Nineteen dogs were euthanized at Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary in Georgetown, originally established as a no-kill shelter.
According officials with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, on Nov. 14, the same day the dogs were put down, 22 Safe Haven dogs were transferred to other shelters.
The dogs were evaluated by the ASPCA, which began working at the sanctuary when Safe Haven’s financial difficulties resulted in laying off paid staff. However, Emily Schneider, spokeswoman for the ASPCA, said the decision to euthanize or place dogs in other shelters was made by Safe Haven’s board of directors.
“Some dogs, due to severe behavior issues, were such a threat to other animals or humans that they were evaluated as unsuitable for adoption. Some were humanely euthanized,” Schneider said.
Safe Haven released a statement saying, "With the support of the animal welfare community and the public, we were able to place an overwhelming majority of the dogs through transfers to local partners, adoptions, and out-of-state relocations."
"We are grateful for all of the lives that were saved and the support that we received during this difficult time," the statement said.
Safe Haven spokeswoman and board member Lynn Lofthouse said the shelter is not making any further statements.
Schneider said there were 105 dogs at the facility when the ASPCA arrived Oct. 16; 86 dogs were adopted, she said. The 22 dogs still at Safe Haven when the shelter was closed down Nov. 14 were placed in shelters from Delaware to Maine, Schneider said. Some are not no-kill shelters, but Schneider said they took the dogs with the idea that they would be adopted.
She said on Nov. 14 there was confusion between the ASPCA and Safe Haven’s board as to what exactly was going on.
Safe Haven had been scheduled to close Sunday, Dec. 1 but it closed more than two weeks before that. When reached for comment on why the facility closed early, Lofthouse hung up. Schneider speculated Safe Haven closed early because once the remaining dogs were taken to other shelters, there was no need to stay open, because there were no more animals.
Former Safe Haven volunteer Tacia McIlvaine said Safe Haven never told anyone they were suddenly closing. McIlvaine went to the facility Nov. 14 to pick up two dogs, Barker and Wilton, both pit bulls, but she was denied entry. Barker was transferred to Delaware Humane Association, but Wilton, she said, was among the 19 euthanized.
McIlvaine said Wilton was “a laid back little guy” who was not aggressive but did not trust people. She said she had walked him at Safe Haven Nov. 13, but she thought she had time to adopt him before the shelter closed. McIlvaine said if she had known Safe Haven would close and that Wilton would be put down, she would have taken him right then.
McIlvaine said Lofthouse had authorized her to take Barker and Wilton out, but she believes Wilton was put down the morning of Nov. 14, before she arrived that afternoon to pick him up. She said she plans to visit Barker at Delaware Humane Society and is continuing to ensure the dogs not euthanized are safely cared for in other shelters.
“It’s so frustrating,” McIlvaine said. ‘It didn’t have to happen the way it did. They were good dogs that didn’t need to be put down. We could have had them out if we had one more day. We could have gotten these dogs out.”
Amid the confusion between ASPCA, Safe Haven's board and people who hoped to rescue dogs, ASPCA officials called police Nov.14.
Police remained on on the scene for a few hours to ensure the safety of the facility, said Master Cpl. Gary Fournier of the Delaware State Police.
"We went out basically to keep the peace between people out there," Fournier said.
No arrests were made or anything close to an arrest, he said.