Detroit school rallies to spring pup from the pen

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
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She spent little time nosing around Detroit Waldorf School on Wednesday afternoon, but a friendly stray shepherd/pit bull mix that city animal control officers removed from the grounds charmed staffers into fighting to keep her.

Teacher Erica Brehmer and others at the private school in the city's Indian Village neighborhood say the pooch was taken despite their offers to adopt it and students' passionate pleas. They fear their requests will go unheard and the dog, possibly someone's pet, faces euthanization in days.

Students are circulating a petition and writing letters, while staff have families lined up to adopt the dog if no owner is found, Brehmer said Thursday.

"The dog should go to a good home," she said. "I just want to make sure the dog has an opportunity to be adopted."

Michigan Humane Society officials said they are aware of the case and have spoken with Detroit Animal Control, which had not yet located a certified owner as of Thursday night.

If none emerges before the state-mandated holding period ends next week, "we're going to be talking with them and exploring what placement options there are," spokesman Ryan McTigue said.

Students spotted the young, golden-brown canine with white paws around lunchtime Wednesday on the open play area across the street, Brehmer said. Out of safety concerns, staffers sent the children in early, she said. But it soon became clear that the pit mix was "really nice."

"She was just sitting there, hanging out," Brehmer said. "She actually wouldn't leave a couple of us alone. … She was super-playful. She had been crawling on my back. She was nipping like puppies do, trying to play with my water bottle, my ponytail holder."

The pooch was thirsty and appeared to have blood on her side but was not overly thin, which suggested she "could have been on the street for a couple of days," Brehmer said. Still, the dog obeyed commands, including instructions to sit, which suggests "she absolutely, 100 percent was somebody's pet at some point."

Waldorf workers gave the stray water and reached a neighborhood security firm to see if that would lead them to an owner, Brehmer said. But somehow, Detroit police were called.

One of the officers who arrived about 2 p.m. said city animal control would be notified, but "we said we were going to take the dog because we didn't want it to be taken," Brehmer said. "We've heard horror stories about (Detroit Animal Control)."

Brehmer, who had been outside practicing with her students, said she returned to the school building and was preparing to take the dog to a veterinarian for microchip scanning. Back outside minutes later, a pair of animal control officers had arrived and the police officers had left.

When Brehmer and colleagues said they wanted to seek the owner, the animal control officers radioed police, who told the pair they "must take the dog," she said.

The animal control officers started removing her using a pole with a noose, but when the dog resisted, she was picked up and "shoved" into a truck, Brehmer said.

Though assured that efforts would be made to adopt her out, children who witnessed the seizure "were traumatized," Brehmer said. "Some of them were crying. They were just in shock that this happened."

Since the animal control office closed by mid-afternoon and no one answered the phone, Brehmer said she and other staffers rushed to learn how they could save the dog through the city of Detroit and Michigan Humane Society, yet found few answers.

Worried the stray might soon end up dead without their intervention, Brehmer and her colleagues have worked to spread the word about the case as well as garner support. "I really want the dog to be safe," she said. "The dog that I saw yesterday was very sweet, very playful. ... I'm hopeful now the dog will be deemed adoptable."

Harry Ward, head of Detroit's animal control, stressed that under state law, a stray dog is considered property and must be impounded for four business days so an owner has time to claim it. If none materializes, dogs evaluated as candidates for adoption are transferred to MHS, Ward said. Citizens who try to seize the animals beforehand are acting illegally, he said.

The pit mix is expected to be evaluated next Wednesday or Thursday; per policy, those who believe that's their pet must visit the city animal control facility and prove so, Ward said.

Caution is needed managing animals held there, he said, pointing to a recent instance in which someone allegedly forged a rabies certificate to claim a dog whose true owner eventually came forward.

"People have to realize that they have to slow down when they look at the same dog that is tugging at their heartstrings," he said Thursday. "We all want to help. Please do it in the appropriate way."

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