Gary Willoughby officially became the SPCA Serving Erie County's first new executive director in nearly a quarter century on Monday.
Willoughby is succeeding Barbara Carr, who officially retired last week after serving 23 years as the local SPCA's executive director. The Michigan native, whose wife is from Western New York, brings experience in both animal welfare and human services.
"I'm really excited also about some things this organization does, that I haven't had experience with, such as the wildlife division," Willoughby said during a Monday morning news conference. "I'm really, really excited about learning more about that, being compassionate toward all the animals, not just the dogs and cats and the pocket pets that we deal with."
Willoughby is a native of Michigan whose wife is originally from North Tonawanda. He was selected in a nationwide search. Sara Dayton, president of the SPCA's Board of Directors, said it seemed a daunting task to find the successor to Carr but one thing they liked about Willoughby was that he was not actively looking to leave his previous job. Rather, she suggested, this job seemed to find him.
"Everything he said impressed us during the interview," Dayton said. "His ability to go into these communities and create programs that include people, like Meals on Wheels, that benefit the people as well as the animals."
Among the programs he introduced in other jobs was a Meals on Wheels for Pets program, which served both the pets and their owners together. During his introduction Monday morning, Willoughby spoke about the connection between animal welfare and the states of the people caring for them.
"One of the things that's a big red flag for me, that you sometimes hear in animal welfare, is when someone says 'I like animals more than I like people.' That's a bad attitude to have," Willoughby said. "We love animals very much but we need good people to take care of them. We need people to volunteer, people to adopt, to donate to us. We have to be careful about being judgmental too quickly. We have to put ourselves in the other people's shoes. How did they get there? A lot of times there are some health issues involved, why somebody has too many animals in their house. Very rarely do they have bad intentions."
He joins the Erie County SPCA after serving as executive director of the Toledo Area Humane Society for the past three years. Previously, he served in a similar role for the SPCA in South Carolina.
In both previous positions, he led capital campaigns. That experience is important to the Erie County SPCA, which is raising money with the desire to begin construction of a new facility later this spring. That new facility, to be located in West Seneca, will be nearly twice the size of its current operations on Ensminger Road in the Town of Tonawanda.
The SPCA hopes to begin construction on the new facility later this spring. Officials revealed they are looking to raise about two million more dollars for the project.