TONAWANDA, N.Y. -- The SPCA Serving Erie County has new leadership for the first time in 23 years, as it officially introduced Gary Willoughby as its new executive director Monday.

"We wanted someone who had experience in the animal industry and the animal welfare industry, just because we have so much going on here," said Sara Dayton, SPCA board president.

Willoughby previously served as executive director for the Humane Society in Toledo, Ohio and as president and CEO of the SPCA Albrecht Center in Aiken, South Carolina. Willoughby now takes over an organization that he believes already has a strong presence in the community.

"It was just the combination of a lot of things that lined up, that they could tell how passionate I was about this I wanted to be here for the long haul, and I wanted to do good things with an organization that's already great," said Willoughby.

One thing that made Willoughby such a strong candidate was his previous experience with capital campaigns, something that will come into play as the SPCA continues to raise funds for its new facility in West Seneca.

"Our goal is $15 million dollars we're about a couple million dollars away from where we want to be," said Dayton.

The SPCA is currently working to break ground on a 52,000 square foot facility, as its outgrown the current facility, which opened in 1962. Willoughby has led the opening of new facilities in his two previous positions.

"It'll be the third one I've opened in five years so it's been something that I've learned a lot from those previous experiences so that will help me be better prepared to help the staff who hasn't gone through this before," said Willoughby.

Willoughby added that a new facility will improve animal welfare as well as the overall viability.

"It becomes a destination place even for people that aren't looking to adopt, they just want to come in to visit because it's a happy place. One of the biggest things you're going to see is the foot traffic as busy as we are here it's going to be another level out there when the people coming to see the animals there's gonna be competition for the animals to get adopted even more quickly than they are today," said Willoughby. 

Officials say they hope to break ground in the next few months.