Yet another executive director out at Chesco SPCA

For the fourth time in the last nine months, the troubled Chester County SPCA is looking for a new executive director.

Russell "Wolf" Harper, cofounder of Justice Rescue, on Wednesday announced that he was out as interim executive director of the agency, which takes in about 5,000 stray animals a year from Chester and Delaware Counties.

Pat Biswanger, board president, said that Harper's 90-day contract was nearing its end, but she would not say why the board terminated the contract before it expired.

While the board was grateful for his work, "it was always intended that he be an interim director," she said. "We felt it was a good idea for him to go back to Justice Rescue," an animal-rescue group.

For the last year, the shelter has been in turmoil.

In July 2013, volunteers, former board members, and ex-staff members came forward to say the shelter was mismanaged, lacked leadership, and had a significant rise in euthanasia numbers.

In October, 11 new board members joined the nonprofit in a deal brokered by State Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D., Chester). But a division developed within the board, and some members have since left, as have two other executive directors in addition to Harper.

In a statement posted on the Justice Rescue Facebook page, Harper pointed out that he had said he would stay on only as long as he could be effective. He wished "great things" for the shelter."

In an interview, he said he was frustrated by what he saw as an ingrained culture at the agency. "You cannot expect to do the same things over and over and expect different results," Harper said.

Harper, who was paid an estimated $20,000 during his 12 weeks at the shelter, said he was able to effect some changes.

He said he revised procedures for taking in animals and tracking follow-up care, scheduled managers to oversee operations for all shifts, developed plans for promoting the animals available for adoption, and worked up a business plan. He said he also made sure all dogs were walked before the shelter opened.

"If we would have stayed the course . . . I believe it would have shown successful results," he said.

Biswanger said the shelter hoped to have a director in place in a few months. In the meantime, she said, staff members, whom she calls dedicated and professional, will be able to manage the shelter.

The shelter, which on Wednesday opened a spay-neuter clinic, is trying to upgrade and improve facilities. But it also is running a deficit because donations are down and recently canceled a major fund-raising event, Biswanger said.

Said Harper, "My heart is with the animals there."