Dog days in Delaware: New rescue center opens

GEORGETOWN — Dogs and cats from across America and around the globe are receiving care and rehabilitation at Brandywine Valley SPCA’s new Animal Rescue Center/Eastern Shore Pet Resort campus.

On Saturday, BVSPCA welcomed the public for an open house/ribbon cutting and tours of its 11,500 square-foot facility — the former Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary — that the SPCA purchased at public auction in June 2018.

The campus is located on 13 acres on Shingle Point Road east of Georgetown. Save Haven closed its doors in December 2013.

“We are so excited,” said BVSCPA marketing director Linda Torelli.

“It has been a journey,” said Walt Fenstermacher, BVSPCA’s Delaware director. “We just moved into Sussex County into our Georgetown facility in 2017, and with the purchase of the old Safe Haven facility we knew that the community had invested a lot of their feelings and dollars into the work that was originally going to be performed at Safe Haven.

“We wanted to see that kind of revitalized. We always had a dream to have a rescue and rehab facility, and with something so close here in Delaware, a building that can be repurposed and brought back to life. That is what we wanted to do.”

The rescue center and pet resort, which generates revenue to support the rescue/rehab component, officially opened in January, although rescue work began last fall.

During renovation, more than 500 animals were saved, including hurricane victims and animals at risk of euthanasia at other shelters.

“We really just opened last month for full operations, but we started in September using the rescue center facility,” said Ms. Torelli. “As soon as Hurricane Florence hit, we felt like we were far enough along to put the building into action. We took almost 300 animals in between Hurricanes Florence and Michael.”

“By the end of the year we had helped another 200 animals through a combination of local cases and animals at risk in other shelters.

“We helped out a shelter in Arizona, a lot of small dogs that were at risk of euthanasia,” said Ms. Torelli. “We weren’t even done (renovating) and saved 500 animals, so we’re really proud of that.”

The ARC, which occupies approximately two thirds of the campus, helps animals needing additional support to reach adoption status.

“The work that is being done is specialty work. Animals stay with us longer than they would in our standard shelters. These animals need behavior modification and socialization, some of them,” said Mr. Fenstermacher.

“The longer stay also means more dollars to support those pets, and that’s when we decided what better way to support the life-saving work than to offer a public service that is needed in the area through Eastern Shore Pet Resort.”

“Most of the animals that are brought into the Animal Rescue Center, once they are available for adoption though rehabilitation, they will be able to find homes in our Georgetown, New Castle and also West Chester facilities,” said Mr. Fenstermacher.

The BVSPCA Georgetown shelter/animal health center is located at 22918 DuPont Boulevard in Georgetown.

The ARC’s behavior program includes animals from a recent cruelty case and a Korean dog meat farm shut down by Humane Society International, as well as at-risk dogs rescued from another shelter being prepared for adoption.

“We have a partnership with the Humane Society International,” said Ms. Torelli. “They are doing work in South Korea to close down the dog meat farms. These are all dog meat farm survivors. In their case people were never good …”

“One of the amazing things about this work is that they not only remove to dogs from the dog meat farms, they help the farmers change over to plant-based crops. It’s a sustainable change,” said Ms. Torelli. “These particular dogs, the farmer is now growing medicinal herbs in Korea.”

Among the rescues at the Georgetown rescue center are five of 16 German Shepherds that were living in livestock pens in rural Georgia.

“These particular animals don’t know people. So, it’s not that the people are bad, they don’t know them at all,” Ms. Torelli said.

“Every morning they get hand-fed by people. Dogs like this are a big flight risk if we were going to put them in a home. It’s getting them used to people, living indoors.

“There is a whole behavioral structure to help them. We took in 16. Some of them were actually pretty comfortable with people. Those went into homes. We had some go into foster homes. These (five) are the less social.”

Closer to home, the rescue center on Feb. 22 took in 44 dogs from a home in Dover, Ms. Torelli said. (See story above.)

“An elderly homeowner passed away. She had 44 dogs in her care. They are all in pretty good condition. But her family called the Office of Animal Welfare for help with the dogs,” said Ms. Torelli. “So, Office of Animal Welfare is our partner; we have the contract with OAW for all of the lost and stray dogs and all of the cruelty cases.

