When Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary leaders went looking for a medical director, they wanted someone with a positive attitude, experience and dedication to the no-kill philosophy.
They found all these characteristics in Bridgeville-native Cindy Woods, who was announced as Safe Haven's director of medical care and operations Feb. 28.
"Animals have been a passion of mine, so I didn't have to think twice about taking the position," Woods said. "I can't remember a time I wasn't advocating for animal welfare."
Woods holds a certificate in dog obedience training, and a vet assistant certificate from an online university. While she has worked as clinical admissions director at Genesis Healthcare, a skilled nursing and rehab facility in Milford and Seaford, this is her first job with an animal rescue organization.
Safe Haven Board of Directors Chairman Hal Dukes said Woods will oversee the medical wing of Safe Haven by organizing staff and volunteers and providing oversight so each animal gets the proper medical treatment.
"Cindy has a medical background but also has a great enthusiasm for animals," Dukes said. "She will be in charge of medical coordination so we can make sure a program is in place for when animals come in for medical treatment."
Dukes said it was Woods' background volunteering with a variety of animal organizations that made her a great candidate, because she has an understanding of what works and what doesn't work.
In addition to volunteering with Safe Haven, Woods, 55, has traveled to Best Friends, a 33,000-acre no-kill shelter in Utah.
Modeled after Best Friends, Safe Haven aims to provide skilled care for abandoned animals in Georgetown. Woods said she looks forward to getting the ball rolling on animal rescue here. On her trips to Best Friends she said she was amazed by the vast areas allotted for each different animal.
"Dogs from puppy mills, or chained dogs, they come to us with issues already," said Woods. "They don't know how to react to humans. I have learned so much from my trips to Best Friends, about how to work with the animals and the caregivers, how to deal with special needs and aggressive dogs."
She said she is a supporter of the no-kill philosophy, but she can also envision situations where a suffering animal may need to be put down.
"Our goal at Safe Haven is to let them live as long as they can without pain. In order to do what's best, sometimes you have to reach deep within and put your feelings aside to help them," she said.
Dukes said he hopes Safe Haven is able to take advantage of Woods' experience.
"She's been with a number of other organizations and seen how they operate, so we can use her knowledge to expand our operations," Dukes said. "We are still new at this."
Woods lives with her husband, Grayson, and her special needs dog and cat. She started at Safe Haven March 13. Her first order of business is to visit all of the dogs currently housed by Safe Haven and create a plan to move them from kennels to the sanctuary on Shingle Point Road outside Georgetown.
Safe Haven Executive Director Anne Gryczon said Safe Haven currently has 28 dogs. About 18 of them will be moved into the shelter several weeks before the shelter's grand opening, which has not yet been set. The rest of the dogs will remain in foster homes until they are adopted.
Gryczon said prior to opening the shelter, Safe Haven plans to hire two veterinarians and vet techs and vet assistants to work under Woods in the medical side of the building. She said one veterinarian will focus on spaying and neutering, while the other will focus on in-house medical needs for animals housed at the sanctuary.
Safe Haven also employs three part-time staff members in addition to Gryczon and now Woods. Gryczon said the shelter should be receiving its certificate of occupancy in the next few weeks, the last step before animals move in later this spring.
In the future, Dukes hopes to incorporate a teaching component at Safe Haven, where students from neighboring colleges and universities can travel to the shelter to learn about spay-and-neuter programs and specialized skills needed at an animal shelter.
"We are hoping once we get set up and the exam rooms are operating, then we can invite schools in to show students about medical operations," Dukes said. "We want to be part of the community. That's why we hope to expand our pet food pantry and provide help for those with financial burdens, who may be on the verge of giving up their pets."
For more informationabout the shelter, visit www.safehavende.org or call 302-856-6460.