Economy puts pressure on animal rescue groups

Sussex County Council recently offered grants to two animal rescue groups, in hopes of helping them deal with the financial pressure that the economy is putting on them, both in terms of increased need for rescues and in terms of the donations they count upon to survive.

On Aug. 11, the council offered $1,000 in grant money to both the Sussex County Animal Association (SCAA) and the associated group Whimsical Equine Rescue, to help with costs such as food, veterinary care and housing.

Fundraising consultant Mary Anne Fleetwood, supporting both groups in their grant requests to the council, noted the particularly intense demand they are facing for their services during difficult economic times.

“This is not a problem for one or two animals rescue groups in Sussex County but across the nation,” she said. “Due to the economy, many families are surrendering their family pets – dogs, cats and, particularly, their horses.”

Fleetwood noted that much of the state’s population of unwanted and stray pets goes through the Kent County SPCA, where their fates are varied. “They adopt out some, euthanize a bunch, and take the rest and give them to all of our wonderful rescue groups.”

Of the rescue groups, Fleetwood said, “They’re getting a big overflow. They just need support, and if they don’t get that support, they will probably fold. If they fold, that leaves the SPCA. And, if that leaves the SPCA, nearly every animal will be euthanized. So, if your cat gets lost, it will be euthanized,” she said.

“These are family pets who are healthy and wholesome and trained,” Fleetwood emphasized.

Rescue groups offer an alternative to a common end for unwanted horses, Fleetwood said, which is at the slaughterhouse. For the horses – some of which are former race horses – Whimsical Equine Rescue offers care leading to adoption or, for older horses, sanctuary.

Seaford-based SCAA also offers adoption as an alternative to euthanasia, “And euthanization is very expensive,” Fleetwood noted. “They get it vet care, training, and offer it out to families who will love it and take care of it.

“We’re not talking about roads,” she told the council. “We’re talking about matters of the heart. One of these animals could offer a lifetime of love to an elderly couple. A little girl could get a Thoroughbred for almost nothing. This level of service needs to be kept, or we’ll go to the other alternative, which is a killing field,” she concluded.

Tammy Magaha is president of the SCAA, which has been in operation since 2003 and offers adoption alternatives to strays, and to pets that have lost their homes due to issues such as divorce, a home lost to foreclosure, a death in the family or entry into a nursing home.

SCAA operates on 12 acres on Magaha’s own Seaford-area farm, with a 50-dog kennel facility. As of Aug. 11, they had 36 dogs and 12 cats that had been rescued for adoption. SCAA, she said, has adopted out about 1,500 dogs so far.

“This year, we have seen such an increase in the owner surrenders,” she said. “They’re good family pets. Normally we would pull from high-kill shelters to get to them before they’re euthanized, and we’re not even getting there, because the animals are coming to us.”

Magaha said the economy is, at the same time, negatively impacting the groups’ ability to take in the overflowing population of pets.

“Donations are way down due to the economy,” she said. “Costs have risen. Cats are being euthanized left and right. We’re turning people away.”

Along with owner surrenders, rescue groups are also trying to keep feral cat colonies under control. On Aug. 11 alone, Magaha said, SCAA had received three requests for trap-and-neuter assistance with breeding colonies. Magaha said the group has a practice of releasing some feral cats on farms whose owners volunteer for the project, but she said such volunteers hard to find now because there are so many cats.

In order to deal with the overflow of animals, SCAA is seeking money to help turn an existing shed into cat housing.

Magaha said they also need a bigger area for quarantine – particularly since an increasing number of dogs they’ve rescued have been dumped on side of road – ill and/or emaciated, and carrying other illnesses that mean they need to be quarantined and for longer than normal. That also means increased veterinary expenses.

“We’re here to do the work,” she said. “We’re just asking for help to help us help them.”

The council provided some help on Aug. 11, voting unanimously to provide $1,000 in grants to both SCAA and Whimsical Equine Rescue, and inviting Whimsical to become part of the county’s human resource grants process, which will have it up for county grants each fall. SCAA is already part of that process but had not received a grant since 2007.

For more information on the Sussex County Animal Association and Whimsical Animal Rescue, visit the Web site at For more information on Whimsical Equine Rescue, visit