Safe Haven questions still arise

January 24, 2013

I believe that the Cape Gazette should have mentioned in its recent articles that a whistleblower report was prepared by employees/volunteers of Safe Haven. I also think the Safe Haven board should have mentioned this fact in their letter to the editor. The community deserves to know the truth.

The whistleblower report was written by brave people who care about animals. Some of them are employees who risked losing their jobs. There are many problems at Safe Haven identified in the whistleblower report, including descriptions of how specific animals suffered. The whistleblower report was given to a major donor, who was outraged and went to the board immediately to demand reform.

I have talked to the donor and read the whistleblower report. I arranged meetings between staff and the donor to discuss what has happened. I have refrained from publishing the whistleblower report on my blog at because I truly do want Safe Haven to move forward and be successful for the sake of the animals. But the board needs to be honest and admit the report's existence.

The biggest problem at Safe Haven has been the failure to get enough dogs adopted. The new building is full with about 100 dogs, and there are about 100 dogs boarded at private kennels, according to the whistleblower report. It is good that board is going to "move aggressively to increase adoptions and fosters, including increasing hours open to the public." A no-kill shelter must get dogs fostered and adopted quickly, especially if it has a dog-control contract, as Safe Haven does. The failure to get enough dogs adopted has caused serious problems at Safe Haven.

The board's statement says that they will: "commence an immediate search for a full-time staff veterinarian" and "complete outfitting our medical wing as quickly as financing will allow." This should have been done a year ago. Many people in the community know about the $800,000 bequest given in December 2011 for a vet and medical equipment. The good person whose estate provided the bequest was committed to outstanding vet care and spay/neuter. It is disrespectful to his memory that a vet was not hired and the medical center is not equipped.

It is a mystery why the former director didn't hire a staff vet and buy equipment a year ago. As a result, the animals have received little preventive care and they are only taken to private vets when problems reach a crisis level. In October, a vet started coming to the building a couple of days a week - that was inadequate. As a result, animals have suffered, as detailed in the whistleblower report.

In addition, the whistleblower report says that more than 85 percent of the dogs have not been neutered. It is reported that unneutered dogs placed together in kennels and foster homes have become pregnant. The report recounts the litters of puppies and abortions, with one pregnancy so far along that it would have been illegal if it were humans. This must never happen at a no-kill shelter. Also, Safe Haven has not kept their promise to do high-volume spay/neuter for feral/stray cats, pit bulls and pets of people with limited income. This is the result of the failure to hire a vet and buy equipment for spay/neuter.

Here's an important question: why does it say that Safe Haven will buy medical equipment "as financing will allow" in the board's statement? What happened to the $800,000 from the bequest that was intended for a vet and for medical equipment?

The board states that they are committed to: "Ensure animals receive appropriate exercise and socialization." I have great concern that board chose the word "appropriate" - that could mean anything the board chooses. The No Kill Advocacy Center sets minimal mental health requirements for dogs and cats at no-kill shelters; dogs are supposed to get at least 20 minutes of exercise, training and socialization every day.

For the most part, the dogs boarded at private kennels are confined all day by themselves. It has a very negative effect on dogs' mental and physical health to be deprived of company and exercise for long periods of time. A good number of the dogs who have been in those kennels for six months. This is inhumane.

It is not the fault of the private kennels, which charge a discount daily rate of $10 for food and shelter. Extras - such as walks - are not included. (The exception is Canine Cabin in Georgetown, which has provided daily training and exercise; however, they can only take a couple of Safe Haven dogs at a time.)

Dogs boarded at kennels for long periods of time can become so stressed and/or depressed that they can’t or won’t eat enough to maintain their body weight. Many of the Safe Haven dogs are strays who were already too thin. Take a look at the before/after photo of Romney in the Cape Gazette's online article about the removal of the executive director. The weight loss is shocking - Romney is skin and bones. Romney is one of several dogs who suffered this kind of weight loss. More before/after photos are posted at

It is not feasible to get volunteers to walk 100 dogs every day. In 2011, there were never enough volunteers to walk even 20 dogs every day who were boarded at private kennels (that was when Safe Haven was rescuing dogs before the building was open).

Recently, a Safe Haven donor who became worried about the dogs hired a person for 12 hours a week to walk dogs. That's very good of her, but it is not even close to what is needed. Walking 100 dogs for 20 minutes a day will take 33 hours each day, 231 hours per week. That is the equivalent of about four full-time employees. Safe Haven staff is already stretched thin, so they need to hire people for this task. It costs Safe Haven about $31,000 per month to board 100 dogs, and it would add about $4,600 for staff to exercise the dogs. It is penny wise and pound foolish not to hire that staff, because it will result in higher vet costs when dogs become depressed and sick. And of course, it makes it harder to get those dogs adopted, which means more boarding costs.

Staff for the dogs boarded at kennels is just as essential as staff at the new building. All Safe Haven animals need attention and exercise. Volunteers can supplement staff, but the basics must be provided by staff, especially at the kennels in western Sussex, where it has proven very difficult to get volunteers to walk dogs on a regular basis.

Thus, it is not enough for the board to just say "appropriate" exercise and socialization will be given. What does that mean? How will it get done? The board must commit to hiring staff to provide daily exercise and socialization for the dogs boarded in kennels.

The whistleblower report is a document that tells the truth about what has happened at Safe Haven. It is why the executive director was removed. It is why the board of directors has made this detailed statement to the community.

The acting director is a compassionate person, and she works very hard. However, she cannot get the job done without resources. It is the board's responsibility to be sure that funding is there to buy equipment and hire staff, including the vet and the necessary temporary staff to walk 100 dogs at the private kennels.

Diane Meier

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