stress-reduction programs for the dogs and cats under its care, offers a variety of classes for the public and operates a telephone helpline for canine behavior problems.

In addition to offering classroom programs and shelter tours, the SPCAEC’s extensive Humane Education department boasts a successful and innovative violence prevention program for children ages 11 to 13. The Teaching Love and Compassion (TLC) program was originally de-signed by the SPCA/Los Angeles and has been well adapted by the SPCAEC. The six-week workshop is designed to in-crease participants’ kindness, respect, caring and responsibility for both animal and human life. Students are paired with shelter animals who are at risk of not being adopted because of behavioral problems. The students learn humane training techniques along with communication, teamwork, conflict resolution and anger management skills. At the same time, the students are training and socializing the animals to increase their chances of being adopted.

People Power

The SPCAEC has managed to stay at the forefront of sheltering for 135 years. No longer armed with parasols, Carr and her staff have a much more powerful weapon: a long history of commitment and dedication. When asked for the secrets of her success, Carr lists her top four, all of which involve the people in the society. The first is having a staff of hard-working, creative “people-persons” with excellent problem-solving skills. Carr gives credit to an excellent board of directors made up of people who understand their responsibilities and who create resources to get the job done. She also mentions the shelter’s wonderful volunteers—some 650 of them—who provide for many of the society’s programs. And finally, Carr gives recognition to an involved community with a long history of providing generous support to the SPCAEC.

We’d like to add one more to the list: The SPCAEC benefits greatly from its exceptional leader. Barbara Carr provides the inspiration and framework for an exemplary modern-day shelter.

Julie Morris is vice president of ASPCA National Shelter Outreach.

ASPCA Animal Watch – Summer 2002

© 2002 ASPCA


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