Delaware animal shelter rebuilding after fatal car crash [video]

     (Shirley Min/WHYY)

    (Shirley Min/WHYY)

    The Brandywine Valley SPCA has reopened its New Castle location just weeks after a car crashed into the shelter earlier this month.

    Crews have cleaned and repaired the adoption areas, where dogs and cats are now available for adoption. The veterinary clinic has been gutted and is being rebuilt from scratch. BVSPCA Dir. of Marketing Linda Torelli estimated it will be two months before the veterinary clinic can fully reopen for business. 

    “We retrofitted two of our cat rooms and two of our meet and greet rooms into wellness clinic areas until we can rebuild the clinic,” Torelli said. Wellness visits and spay/neuter surgeries are by appointment only.

    “Our staff and vendors pushed all the limits to re-open as quickly as possible,” said Adam Lamb, BVSPCA chief executive officer. “The animals need us as a safe haven, and the incredible outpouring of support from the community underscored how vital our services are to the pet families in the area.”

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    What happened

    The shelter’s New Castle location had only been open 18 months when 36-year-old Latoya Cooper drove her car into the veterinary clinic side of the shelter, igniting a fire. The vet clinic is where the shelter carried out spay/neuter and wellness and sick visits.

    “Word went out pretty quick amongst our staff that there’s a fire at New Castle, animals are on the loose. That’s all we knew. It was an absolutely terrifying phone call, every pet-lover’s worst nightmare,” said Linda Torelli, BVSPCA director of marketing.

    An investigation remains underway into what caused the accident that killed Cooper, along with four cats. Firefighters and other first responders evacuated a hundred animals in a matter of minutes, as smoke and water spread throughout the facility causing more damage to the untouched part of the building.

    “Our biggest challenge is going to be to bridge the financial impact. We have a clinic that is going to be closed indefinitely. Not only was that a service to the community, but it funded some of our other services. We also have additional costs for medical care for the animals, housing. And again, things insurance isn’t going to cover for us. So the biggest thing we need right now is financial donations from the community and every dollar is going to help us right now,” Torelli said.

    Torelli said the total cost of the damages are still being totaled, but the shelter has set up a crowdfunding site with the goal of raising $100,000.

    Rescuers rescue rescues

    Some of the animals rescued from the fire have already been placed in homes. Two firefighters who were on the scene after the car crashed into the BVSPCA each took home a dog they helped rescue.

    Volunteer firefighter Joe Facciolo carried a puppy he named “Squirt,” out of the shelter and held him until he could be moved to safety.

    “Everybody was like, ‘You’re not going to put him down are you,'” said Facciolo, who works for the Elsmere Fire Company. “A lot of [firefighters] were saying, ‘Well I’m going to adopt him.’ ‘You leave this one alone, it’s mine,'” he recounted.

    It was love at first sight and Facciolo said the feeling was mutual. Squirt couldn’t be happier in his new home in Wilmington.

    Wilmington Manor Fire Company also responded to the crash and fire at the shelter. Volunteer firefighter Ken Phibbs and wife Chandelle took to Ivy, an English bulldog.

    “She started seeing all the posts from the people on the scene from their social media accounts and she actually saw the one of her back in the chief’s truck with a baseball hat on, so she said that we needed to step up and help them and at least adopt an animal,” Phibbs said.

    Chandelle said Ivy tugged at their hearts and the transition into their home has been great.

    “If we can do our part and try to find a home for at least one animal, that would just put my mind at ease. And that was why I felt we should go up and rescue one of the animals,” Chandelle explained.

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