Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary board members decided July 19 to close the facility, but that decision changed, practically overnight, when some board members vowed to stay open.
The controversy prompted board members Rich Garrett, Rick Kirchhoff and Jane Blue to resign, but each one declined to comment on their departure.
Their resignations leave long-time board members Lois Fargo and Hal Dukes, and newcomers Rita Hughes and Sharon Donovan to run the sanctuary.
Fargo is the new board president.
“There was a divide among the board members,” said Lynn Lofthouse, a professor at Wesley College, who is now handling public relations for Safe Haven. “The remaining four board members have vowed to move forward.”
Articles and online messages over the weekend stated Safe Haven would close at the end of August and sought help to place 170 dogs and nearly 90 cats in new homes or foster homes.
It is unclear how the no-kill facility will remain open in the face of continuing financial difficulty.
When the shelter opened last year, it received an $800,000 donation from the estate of a no-kill supporter. Kirchhoff said that money paid for the first year of operation but is now gone.
Safe Haven has a contract for dog control in Kent County for more than $700,000, but that money pays only for those dogs, and not other animals in the care of Safe Haven.
Lofthouse said Safe Haven will continue to fulfill the contract.
"Blending no-kill with an animal-control contract is an unusual and challenging combination of operations. Most shelters with dog-control contracts are high-kill shelters," said Safe Haven board members in a press release.
Delaware is home to other no-kill shelters including Delaware Humane Association, Delaware SPCA and Faithful Friends in Wilmington.
In order to reduce high operating costs, board members are working with other no-kill shelters and groups to place as many dogs and cats as they can. They are also looking for foster homes for the animals.
Most of the dogs that have been living in kennels are being moved back to Safe Haven's Georgetown location and will be kept in fenced areas, donated by Best Friends of Utah, until new homes are found or they are transferred to other groups.
Lofthouse said the board has also let go about half of the shelter's employees to save money.
She said board members Rita Hughes and Sharon Donovan took several dogs to Maine and New Hampshire to shelters there.
"The board hopes to do more of this," Lofthouse said.
Lofthouse said Safe Haven does not have the funds to hire a full-time veterinarian to give state-mandated vaccinations and spay and neuter animals. She said board members are seeking help from the public and area veterinarians.
“We've had difficulty in the area of finding a veterinarian,” Lofthouse said. “We need to get these animals spayed and neutered, so we need help there. We are asking local vets to help us during this time; maybe some probono work. Right now, we need help.”
The new Safe Haven board is asking for the public's continued support. In addition to donations of food, the board is also looking for volunteers.
"Donations of food and litter are essential," states the release. "We must have help with facility and grounds maintenance. Volunteers are badly needed, due to the reduced staff, to help in many capacities; we can use wide-ranging skills."
Volunteers set up fundraising site
A YouCaring.com site has been set up for Safe Haven. The funds donated will go directly to vet costs to spay and neuter animals in Safe Haven's care, said Karli Swope, a Safe Haven volunteer. Swope said Safe Haven board members will not have access to the funds raised through this site.
"Safe Haven has no in-house vet, and most private vets are refusing to treat Safe Haven animals because of their concern about being paid," states the website.
As of Thursday, July 25, $1,558 of the group's $12,000 goal had been raised.
"Donations will be used for food, shelter and veterinarian treatment of the 280 animals. Not one penny will be used for payment of Safe Haven debt," states the website, which can be found at www.youcaring.com/pet-expenses/safe-haven-dogs-cats-/74081.
The dogs transferred from kennels to live in the donated fenced areas will not have protection from the sun, so the volunteers also hope to raise funds to purchase tarps.
Kent County Administrator Michael Petit de Mange could not be reached for comment.