Cindy Woods says she's working hard to make changes at Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary, both inside and out.
"We're looking to make improvements on a number of fronts," said Woods, who was named the interim executive director of the no-kill shelter near Georgetown less than a month ago. "That includes reaching out to the community to rebuild the relationships that may have been damaged and return to everyone's good graces."
A former clinical admissions director for Genesis Healthcare who also is certified as a veterinary assistant, Woods took over as the day-to-day head of Safe Haven after the agency's six-member board of directors fired its first executive director Anne Gryczon just months after Safe Haven was awarded a one-year, $830,000 dog control contract in Kent County.
The move followed accusations from former and current volunteers at the agency regarding mismanagement and animal mistreatment under Gryczon's leadership, much of which centered around Safe Haven's practice of boarding dogs at off-site holding facilities, where the animals were reportedly receiving inadequate attention and care.
Woods, a Bridgeville resident hired as Safe Haven's director of operations and medical care in March, said space limitations at the agency's Georgetown facility still require that about 75 dogs are boarded at kennels in Smyrna, Dagsboro and Selbyville.
But, she said, improvements in the shelter's adoption program could result in an end to that practice in the coming months.
"Any animals with medical issues are kept here on site and each day a staff member visits the boarding kennels to check on the health of the dogs that are there and to provide them with exercise and socialization," Woods said. "By working with private, no-kill kennels in New Castle County, which tend to have rapid success in finding forever homes for many of our dogs, we are making more space at our Georgetown facility and won't need to keep dogs off site much longer."
Woods said the agency found homes for nearly 60 dogs in January alone, compared to 81 adoptions in the final three months of 2012.
This month, the shelter is offering free adoptions and will hold a Valentine's Day-themed open house on Feb. 9 called "Kisses For Kitties, Smooches For Pooches" in an effort to find homes for even more cats and dogs.
This month, the shelter also expanded its public hours to noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, noon to 7 p.m. on Fridays and noon to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.
Woods said another of her top priorities is to strengthen Safe Haven's spay and neuter programs, including the long-awaited hiring of a full-time veterinarian and the opening of a fully-equipped medical wing.
"It's very important for population control that feral cat colonies and the dogs we foster out are not running around creating more puppies and kittens," she said. "Spay and neutering also is important for the animals' health, because not doing so can lead to tumors and other medical risks."
Page 2 of 2 - Woods said the shelter also is working with Faithful Friends Animal Society in Wilmington to launch a new pet therapy program that will visit schools and assisted-living facilities, as well as pit bull and feral cat awareness programs.
"Everything we do here at Safe Haven is a team effort among our 30 full-time, part-time and per diem staff members and the several hundred volunteers that dedicate their time to helping make sure these animals find good, loving homes," Woods said. "I'm not sure people realize how much love and dedication it takes to run a shelter and I cannot express my gratitude to our staff and volunteers enough."
Safe Haven board member Lois Fargo said the board has been focused on conducting a thorough review of all the shelter's policies and procedures in recent weeks, but soon will add two additional board members and begin the search for a permanent executive director.
"It hasn't always been easy, but [Woods] is doing a fantastic job and has been very courageous in many areas," she said. "But we still want to conduct a nationwide search to be sure we have the best person in place going forward."
Woods said she would remain committed to Safe Haven, regardless of who is tapped to head the organization in the future.
"Whatever route the board chooses, I will be fine," she said. "I plan to stay here in whatever capacity I can in order to help these [dogs and cats]."