“In this case it was just a family that needed assistance. We took in the 44 dogs, got them all checked out medically. They are in pretty good shape.”

“The family is actually going to take back eight and keep them. We’re going to rehome the rest, the other 36. Some are at our New Castle campus but most of them are here,” said Ms. Torelli, adding the dogs will be spayed or neutered and once cleared be placed for adoption.

The rescue center features specific areas, including an isolation wing, and a full surgical area for spay/neuter and significant medical cases. “We do have our own vets on staff,” Ms. Torelli said.

A recovery mat is used following surgery. “When animals come out of surgery, they tend to be really cold from the anesthesia. That is a heat mat; we call it the ‘beach,’” Ms. Torelli said.

The complex features an indoor playgroup area and outdoor playgroup areas, one with the doggie day care/resort and another with numerous fenced-in areas. This includes separate areas for large dogs and small dogs.

Meanwhile, Eastern Shore Pet Resort provides pampered pets with a luxury getaway for daycare and boarding.

Resort features include indoor and outdoor playgrounds, room service and customizable treats, bubble baths, in-suite television and one-on-one cuddle time.

“The amenities that we have here are those that you would want in your own home,” Mr. Fenstermacher said. “It’s definitely a bit different than the norm as pet boarding goes.”

Webcams, available in the VIP package, are in all 13 luxury suites and the doggie daycare areas, allowing owners halfway around the globe to check on their pets.

“So, 24/7 people can keep an eye on their pet. And they’ll know how everything is going,” said Ms. Torelli.

In addition, each suite has a television that can be tuned to animal and dog channels/programs as well as diffusers with “scents shown scientifically to help calm dogs down,” Ms. Torelli said.

“We basically customize each program for the family. If their dog likes other dogs, their dog will go to doggie daycare. If their dog doesn’t like other dogs, their dog will get leash-walked every day. We have customizable treats,” said Ms. Torelli. “We want it to be a pet resort, not just kennels and boarding. We want to have a place for people who really want to make sure their pets get a home away from home, so they get their own vacation.”

Among the canines on hand at the open house were four adorable mixed breed puppies rescued from Alabama. They were to be featured at an adoption event in New Castle County the day after BVSPCA’s open house event.

“We basically have four different kinds of animals that come in,” Ms. Torelli said. “Some will come in and go out pretty quickly, like the puppies. These particular animals came up from Alabama where they were at risk of euthanasia. In the south and those rural areas, of course spay-neuter isn’t as prevalent. Puppies are at risk of being euthanized. So, what we try to do is give people who really want a puppy a chance to adopt rather than buy from a breeder. It’s all about relocating animals to where they have a higher chance of being adopted.”

The rescue center is normally not open to the general public.

Ms. Torelli estimated several hundred people attended the Feb. 23 ribbon cutting. Pet owners were also invited to bring dog-friendly dogs to visit the indoor and outdoor playgroups.

“We offered something new for the community, and from the turnout on Saturday we can tell that everybody is really excited,” said Mr. Fenstermacher.

BVSPCA secured the property last June with a winning bid of $880,000 ($800,000 base, 10 percent auctioneer fee). An additional $500,000 was estimated for fit-out work, which included repairs and renovations to the building and property, and $250,000 in equipment and furniture.

Donor generosity helped to make that all possible. Revenue from the pet resort will help to sustain operations and rescue work.

“We’ve got real generous donors and that is really how we got this facility,” Ms. Torelli said. “But having diversity and our revenue with the pet resort is huge.

“For us to have the pet resort … that is a huge step to make sure we continue to take on really hard work. For ongoing operations one of the ways we are funding it is through the pet resort. Some shelters, they don’t have the resources to do that.”

The pet resort side of the campus is manned by BVSPCA staff. There are three staff members dedicated to the rescue center.

“And we have volunteers,” said Ms. Torelli. “We can always use more volunteers.”

Founded in 1929, the Brandywine Valley SPCA exists to end animal suffering and to involve the entire community in the welfare and well-being of animals.


For more information, visit the BVSPCA’s animal health center/shelter, 22918 DuPont Boulevard, Georgetown or call 856-6361 or 516-1004.

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