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Task force to hear animal welfare concerns

Sussex residents expected to speak at Nov. 29 meeting
Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary outside Georgetown is open for adoptions Fridays and Saturdays. In December, the organization plans to host holiday-themed adoption events every Saturday. BY RACHEL SWICK MAVITY
November 23, 2012

Concerns about the welfare of animals taken to Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary are expected to be raised at an upcoming hearing of the state animal welfare task force.

Marleen Oetzel, founder of Lost and Found Dog Rescue adoption center, based in New Castle, said she’s concerned hundreds of dogs under Safe Haven’s care could be confined to crates in kennels across Delaware.

With the Safe Haven building off Shingle Point Road complete but not open full-time, Oetzel said she's concerned dogs are not being adopted as quickly as possible and are instead living in crates.

Oetzel said she is worried Safe Haven may be unsafe for animals, similar to a Kentucky shelter where Safe Haven Executive Director Anne Gryczon worked before she moved to Delaware.

At the Kentucky shelter, a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals investigation found large numbers of animals living in crates and cages. In 2005, PETA declared the shelter a hoarding situation.

Gryczon denied the allegations both in Kentucky and at Safe Haven. She said she was not the director of the Kentucky organization, and noted PETA has no legal authority to perform investigations.

Gryczon said Safe Haven is a no-kill shelter, which will save many animals from being euthanized. She said the shelter is complete, but the organization is still training its staff.

Safe Haven is open Fridays and Saturdays for adoptions, but despite repeated requests from the Cape Gazette, Gryczon could not provide information on the number of adoptions completed in October or November.

According to the Safe Haven website, at least one dog was adopted, and according to Gryczon, a bonded pair of dogs was adopted this week.

Oetzel, who has experience rescuing and adopting dogs all over Delaware, said she knows how hard it can be to find good homes, but she said Safe Haven is not doing all it can.

By law, all animal shelters are required to keep regular hours to allow the public to view and adopt animals. Until Oct. 26, Safe Haven had no public hours, instead prompting residents to view dogs online and then call to make an appointment.

Gryczon said she has 28 employees, but they are not ready or fully trained in order to open the six days a week more typical of shelter operations.

Of the nearly 200 dogs in Safe Haven’s care, only 80 are living at the Shingle Point Road facility outside Georgetown, Gryczon said. The remaining 120 dogs, Gryczon said, are divided among two off-site kennels, one in Kent County and one in Sussex, she said.

Oetzel said she believes more than two kennels are housing Safe Haven dogs.

Several local kennels contacted by the Cape Gazette declined to say whether they were housing dogs from Safe Haven.

Kent dog control

In July, Safe Haven was awarded a contract for nearly $830,000 to provide dog control in Kent County. Gryczon said many of the dogs housed in kennels were found in Kent County.

She said Safe Haven is caring for the dogs for seven days, instead of the required five, to give owners more time to find them.

A recent post on Kent County Levy Court’s website lists a new number for Kent residents to call to see if a lost dog has been found.

Since July, Gryczon has been working to secure a property in Kent County to house Kent County strays.

Gryczon said Safe Haven is considering a warehouse in the Little Creek area of Dover, but on Nov. 20, Gryzcon said problems with neighbors must be worked out before a lease can move forward.

“The neighbors are worried about the barking dogs,” Gryzcon said. “But I think it will work out.”

Animal welfare meeting

Sen. Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere, wrote the animal standards legislation that transferred dog control from the state to the counties.

Blevins said the state’s Animal Welfare Task Force, which has held monthly meetings since August, aims to improve animal control and coordination among the state’s five animal shelters, which include Kent County SPCA, Faithful Friends, Delaware SPCA in Georgetown and Stanton and Safe Haven.

Representatives from each of the shelters, including Gryczon, are on the task force.

“The people on the task force all have different goals, but my goal is for Delaware to become a no-kill state and also to have more funding," Gryczon said. “I just hope the public hearing will be productive, and help move us forward to having more funding for pit bulls and spay and neuter for cats.”

The public hearing is slated for 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 29, in Senate Chambers of Legislative Hall in Dover.

Blevins said the public hearing is for all residents to share their thoughts on animal protections, dog control and safety standards. The task force aims to improve coordination among animal welfare organizations.

Besides shelter representatives, the task force also includes two state representatives, two state senators, and representatives from the Governor’s Office, the Agriculture Department, and the state veterinary medical association.

Written comments can be sent to Sen. Blevins at Carvel State Office Building, 11th Floor, 820 N. French St., Wilmington, DE 19801. For more information on the hearing, call Carling Ryan at 302-577-8718.