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Barbara Carr

Those who have crossed paths with Barbara Carr know how deeply passionate she is about protecting the rights of animals.

With her retirement in March after 23 years as executive director of the SPCA Serving Erie County, Carr’s list of accomplishments glows in its own right. All this, for a woman who more or less stumbled into a career of animal welfare and wrote her own story that began in Dover, N.H.

That is where she found a litter of kittens and took them to the local humane society and was told they were “too little” and would have to be euthanized. She ended up raising the litter at home, but saw the shelter was struggling and began volunteering by cleaning the cat room. In a short time, she suggested that agency hire her to replace the departing director. The rest is history.

Under her leadership, the Erie County shelter has grown from a staff of 30 to more than 110 employees and 1,700 volunteers. With a budget of about $7.2 million, the agency works primarily with domestic animals, but also is home to a farm animal and wildlife department.

It’s no surprise that the shelter, once known as a sad place, has been transformed into a “no-kill” facility. When she interviewed for the job, she remembers wondering if the euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals could be stopped. It seemed beyond the realm of possibility. It took 15 years, but Carr, her staff and a dedicated band of volunteers made it happen.

A widely successful initiative of Carr was animal adoptions from several off-site locations – resulting in the adoption of about 1,000 animals yearly.

Carr is no shrinking violet. She was a strong presence in battling Aurora horsewoman Beth Lynne Hoskins on the seemingly endless animal neglect case. Carr knew it boiled down to forcing Hoskins to be held accountable.

“When someone is just defiant, you have to force them to be accountable. It does seem like the universe is sort of set right now. It’s just terribly sad it took so long,” Carr said.

The Erie County agency was the first in the nation to take its animals out to the public for adoption. Carr gave a workshop about it at a national conference, sharing what she and her staff had learned through the process.

“I was practically booed off the podium,” Carr recalled. But, in the end, the initiatives have earned her the respect of SPCA directors nationwide.

As she leaves all her marks at the Tonawanda facility, the agency has been building its new facility on 10 acres along Harlem Road in West Seneca.

– Karen Robinson