An ongoing rift between Kent County's current and former dog control contractors took center stage during last week's public hearing before the state animal welfare task force.
Accusations of mismanagement, neglect and abuse made by supporters and opponents of Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary in Georgetown and Kent County SPCA in Camden dominated the task force's two-hour hearing at Legislative Hall on Thursday.
The dispute prompted others to suggest that the task force recommend greater state oversight of animal shelters through a central agency capable of investigating such accusations.
"I think there needs to be one localized position, hopefully in the Department of [Agriculture], … that can go in and inspect all of the shelters, all of the rescue groups," veterinarian Erin Whaley of Lewes told the task force. "Somebody needs to be going in and checking those places out, making sure that they're following protocol and doing spot checks unannounced."
The 22-member Animal Welfare Task Force was appointed by the state Senate in June to review the state's animal cruelty laws and propose a more coordinated approach to animal welfare.
While several people testified Thursday about the need for state guidelines on vaccination schedules, clearer definitions for "unadoptable" pets and tighter control over the state's feral cat population, most of the testimony at the hearing centered on Safe Haven and Kent County SPCA.
Kent County Levy Court awarded a one-year, $830,000 dog control contract to Safe Haven in July, after negotiations with Kent County SPCA, which held the contract since 2010, fell apart.
The loss of the county contract forced Kent County SPCA to layoff 13 of its workers. Meanwhile, Safe Haven, which opened less than a month before winning the contract, has come under intense criticism over allegations of mismanagement and mistreatment of animals.
"There have been an alarming amount of instances that cannot be explained or rationalized any longer at Safe Haven," Camden resident Allison Lindsay, a former veterinary technician at the shelter on Shingle Point Road told the task force. "This shelter has failed in its mission statement and become an actual mess."
Lindsay, along with foster pet owner Brittani Mayan, of Hartly, and Lost and Found Dog Rescue adoption center founder Marleen Oetzel, of Rehoboth Beach, claimed Safe Haven Executive Director Anne Gryszon has created a hoarding situation by failing to institute an adequate spay/neuter program or a competent adoption program for dogs they claim are being kept in cages at off-site kennels.
Safe Haven co-founder Lois Fargo disputed those claims, insisting that the agency is the target of harassment because of its no-kill policy.
"It is a group of people led by one woman who worked with us for two weeks and she later told our board of directors that she really wanted the executive director job," she told the task force. "Marleen here tried to break into our facility to steal a dog but we did not press charges."
Page 2 of 2 - Oetzel adamantly denied that claim.
Meanwhile, Safe Haven supporters privately accused Kent County SPCA Executive Director Kevin Usilton of coordinating a smear campaign against the Georgetown shelter, while others publicly claimed his agency failed to properly care for animals when it had the county contract.
Smyrna resident Frank Furr said his wife, Carol, was removed from the Kent County SPCA's board of directors after questioning the high temperature in its dog kennels during the summer months.
"…(H)ow can you sit back when its almost 90 degrees in the kennel and 70 degrees in the office and say you have the best interests of the animals in your heart," he asked. "If you spent as much effort trying to come to a solution to the problem as they have spent bickering and mudslinging, we wouldn't have this problem today."
The task force, which includes the executive directors of Safe Haven and Kent County SPCA, is slated to deliver its final report to Gov. Jack Markell by March 30.
Thursday's meeting was the only mandated public hearing for the task force, although its chairwoman, state Sen. Patricia Blevins (D-Elsmere), indicated a second public hearing could follow the release of the task force's final report.
Sussex chooses Kent Co. SPCA
Sussex County Council voted Tuesday to extend its one-year, $669,230 dog control contract with Kent County SPCA, effective Jan. 1. Kent County SPCA, which has held the contract since 2010, was chosen over Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary.