Howard Nelson, the chief executive officer of the Pennsylvania SPCA, has taken an abrupt leave of absence.
Nelson, who many advocates credit with dramatically improving the landscape of animal welfare in the state, initially issued a resignation letter late yesterday, but after discussion with the board agreed to a temporary leave, said spokesman Kevin Feeley.
Nelson, 45, who took over PSPCA in 2007 and had late last year won the vied-for $3 million animal control contract from the city, said in an email to board members:
"It is with deep sadness due to health reasons and an environment no longer conducive to my success or the success of the organization that I am forced to resign my position from the PSPCA."
Feeley said the email caught board members "off guard." After discussions last night, it was decided Nelson would instead take a leave of absence "until we sort through all the issues that led to this action," Feeley said, It was unclear what led to Nelson's resignation letter, but Feeley said he was not forced out by the board.
Board member Beth Ann Smith White volunteered to take over as interim CEO on a pro-bono basis, said Feeley.
The PSPCA is the largest animal welfare organization in the state with five shelters and humane agents working throughout the Commonwealth.
In addition to increasing the numbers of humane agents and expanding animal cruelty investigations in Philadelphia, Nelson is widely credited with leading efforts to shut down puppy mills in the state, including Almost Heaven kennel in Lehigh County and Limestone Kennel in Chester County. Last year PSPCA agents seized hundreds of sick and injured cats at Tiger Ranch, a Pittsburgh area animal "sanctuary."