Brandywine Valley SPCA to bid on Safe Haven animal shelter

The long shuttered 11,500 square-foot facility, set on 13 acres off of Shingle Point Road, used to be Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary in Georgetown, before it closed in 2013. The BVSPCA has announced plans to bid on the building when it goes up for auction on June 9. Officials believe extensive repairs needed may cost up to $250,000 over top of the purchase price.
Submitted photos

GEORGETOWN — The Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary in Georgetown, vacant since 2013, may be about to get a new lease on life.

The long shuttered 11,500 square-foot facility, set on 13 acres off Shingle Point Road, is going to auction on June 9.

The Brandywine Valley SPCA (BVSPCA) just threw its hat in the ring.

“We think the facility would make a lot of sense in our operation because it’s about 10 minutes from our Georgetown shelter and could allow us to help up to 2,000 more animals per year,” said Walter Fenstermacher, BVSPCA director of operations at their Georgetown campus.

Founded in 1929, the Brandywine Valley SPCA is an open admission no-kill shelter in Pennsylvania and Delaware. In 2017, the BVSPCA cared for more th an 13,000 stray, owner-surrendered, wayward owned and abused and neglected animals while achieving a 96 percent live release rate.

The BVSPCA opened its Georgetown shelter last July. Of the organizations 962 adoptions in Delaware so far this year, 428 have taken place at the new shelter. Mr Fenstermacher believes the facility can help compound those results.

Officials claim the center would enable the BVSPCA to save even more lives by helping animals “otherwise on the fringe of adoption reach.”

“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,” Adam Lamb, BVSPCA Chief Executive Officer, said in a statement. “The Rescue & 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 Rescue & Rehab Center.”

Animals in the BVSPCA’s care average a 13-day stay. Those with greater needs to be ready for successful placement can require up to 10 months of rehabilitation. Their more needy animal clients would be candidates for placement at the new facility.

“The facility wouldn’t be open to the public — it’d be used for animals that are more at risk either from shelters, from disaster relief areas or even newborns that need to be nursed to health,” said Mr. Fenstermacher. “This could free up cages at shelters so they could serve more too.”

The proposed rescue and rehab center would enable the BVSPCA to increase its support to its national partners, the organization claims. The added space an resources could be employed in response to increasing requests for assistance with larger scale transports of at-risk animals, emergency response during natural disasters and complex cruelty cases.

The facility has approximately 60 indoor/outdoor dog runs and eight “catteries” the organization would try to convert to kitten nurseries, said Mr. Fenstermacher.

Since the building has sat vacant for so long, purchase price won’t be the only obstacle the BVSPCA faces in June.

“We’re not sure if any other buyers will be bidding at the auction, but we hope with the community’s support, we’ll be able to place the final bid,” said Mr. Fenstermacher. “There will also likely be up to $250,000 worth of repairs and about that same figure to have it refurnished and supply for operating costs for the first year, so it’s a substantial investment.”

For the money, Mr. Fenstermacher believes the state’s animal lovers would be getting a great bargain.

“The idea of Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary came from a really great place with its focus on a bright future for animals and we really we want to take the building back to its roots and use it as a rehabilitation center for animals who need it most,” he said. “A facility like this could go a long way toward helping animals that may need more complex care whether that’s behavioral modification or medical care that requires more TLC and ultimately help us place them up for adoption at our Georgetown, New Castle or West Chester shelters.”

The BVSPCA seeks the public’s assistance by pledging funding for the auction and subsequent repairs at the abandoned facility. Donations and pledges can be made at or by mail to: Brandywine Valley SPCA, 22918 Dupont Boulevard, Georgetown, DE 19947. Donors with questions may contact Adam Lamb, BVSPCA CEO, at 302-387-0099.

History of the building

Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary had originally opened in 2011 with a donation of $819,000.

Safe Haven closed down the facility in Nov. 2013.

Near its closing, it was reported that $140,000 was still owed for the building alone. That didn’t include operating costs, which were – at the time – estimated to exceed $125,000 per month.

After several adoption drives in the run up to their closing, they successfully found homes for the vast majority of the animals in their care, but were ultimately forced to euthanize 19 dogs. Officials’ decision to euthanize dogs drew criticism as it went against the stated policy of a sanctuary.

Safe Haven was thought to have been kept afloat by a dog control contract it had with Kent County, but after that was terminated earlier in 2013, the facility was running on donations alone. The county contract had been worth a reported $72,000 a month.

The dire financial straits had been publicized by Safe Haven through continuous adoption programs and pleas for volunteers, supplies, monetary donations and direct pay to veterinarians it is indebted to.

The Kent County SPCA (now the First State Animal Center and SPCA) took over the county’s dog control contract upon Safe Haven’s termination.

At the time, then director of the Kent County SPCA, Kevin Usilton, told this paper that some of the blame for the shelter’s closing was on Delaware’s animal welfare policies.

“The Companion Animal Protection Act (CAPA) is an unfunded state mandate that requires certain shelter standards, but Safe Haven didn’t follow because they are a no-kill shelter,” he said at the time.

“The animals they took in didn’t have to be spayed or neutered and weren’t medically evaluated. For CAPA, some animals that are dying or need an extreme amount of medical attention are euthanized, and Safe Haven took in every dog they were given, and that’s how you accumulate too many to manage or care for.”

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