At Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary, dogs barked at visitors as they were walked outside as if it were any other day.
They were apparently oblivious to the ongoing drama surrounding their home.
After announcing it would close its doors Friday, Sept. 27, the Georgetown-based Safe Haven posted an announcement on its Facebook page that it would not close.
In a statement released Sept. 20, the no-kill shelter's board of directors wrote, “It is with great sadness that Safe Haven announces the closing of its facility.The staff will be laid off at end of business that day (Sept. 27). There is no money available to continue paying salaries.”
However, a Sept. 22 posting to the shelter’s Facebook page, said, “Safe Haven's Board of Directors did not vote to close the shelter on Sept. 27th. Our agency is committed to doing everything we can to raise enough money to stay open for at least a few months in order to safely place all the dogs into good adoptive homes or into reputable no kill shelters through the transfer program.”
Board members Rita Hughes and Lois Fargo did not return requests for comment on the shelter's financial situation. Bob Burakiewicz, recently named Safe Haven’s director, said the shelter has enough money to take care of the dogs and pay staff, but referred questions on Safe Haven’s financial future to the board. Burakiewicz said as long as the board is successfully raising funds, the facility will stay open.
The board’s Sept. 20 statement said there are 140 dogs at the facility and all will be turned over to the Kent County SPCA.
That was news to the Kent County SPCA; director Kevin Usilton said the Kent County SPCA board decided not to accept Safe Haven’s dogs. He said Kent County SPCA’s board recommended to Safe Haven to find shelters who could accept the dogs or have a vet assess the dogs and have the sicker ones euthanized. Usilton said Kent County SPCA would not euthanize Safe Haven dogs and that Safe Haven should not be sending out sick or dangerous animals.
“Our board felt it wasn’t our job to clean up after them,” Usilton said. “One hundred forty dogs is a lot for anyone to absorb at one time.”
Kent County SPCA took over the Kent County dog control contract formerly held by Safe Haven Sept. 20.
The Cape Gazette has reported Safe Haven's continuing financial difficulties. Usilton said one reason for the shelter’s struggles is the $16,000 mortgage on Safe Haven’s Shingle Point Road facility. This is the second time Safe Haven almost closed its doors; in July, the board voted to close the facility, only for the decision to be reversed; three board members who voted to close then stepped down.
Alliance calls for board to step down
Meanwhile, Delaware No-Kill Alliance is seeking to remove Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary’s board of directors.
On Sept. 16, seven members of the alliance personally presented a petition with more than 2,000 signatures to Department of Justice Intake Officer Susan Draper; the petition will be forwarded to the department's consumer protection unit for review.
The recently formed alliance alleges Safe Haven's board misused taxpayer funds from Kent County’s dog control contract, failed to pay and administer care to its animals and misused an $819,000 donation designated for building a medical wing and paying a veterinarian.
Department of Justice spokesman Jason Miller said the Attorney General’s Office is aware of the petition but cannot confirm or deny any investigation into wrongdoing by Safe Haven.
Dr. Cindy Meyers, who made the $819,000 donation, said she did not wish to comment until she has spoken with the AG’s Office. Delaware State Police spokesman Cpl. Gary Fournier said no police report has been filed in the matter.
The alliance, made up of former Safe Haven volunteers, veterinarians and animal activists, has demanded the board step down and allow the alliance to take care of the dogs on hand and relocate them to new homes while Safe Haven gets its financial house in order.
Lisa St. Clair, founder of the alliance, said the arrangement would be temporary; the alliance would pay $1 a month to rent the Safe Haven facility. She said the alliance would pay for utilities, treatment and feeding of the animals but would not pay Safe Haven’s mortgage.
“It’s about getting the dogs out,” St. Clair said.
She said the matter went to the consumer protection unit because they deal with nonprofit foundation oversight. St. Clair said the alliance asked for the board’s resignation because it was in the best interests of donors, taxpayers and the animals.
Safe Haven spokeswoman and board member Lynn Lofthouse did not respond to a request comment. Safe Haven board members Rita and David Hughes also did not respond to requests for comment. Board member Hal Dukes said he has little involvement with the shelter anymore. He said he is aware of the petition but does not understand what it is about.
Kathy Hughes, who is not related to Rita and David Hughes, is a former Safe Haven volunteer. She said she was recently barred from working at Safe Haven because she signed the petition, which is critical of Safe Haven’s management. Hughes said Safe Haven has been mismanaged financially, and there has been a lack of concern for the animals under the shelter’s care. She said during her time at Safe Haven, care of the dogs was substandard; dogs were not vaccinated and animals were adopted out without being spayed or neutered.
“I believe this petition will prevail. I think they will take it under investigation,” Hughes said.
Hughes said staff positions had been cut back drastically for financial reasons; she said to stay open, Safe Haven had been relying on money from the Kent County contract, which was rescinded in July and awarded to Kent County SPCA.
“We can’t make a private board step down,” St. Clair said. “We don’t have any other recourse than to do this.”