The Safe Haven Sanctuary, near Lewes and Georgetown, broke ground in late June. When finished, it will be the state's first no-kill animal shelter.

Visionaries supporting southern Delaware’s first No Kill animal shelter gathered in the Lewes/Georgetwn area on June 13 for a joyful celebration: the formal dedication of the site that will serve as home for their innovative facility.

Once completed, The Safe Haven Sanctuary will offer a warm and inviting environment for cats, dogs and pet seekers to create a community where animals will have a safety net until they are adopted – no matter how long that takes.

The idea has gained tremendous support expressed in the remarks at the site dedication from a wide range of elected officials. 

“What you’re doing is a great thing,” Sen. Tom Carper said. “You’re creating a safe haven for animals that deserve to be safe not only for the sake of their lives but because they also touch the lives of so many people.”

Safe Haven Board Chair Hal Dukes said the long-awaited project is finally becoming a reality. The board has opened temporary headquarters in Milton. A capital campaign will begin soon to raise the $4 million needed for the construction of the 19,000 square-foot environmentally friendly facility.

“Acquiring and having access to the site were essential first steps in order to provide confidence to donors that this project will become a reality,” Dukes said. “Now that these 14 acres have been secured and permits are completed, we can move forward with our capital fund-raising.” 

Thanks to the generosity of the Sussex County community and foundations, work on the property has already begun with the completion of the road, bridge over the wetlands, land preparation, and a retention pond.

Safe Haven’s “green” building will be the first structure in Sussex County to meet standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington, D.C. non-profit organization that established a system known by its acronym LEED, for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Award-winning architect David Quillin’s innovative design incorporates environmentally sound aspects, including: solar, geothermal heating, recycled materials, a temperature- moderating courtyard, and a vegetative roof.

Volunteers and approximately 12 employees, including veterinarians, will staff The Safe Haven facility.It will serve as a home for up to 400 cats and dogs at any given time in a No Kill environment that will be vastly different from typical shelters.

The sanctuary expects to handle up to 2,000 animal cases each year, with most animals finding adopted homes locally and some pets going to No Kill facilities in northern New England. Staff and volunteers will reach out to thousands of other animals and people each year though spay-neuter programs and animal retention services 

“Our primary objective is to place animals with loving families, while reducing the number of cats and dogs through an aggressive low-cost spay-neuter program,” Executive Director Anne Gryczon said.

Gryczon said this is a proven, truly humane approach to animal control that has worked well in other communities across the nation. “Once you reach a tipping point in spay-neuter activity, the homeless animal population drops significantly,” she added.

Delaware Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf applauded the group for its efforts and vision of animal control. “Continue to be advocates for those who can’t advocate for themselves,” he said. 

He added that he would pursue state legislation to make Delaware an official No Kill state, making it the first in the nation.

Kate Rohrer, representing U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, also shared words of encouragement at the ceremony that involved a “Doggy Dig” at the spot that will be the front door of the sanctuary. 

Sussex County Councilman Lynn Rogers, who has adopted five Dalmatians as part of a rescue operation, said the facility is sorely needed.

“Keep getting the message out and you’ll have more support. You’ll need to enlarge this facility before you even build it.”

Dukes said he expects fundraising efforts to take 18 to 24 months to complete. The planning interview of the capital campaign will begin immediately, followed by major gift solicitations and the public phase of the campaign.

 “There is a wide-ranging interest in Safe Haven,” Dukes said. “We want to make certain that everyone is given the opportunity to participate in this exciting project.”