More than 100 people attended the first public hearing of the state’s animal welfare task force.
The task force, which has been meeting since August, is made up of state legislators and representatives from each shelter – Georgetown SPCA, Kent County SPCA, Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary, Delaware Humane and Faithful Friends.
Task force chairwoman Sen. Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere, said the goal of the meetings and hearings is to improve animal welfare in the state.
During the Nov. 29 hearing in Legislative Hall in Dover, enforcement of shelter standards, feral cat populations and quality of life for pets were among the major concerns.
Feral cats a problem
William Fowler of Kent County said many people drive by his 100-acre farm near Viola and drop off cats.
“They seem to think it’s a good place to drop a cat,” Fowler said. “We do what we can, but with 14 or 15 cats, the costs add up.”
Fowler suggested the task force consider subsidizing residents who end up taking in stray cats. He said he has trapped kittens to get them fixed, but in many cases, one is missed and that results in more kittens.
“I would like to see some sort of solution,” Fowler said.
Mark Legett of Greenwood operates a nuisance animal removal company on Delmarva and often works with homeowners to remove skunks, raccoons, and more and more, feral cats.
“I run into a lot of feral cats,” Legett said. “And, in 90 percent of my investigations, I find within 10 houses someone is feeding feral cats.”
He said these cats can do as much damage to property as a raccoon. They also carry diseases, such as rabies, he said. Currently in Delaware, the skunk is the largest carrier of disease, but feral cats are No. 2.
Legett and others called for more rabies vaccine clinics and better record-keeping methods for vaccines.
Legett predicts in the next 10 years, cats will overtake skunks, and then the state will have to reconsider how to treat feral cats.
“There is no law for or against cats,” Legett said. “The state needs to do something.”
Legett said a public education campaign could help educate residents not to feed wild cats.
Even if a cat is trapped and neutered, most shelters will not take in a stray cat because they are already overcrowded.
“There is not an animals shelter in the state right now that will take a cat,” Elestine Cooper of Kent County said. “That’s never happened in all my 50 years.”
Quality of life
Sussex County resident Julie Wilson said she adopted a dog and several cats from Kent County SPCA. She said both the dog and the cats needed medical attention immediately to treat hair mats and overgrown nails.
When it became apparent Wilson could not care for the dog, she decided to return it to Kent County SPCA.
“The staff was rude upon return. The customer service was very poor,” Wilson said.
She found out later she had been banned from adopting from KCSPCA because she returned the dog.
“If there was a way residents could take the dog home for a period of time to make sure it was a right fit, that could help,” Wilson said following the hearing.
Recently, Wilson adopted a cat from Safe Haven.
“The shelter was clean and friendly, and I adopted a very healthy kitten,” Wilson said. “All Delaware shelters should be inspected to see how the animals are living.”
Allison Lindsay, a former veterinary technician at Safe Haven, told the task force she left her job because she questions choices Safe Haven officials make.
“There are an alarming number of instances that cannot be explained or rationalized at Safe Haven,” Lindsay said.
Lindsay, who calls herself a whistle-blower, also said very few employees at Safe Haven have experience working in animal care.
“It is not feasible to operate an animal control and no-kill shelter with one vehicle, 50 runs for dogs and 10 cat rooms,” Lindsay said.
She said the dogs are not let out frequently, and dogs that cannot fit at Safe Haven’s shelter are housed at four other kennels, costing the organization $34,000 each month.
Low-cost spay-neuter programs and clinics have not been started, which was part of Safe Haven’s original mission statement, Lindsay said.
Lindsay said the organization takes unlimited action to save certain animals, even when it takes money away from healthier animals.
She told the story of a kitten with feline leukemia, which cost the group upwards of $20,000. The kitten died after visits to veterinarians.
“How many other animals could have been helped with that money?” Lindsay said.
Safe Haven Executive Director Anne Gryczon said, “Safe Haven is very clear about being committed to the Best Friends ethic of doing everything possible to save the life of an animal under our care.”
Lindsay said several litters of puppies have been born because Safe Haven did not promptly spay the females. She said not all pregnancies are allowed to continue, citing the case of Honeybun, a pitbull whose pregnancy was ended at Safe Haven, resulting in the death of five puppies.
“Safe Haven is currently outsourcing all medical emergencies, spays and neutering, which has cost the group $220,000 since March,” Lindsay said.
Gryczon said she did not know where Lindsay received her numbers.
“Most of our advanced medical funding comes from a bequest. Very little of it comes from local donations, and our dog control contract only covers basic and immediate emergency medical care for dogs,” said Gryczon about medical care for the kitten and other animals in need of specialized treatment.
