BVSPCA to bid on defunct animal shelter

Despite its sad past, there may be a positive future for the former Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary in Georgetown.

The no-kill facility on Shingle Point Road was built with the best of intentions, but there were red flags even before it opened.

Safe Haven founder and former director Anne Gryczon had previously lived and worked in Kentucky, where she led a Henderson County animal shelter that came under fire for overcrowding. Once in Delaware, Gryczon was taking in animals long before she had a space for them and housing them at boarding facilities, a practice normally used as a last resort in the animal rescue community.

In 2012, Kent County awarded Safe Haven its 2013 animal control contract, despite the fact that Safe Haven’s facility was not yet open. The contract was later terminated in court.

When Safe Haven finally did open, it almost immediately showed signs of failure. While the kennels at the new facility filled, many dogs continued to languish in boarding. Employees and volunteers voiced concern for the dogs’ health; board members resigned.

Gryczon was removed as director in January of 2013, and by that summer, the new and remaining board members were struggling to find money to keep the facility open. The Delaware No-Kill Alliance was formed with the goal of getting as many dogs out of Safe Haven as possible.

Safe Haven’s closure was announced more than once, but the decision to close permanently on Dec. 1, 2013, seemed final. Board members promised any remaining dogs would be transferred to other shelters. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals arrived in mid-October of that year and managed to find homes for the majority of the dogs.

But it all ended in a horrific manner. Much to the shock of no-kill advocates, the last 19 Safe Haven dogs were euthanized on Nov. 14, two weeks before the planned closure. The ASPCA cited behavioral issues. Outraged former employees and volunteers and others involved gathered on site, and police had to step in to maintain peace.

In the following weeks, a candlelight vigil was held for the “Safe Haven 19” and Kentucky artist Mark Barone memorialized the dogs in paintings. Safe Haven’s legacy, once full of potential for good, became a stark warning of what can happen when a no-kill shelter is mismanaged.

A second chance

It’s been almost five years since that dreadful day. The angular, ultra-modern building was abandoned and nature took over much of the property. Safe Haven eventually declared bankruptcy, and the facility is now in the hands of Fortna Auctioneers, which will auction off the building and property on June 9.

It might just mean a second chance for an animal shelter that represents such bad memories for so many.

The Brandywine Valley SPCA, which originated in Chester County, Pennsylvania and has since flourished to manage animal control throughout Delaware, has had great success as a no-kill organization and plans to bid on the Safe Haven facility.

According to Fortna, the Safe Haven property encompasses just over 13 acres and the building over 11,000 square feet. The building is touted as LEED-certified, with features like solar hot water and a vegetative roof. Despite its abandonment, the facility is reportedly in good condition.

The BVSPCA hopes to use the Safe Haven facility as a “rescue and rehab center.”

“Saving as many lives as possible means giving hope to animals who need more help than typical adoption candidates  – cruelty survivors, disaster victims, newborns and infants, animals at risk in other shelters, and those requiring time and training to increase their adoptability,” said BVSPCA CEO Adam Lamb.

If acquired, the Safe Haven facility would be used to focus on the needs of animals like Lamb described, including behavior programs, a kitten nursery and an intake center. Animals in the BVSPCA’s care average a 13-day stay, but rescue and rehab center candidates often stay anywhere from six weeks to 10 months.

“The rescue and rehab center will expand our lifesaving resources to those animals with greater needs, while allowing our three regional campuses to focus on finding homes for less complex cases and the rehabilitated graduates from the … center,” Lamb said.

The BVSPCA is no stranger to assisting animals in other parts of the country when they fall victim to disasters. Dogs and cats were pulled by the BVSPCA from Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico during the 2017 hurricane season. The rescue and rehab center would also allow them to increase nationwide support.

No other potential bidders on the Safe Haven property have come forward and the BVSPCA is hopeful. They were recently awarded a $200,000 matching grant from the Longwood Foundation to support their bid, but Lamb asserts that public donations are more important than ever.

“We need the community’s support to be successful at the auction and for subsequent repairs at the facility,” he said.

Donations and pledges can be made at www.bvspca.org/rescue-rehab.