The Pennsylvania SPCA, which handles animal control for Philadelphia and is the state's largest operator of animal shelters, has named Susan Cosby its new chief executive officer.

Cosby, 40, has served for 18 months as executive director of the Animal Welfare Association of New Jersey, a private shelter in Voorhees. While there, she established one of the state's top providers of spay/neuter services and helped reduce euthanasia rates by improving adoption rates. Before that post, she was chief operating officer for the now-defunct Pennsylvania Animal Care and Control, which until December 2008 handled animal-control matters for Philadelphia.

PSPCA board chairwoman Harrise Yaron said Cosby, who was appointed last week and is to be paid $130,000 a year, was chosen because of her "familiarity with animal welfare in Philadelphia, business savvy, and dedication to lifesaving."

In addition to running its shelter, the PSPCA handles animal control for Philadelphia, operates four satellite shelters in the state, and enforces animal-cruelty laws statewide.

Cosby's appointment comes three months after the abrupt departure of former CEO Howard Nelson, who orchestrated the bid late last year for the city's $2.9 million animal-control contract. He was credited with expanded anticruelty efforts and with overseeing major improvements in the deteriorating Feltonville shelter.

But critics said Nelson's confrontational management style alienated employees and volunteers, and they accused him of a lack of transparency involving shelter operations.

Coincidentally, the PSPCA yesterday issued a quarantine on its two Philadelphia facilities after an outbreak of an undetermined canine disease that has claimed the lives of six dogs since Wednesday. The shelter will continue to take in stray dogs and place them in isolation, but for the next three days will not treat animals at its clinic and will not offer dog adoption for two weeks.

Cosby said she expected to start in about two weeks, with her top priority being the renewal of the animal-control contract that expires at the end of the month.

In April, the PSPCA's leading critic, City Councilman Jack Kelly called for better oversight of the shelter, saying it was "in crisis" and was euthanizing far too many animals.

His spokesman, John Cerrone, said yesterday that the councilman was aware of Cosby's accomplishments and was looking forward to working with her to "improve the deplorable conditions" at the shelter.

Health Commissioner Donald Schwarz, whose agency oversees the contract, said in a letter last month to Philadelphia Weekly that he felt the animals were well cared for by the PSPCA.

Cosby said she planned to develop ways to improve animal health at the shelter - particularly ensuring that all animals were vaccinated upon arrival - expand spay/neuter services, and make shelter adoption and euthanasia statistics available online.

"I want to save more lives - that's why I live and breathe," said Cosby in an interview last week. "This is an opportunity to help more animals in a city I love."

Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.