Since closing Nov. 14, Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary sits locked behind black gates. The future of the taxpayer-assisted facility is, for now, up in the air.
Safe Haven’s Georgetown facility off Shingle Point Road was built in part using a direct $2.7 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Division. Community Program Director Denise MacLeish said the loan, at 4 percent interest for 40 years, closed July 12, 2011, and is guaranteed by County Bank.
County Bank did not return requests for comment.
“USDA and the bank have an agreement to equally share in the value of the facility based upon our exposure,” MacLeish said. She said the USDA and County Bank are working with Safe Haven's board as to who will ultimately take ownership of the building.
Safe Haven board members Hal Dukes and Lynn Lofthouse did not return requests for comment.
As for what could happen with the Safe Haven facility, Suzanne Friday, an attorney with the Council on Foundations, said the process for closing a nonprofit such as Safe Haven vary from state to state. Typically, she said, the first step is the board of directors votes to dissolve the corporation. From there, any liabilities would be satisfied and the final dissolution paperwork would be sent to the Delaware Secretary of State’s office, she said.
Friday said IRS rules for 501(c)3 organizations dictate that any assets the nonprofit still has – in Safe Haven’s case the land and building – must be passed through to another charitable organization.
Safe Haven lost the $866,000 Kent County dog control contract in July, subsequently awarded to the Kent County SPCA, which has no plans to use the Safe Haven facility.
Kevin Usilton, executive director of Kent County SPCA, said Safe Haven’s combined mortgage and debt, which he said is in the neighborhood of $4 million including unpaid bills, make it unattractive for his organization to take on.
“I’m not sure who could,” he said. Usilton said if someone were to buy the facility and donate it, Kent County SPCA would accept it.
Usilton said besides financial issues, there are operational problems, most notably a lack of drainage in the dog runs to drain urine and water.
A statement by the recently created Delaware Office of Animal Welfare said, “The sad situation that unfolded at Safe Haven over the past several months was brought on by the failures of the dog control system and a lack of shelter oversight.”
The statement said 19 dogs euthanized at Safe Haven displayed severe aggression towards humans, animals or both, with many having a bite history.
“It is our understanding that because of their concern for safety because of the dogs’ severe aggression and the impact of prolonged confinement on the dogs’ health, the Safe Haven board made the difficult decision to euthanize 19 dogs,” the statement said.
What the three-week old Animal Welfare Office intends to do about the dog control system is unclear.
“The Safe Haven situation demonstrates the need for stronger shelter oversight and a better dog control system. In the future, we need to ensure that shelters in Delaware, especially those with dog control contracts, are held to high standards that place the animals’ best interests in mind,” the animal welfare office statement said.