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Willoughby is an able successor to the SPCA’s supremely devoted Barbara Carr

Here’s a warm welcome to Gary A. Willoughby, new head of the SPCA Serving Erie County. From the sound of it, this area’s reputation for setting the standard in animal, and by extension human, care will continue.

By continue, we mean the exemplary work of Barbara S. Carr, who built that standard and then kept moving the bar higher and higher. Carr retired. Her departure date was last Friday, a sad day for many of her admirers.

Carr’s caring and commitment, which resulted in growing the size and scope of the organization, have been widely heralded among her peers throughout the country.

The new director appears to be up to the challenge. Willoughby has a history of connecting the well-being of animals to their human counterparts. He developed a Meals on Wheels for Pets in Florida because he noticed recipients in the traditional food program who were financially burdened tended to share their delivered meals with their pets.

He has also tried, and is considering here, opening SPCA thrift stores whose sales of merchandise benefit animal adoptions and other services. The first would go on Ensminger Road in the Town of Tonawanda, site of the SPCA’s headquarters.

It is easy to see how Willoughby’s background in animal welfare and human services organizations intertwine and why Erie County’s board saw him as a natural fit to lead the nonprofit.

A native of Ypsilanti, Mich., whose family moved to Florida when he was young, Willoughby most recently hails from Toledo, Ohio, where he headed its Humane Society for three years. He will have his work cut out for him with the construction of a new $14.7 million, 52,000-square-foot building in West Seneca, doubling the organization’s current space. Work is scheduled to begin in May.

It could be called the house that Carr built, a cumulative effort that began when she became the SPCA’s leader 23 years ago. Make that fearless leader.

When it came to the well-being and humane treatment of animals, Carr was relentless. Perhaps the most memorable case is the six-year struggle in the Beth Lynne Hoskins horse farm saga – costing more than $1 million. Carr would not leave her post until this infamous case was settled. Her last day was March 18, and March 18, 2010, was the day the SPCA showed up at the farm and rescued the animals. From the sale of Hoskins’ entire herd of 64 Morgan horses to much smaller and less publicized cases of animal neglect or hoarding, Carr has been there to intercede.

She grew a small staff of about 30 in 1993 to an organization of more than 110 employees and 1,700-plus volunteers. Carr has installed an entire humane education program that reaches roughly 8,500 children each year. The SPCA Serving Erie County is one of the few humane societies in the country with a Wildlife Department, working with nearly 3,000 animals each year.

Moreover, about 1,000 animals are adopted every year from several off-site adoption locations, an initiative begun by Carr. Her tireless efforts have resulted in the adoption of countless animals. She also has been the voice of reason in unreasonable situations and has been selfless for the sake of animals. As her staff recently pointed out, no job has ever been beneath her. Carr has stood side-by-side in rescue operations and has been the post upon which many have leaned.

Carr set the standard. As Willoughby said, he has huge shoes to fill. We trust he can do the job and live up to the legend.