Lindsay, who is now employed elsewhere as a vet tech, said all shelters should be held accountable for what goes on at animal shelters.
“Safe Haven has become a hoarding situation and something needs to be done,” Lindsay said.
Many residents echoed Lindsay’s call, including Brittani Ryan, a former foster mom for Safe Haven dogs.
Ryan said two dogs she fostered from the organization were considered bonded. She says it is because of this bonded status that neither dog was adopted for three months, even though residents were interested in adopting the dogs separately.
Ryan said the dogs had not been altered. She said Safe Haven’s plan to wait to fix dogs, is “a disaster waiting to happen.”
While both Ryan and Lindsay spoke against Safe Haven, they agreed they had hope for the group.
“This could be an amazing shelter,” Ryan said.
Marleen Oetzel, a dog rescuer from New Castle County, said under Delaware law, shelters are required to spay or neuter all animals before adopting them to new homes.
Oetzel said Safe Haven is ignoring the law, but there is no agency taking reports of violations to the law in Delaware.
She and other residents called for an independent agency to inspect, regulate and investigate all animal shelters in the state.
Elestine Cooper of Kent County agreed. She said it will not be until all shelters are held accountable that animal welfare can improve.
“We need a central place to report problems so fines can be given,” said Cooper. “Right now some go to the district attorney, some go to the attorney general and others go to the Department of Justice, but where should we go?”
Gryczon said Safe Haven is following the state’s spay and neuter laws and has not been fined for not altering animals.
Erin Giebel, a veterinarian at Savannah Animal Hospital suggested a local physician or committee under the Department of Agriculture should oversee shelters. She said this person or committee could inspect shelters to ensure they are following animal standards laws.
“They could be doing spot checks and unannounced visits,” Giebel said. “They should also limit the rescue groups and create a list, so anyone can find them.”
Giebel also wants guidelines for animal vaccinations and alterations for all animals. Similar to guidelines for vaccinating children, Giebel said a timeline for vaccinating and fixing animals is not difficult to establish.
She said all animals should be vaccinated and fixed, even if the animal is considered unadoptable.
A second public hearing will be scheduled in early 2013. Each task force meeting is open to the public, and Blevins said all comments are welcomed. For task force agendas, minutes and more information, go to legis.delaware.gov/LIS/TaskForces.nsf.
Blevins said recommendations can be given in writing for 10 days following the hearing by contacting Carling Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next task force meeting is set for 2 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 13 in the dining room of the Buena Vista Conference Center in New Castle.
Safe Haven works for no-kill state
By Rachel Swick Mavity
Since accepting a contract to provide dog control in Kent County, Safe Haven has worked with residents to reconnect dogs with owners.
Safe Haven Executive Director Anne Gryczon said having her organization provide animal control saves the lives of animals because of the group’s no-kill mission.
Sussex County Council heard recommendations from a search committee for the dog-control contract Dec. 4. The committee is recommending Sussex continue with Kent County SPCA, even though Safe Haven submitted a bid.
Animal control costs county governments upwards of $800,000 and covers lost or stray dogs, which must be trapped, cared for if necessary and reunited with owners.
Safe Haven employs 28 people from Kent and Sussex, as well as numerous volunteers who help walk dogs and pet cats. The shelter is open to the public Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays this month, and by appointment.
“Our adoptions are improving. We had 12 dogs adopted these weekends, and we are doing adoption events at several Concord Pets and at PetCo in Seaford,” Gryczon said.
Lois Fargo, a member of Safe Haven’s board of directors, spoke at Nov. 29 hearing in Dover. She said the organization is working to provide a no-kill sanctuary for Delaware and is modeled after successful no-kill shelters, including Best Friends in Utah and Faithful Friends in New Castle County.
Fargo said the organization provides rooms for dogs and cats, instead of using crates and wire cages.
The glass kennels at the 19,000-square-foot shelter give a feeling of openness, and Safe Haven is planning to construct porches for the cats, to provide outdoor space with access to fresh air, Fargo said.
“We have been open four months, and for us to be perfect, well we are never going to be perfect, “Fargo said. “We want the best for our animals and we try to get the best training.”
Fargo said employees were trained at Best Friends in Utah, and an officer from Las Vegas came to train Safe Haven’s animal control officers.
“We have had people who have harassed us since before we were open,” Fargo said. “We are being harassed because we are no-kill, and we truly believe in the no-kill ethic.”
Shelter now open
Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary is now open Thursdays, 12 to 6 p.m., Fridays, 12 to 7 p.m. and Saturdays, 12 to 5 p.m. For more information or to make an appointment, call 302-856-6460.