Kent Co. Ends Contract With Safe Haven, Shelter In Jeopardy - 47 ABC - Delmarva's Choice

Kent Co. Ends Contract With Safe Haven, Shelter In Jeopardy

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GEORGETOWN, Del. - There's so much uncertainty surrounding a Georgetown based animal shelter. Over the past few months, rumors have been circulating about the status of Safe Haven. Will it stay open? Will it close? A huge decision by Kent County leaders Tuesday night may force the shelter to make some difficult decisions of their own.

The cries of more than 170 dogs at Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary in Georgetown and Selbyville are calling out for someone to bring them home. But the shelter has bigger problems - namely digging out of a huge financial hole. Compounding their issues, Kent County Levy Court Commissioners terminated the shelter's dog-control contract in a 5-2 vote. County commissioners believe Safe Haven did not prove they have a solid plan to get the shelter out of the red.

"Our FY14 contract with Safe Haven began July 1 and was to run through June 30 of next year. They were selected through a competitive process. But shortly after the contract year began on July 1, we began hearing rumors of potential financial distress at Safe Haven which were followed up on and actually confirmed by their board president," Kent County Administrator Michael Petit de Mange said.

It's clear the shelter was having difficulties meeting their financial obligations. So much so that the board notified the Petit de Mange on July 20 that their financial picture was so bleak that they were going to be closing effective August 30. However, the following Tuesday on July 23, Petit de Mange was notified that the board had changed their minds and were going to remain in business.

"This led to some inquiries on our part. We really needed to have a good understanding of the depth of their financial distress. We also heard from several vendors who were owed substantial sums of money from Safe Haven. This heightened our level of concern to the point that we thought it was imperative to invite board members of Safe Haven to come to a court meeting," Petit de Mange said.

A majority of the commissioners were not convinced Safe Haven had a clear path to solvency.

The contract was the shelter's largest source of income - an $868,972 loss. Board commissioner Rita Hughes admits there were a number of internal problems - from firings to board commissioners resigning, and allegations that the interim executive director moved about 80 cats to another facility in the middle of the night, then quit.

"In the process she left the dogs here unattended. she had fired everybody on staff - the night time shift. So when we came in, we found out that no one was going to be working the night shift. So we had to stay and protect the dogs the whole night. She cared about the cats, but the dogs were not her number one priority," Safe Haven Board Commissioner Rita Hughes said.

Hughes tells WMDT the no-kill shelter is simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of animals. Issues aside, she maintains the shelter has no plans to close down. The focus now is finding homes for the dogs.

"We lost a great portion of our income but it's not the end of Safe Haven. It's only the beginning," she said.

Safe Haven says they are over $200,000 in debt, but they're confident they can keep their doors open. As far as an action plan goes? They're still trying to work that out.

Their contract with Kent County actually expires at the end of September, meaning they'll still receive money from the county over the next two months.

Petit de Mange says the county is currently negotiating a contract with the Kent County SPCA, which is not a no-kill animal shelter. If that contract is executed, they will take over the county's dog-control responsibilities once Safe Haven is relieved of their duties.

To volunteer at Safe Haven and for more information on adopting a dog, call 302-856-6460 or visit www.safehavende.org.

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