Skip to main content

Shelter Spotlight: Delaware Humane Association

The Delaware Humane Association (DHA) has been serving dogs and cats across the Delaware Valley for over 60 years. Recently, the DHA received some extra special attention through the adoption of Major, a German Shepherd, to now-President Joe Biden.



Delaware Humane Association Logo

  • Shelter Name: Delaware Humane Association (DHA)
  • Established in: 1957
  • Size: Two facilities with 45 staff members and hundreds of dedicated volunteers   
  • Mission Statement: DHA’s goal is to help facilitate “friends for life” by connecting people with perfect pet matches. The association is also about building strong relationships to better serve the Delaware community. 

For over 60 years, Delaware Humane Association (DHA) has been quietly and effectively working to improve the lives of dogs and cats across the Delaware Valley. As the area’s premier nonprofit no-kill animal care and adoption center, DHA helps thousands of animals each year...not only in Delaware, but also in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and beyond.

In recent years, DHA’s influence spread even further. The shelter gained recognition when then former Vice President Joe Biden adopted a German Shepherd from DHA’s Wilmington adoption center in 2018. And now that President Biden has returned to the White House, that rescue, proudly named Major Biden, holds a place of distinction as the first shelter dog ever to call the White House home.

President Biden with MajorFrom Wilmington to the White House

Like most shelter animals, Major’s story would likely have turned out much differently without the support of volunteers and caregivers like those at DHA. The center took in Major and his five littermates after they were exposed to a toxic element in their former home. DHA worked with the local veterinary emergency center to provide all the puppies with lifesaving medical care. Thanks to the hard work of staff following emergency treatment, the pups got a second chance at life...and Major got one step closer to his forever family.

When the Bidens moved from the Vice-Presidential residence in Washington, DC, back to Delaware in 2017, they started looking for a companion pup for their older German Shepherd, Champ. So when they heard about the rescued litter at DHA, they asked to foster a pup. Major turned out to be a great match for Champ! And though Champ sadly passed away recently at the age of 13, he and Major enjoyed many hours together on the campaign trail and in their new home – the White House.

“The day Major was officially adopted was an incredibly special day for DHA,” recalls Cory Topel, the association’s Marketing Manager. “President Biden spent almost an hour talking with staff, sharing stories, taking photos, and letting Major play with the very group of DHA staff members who helped care for him as a puppy,” says Topel. 

Prior to Inauguration Day, DHA held a virtual “Indoguration” event on January 17, 2021, to celebrate Major Biden becoming the First Dog. “Folks tuned in from all over the world to help celebrate the first shelter dog ever heading to the White House, and we raised over $200,000 for DHA as a result,” says Topel. “We are proud to have played a part in such a monumental moment in history for shelter animals everywhere.” 

Like any dog transitioning to a new home, Major has faced a few challenges adjusting to his new surroundings, not to mention the hustle and bustle of the limelight, press corps, and Secret Service detail. And just like many families with a new pup, the first family enlisted the help of trainers to help Major adjust...an important reminder that our furry family members often need a little professional help and support, too!    

Presidential treatment for every animal

DHA staff playing with kittens

Of course, Major’s adoption journey is the exception. But to the DHA team, every animal that comes through its doors is just as unique and worthy of respect. That’s why DHA works so hard to create a friendly and welcoming environment where abused, neglected, and abandoned pets are well-cared for, trained, and loved until they find their forever homes.

Between its two locations in Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach, the animal welfare center takes in close to 2,000 companion animals yearly. “In 2020, we adopted out 1,046 cats and 874 dogs – that’s 1,920 animals total,” reports Topel. In addition to opening its doors to animals in the area, DHA also rescues and rehomes pets from high-traffic shelters from across the country.

Top-notch facilities and care 

Built in 2015, DHA’s Wilmington headquarters has two houses spanning 14,000 square feet. The Rehoboth Beach Adoption Center is 2,850 square feet and recently went through an amazing renovation. According to Topel, the Rehoboth center now “features a ‘fear free’ design, using stress-reducing colors and kennel layouts that limit sightlines of other dogs and cats.” The location also has easier-to-clean kennels, separate rooms for people to get to know adoptable pets, and isolation areas for animals needing special care. 

Both locations have a dedicated community of hundreds of volunteers who regularly come in to walk, train and socialize the shelter animals, in addition to fostering families who welcome animals into their own homes. The center also offers low-cost pet vaccine clinics and pet food pantries at both locations on a regular basis. The shelter relies on community support, donations, grants, and fundraising events to achieve its goal of connecting homeless pets with the right people. 

Before setting an animal up for adoption, DHA readies them with a veterinary exam, age-appropriate vaccinations, and spay/neutering. Some animals who are ready for adoption are then sent to Rehoboth aboard the “Tailroad Express” so those in the area have a chance to adopt. 

Additionally, every animal that comes into the center is microchipped, thanks to a groundbreaking partnership between 24PetWatch and over 2500 shelters, rescues, and clinics across the United States and Canada. During the adoption process, DHA provides adopters all the necessary information on how to register their new pet’s microchip, so that their pet can be identified if they ever go missing. The staff also explains the benefits of 24PetWatch Pet Protection and Pet Insurance, to help families manage whatever the future holds for their new pet. 

Community-centric approach

DHA staff at pet food drive

DHA doesn’t just care for animals; it also provides care for the pet-loving people in the community. “Our work doesn’t just stop once we adopt out an animal. We maintain relationships with our adopters through training programs, events, free pet food pantries, alumni groups, and a whole lot more,” shares Topel. 

An example of this connection to both people and pets is the One Health Program. DHA is one of four shelters in the country that participate. The program provides free vaccinations, wellness exams, and health screenings for pets of income-qualified members at Wilmington’s Henrietta Johnson Medical Center (HJMC). The free clinic is held on the first Saturday of every month from 9 am to 12 pm. By taking place at a human medical center, it encourages pet owners to seek health advice and services for themselves. This event is made possible by DHA, veterinarians and veterinary technicians from clinics in surrounding areas, and student volunteers from PennVet and the University of Delaware.

Currently, due to COVID-19, DHA is only allowing visitors via appointment, which can be made online through the pet application process. For more information about the Delaware Humane Association, or to inquire about adopting, visit:

Website: www.delawarehumane.org
Facebook: www.facebook.com/delawarehumane
Instagram: www.instagram.com/delawarehumane/


Author Bio