SPCA director fired after less than two months on the job

SPCA Tampa Bay fired its new executive director this week, less than two months after he was hired to help improve the image of the county's largest shelter for stray and abused animals.

Gary D. Thorud, 71, was hired in August after a long, nationwide search. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals officials lauded his decades in nonprofit management, most recently as president of a hospice organization in the Washington, D.C., area.

He was supposed to ease last year's tumult at the Largo shelter that arose after the St. Petersburg Times revealed the agency euthanized animals instead of being "no-kill," as many thought. The agency was chided for not being transparent about its operations, and the executive director resigned.

But Monday, the SPCA board fired Thorud after learning of an undisclosed issue in his past, said state Rep. Bill Heller, past president of the nonprofit.

In e-mailed statements to the Times, board president Jeff Fox said Thorud "was not working out." Like Heller, he declined to disclose details.

Civil court records in Maryland show a domestic violence protective order on Thorud in November 2008. The order, which lasted until June 2009, required him to participate in a domestic violence program and vacate the home. No more specifics were available Wednesday, and Thorud could not be reached for comment.

He moved to Pinellas to run the SPCA with his wife, Lonnie, the SPCA noted when his hiring was announced by Fox as leading to "a re-energized and strengthened executive team and a great SPCA."

But internally, Thorud created tension, volunteers and animal advocates said, noting he had a fundraising background but not much of an animal background.

"I saw he was a braggadocios man, telling me about all his various backgrounds he had. He was a charmer," said Marilyn Weaver, a feral cat advocate who sought the SPCA's help in an Aug. 17 meeting with Thorud.

She said Thorud discussed how he helped grow the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — a claim Weaver found exaggerated.

Then he shot down her bid for assistance, irking her more.

Meanwhile, Thorud had changed protocol at the shelter, no longer giving volunteers access to records of euthanizations or other "outcomes," according to an Aug. 11 internal memo. Any staffer giving out that information would be fired, it said.

Fox said, via e-mail, that the memo was meant to "protect animal owners" if they mistakenly believed animals would be kept alive no matter what. The policy has been revised to allow disclosure of adoptions, he said.

Still, it was a step that rattled volunteers. His firing now adds to the SPCA's discord.

Two board members, real estate investor Mark Taber and veterinarian James Lutz, will act as co-executive directors while a replacement is found.

"It's a wonderful organization. I think it's well intentioned," said Dan Hester, a donor and former board member. "They obviously have had some leadership issues that they were trying to resolve."

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

SPCA director fired after less than two months on the job 09/29/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 30, 2010 1:26pm]

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