LARGO — Two months after her animal shelter was embroiled in controversy over its euthanasia policy, Beth Lockwood is stepping down as executive director of SPCA Tampa Bay.
Lockwood, 57, will relinquish day-to-day management control of the Largo shelter, but she will remain on the staff, working on fundraising and development issues. Lockwood, a certified veterinary technician, has been with the nonprofit shelter since 1983 and held the director's position for 15 years.
Jeff Fox, president of the SPCA's board, said the transition was effective Tuesday.
"Beth had talked to us for years about doing something different," he said. "She excels at working with donors and I think she's relieved to be out of the day-to-day."
SPCA Tampa Bay is the largest private shelter in the area, handling about 15,000 animals a year. Connie Brooks, director of operations, will assume management duties while a search is launched for Lockwood's successor.
Prompted by negative publicity over shelter operations last summer, the board also has hired an independent consultant who is expected to begin evaluating the entire operation soon.
"The consultant will be interviewing the board, staff and sending out a survey to staff and volunteers," Fox said. "We also expect the consultant to help us work out the nature of Beth's new role."
For the time being, Lockwood will be working alongside the SPCA's managers of gift planning and annual giving.
Paula Hays, a former SPCA board member and volunteer turned critic, welcomed the personnel change.
"I am very encouraged a new management team now may be able to bring about changes to reduce the number of animals unnecessarily killed," she said.
In mid-August, a story in the St. Petersburg Times revealed that, despite its public image as a "no-kill" shelter, about half of the dogs and cats turned over to the SPCA were euthanized.
In response to the publicity, the shelter's board took swift action. In line with a growing number of shelters nationwide, SPCA now publishes its euthanasia statistics on its Web site. Signs and documents also clearly warn people who surrender their pets that the animals could be put to death.
"The St. Petersburg Times' report helped us improve our operations," said Fox. "We've made changes in a lot of areas."
Fox said that although Lockwood will be assisting in the search for her successor, the hire will be made by the board, of which she is not a member. Fox said pay for the executive director's post has not been set; Lockwood's salary in 2008 was about $80,000.
Lockwood, who saw the shelter's annual operating budget grow to $3.5-million from $400,000 over her tenure, said she's pleased with her new duties.
"I'm going to look at our vision and where we want to go in the future," she said. "My time here has been a labor of love always. I couldn't think of a better place to be."
Kris Hundley can be reached at email@example.com or (727)892-2996.