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Several groups working to rescue dogs in Detroit are seeking changes in city animal control practices — a move they say would help save more pooches while improving conditions there.

“We need reform for the animal services in Detroit,” said Kristina Rinaldi, a coordinator with the nonprofit Detroit Dog Rescue.

Her group and other animal rescues shared their concerns about Detroit Animal Control during a press conference Friday.

Two days earlier, Rinaldi said, DAC head Harry Ward came to the DDR facility while the Michigan Department of Agricultural and Rural Development was there following up on a complaint from someone who questioned the validity of the group rescues.

The state sought paperwork on where the 17 dogs on site came from; Ward told staffers that any animals not surrendered by an owner — even those a city police officer delivered — faced removal, she said.

Launched in 2011 aiming to address the city’s homeless canine population, DDR operates out of a small center on the city’s east side and is pursuing full licensing, Rinaldi said. While that awaits, state officials told her it’s legal for the group to field owner-surrenders.

But Rinaldi said police officers have turned over dogs to DDR and other rescues rather than risk a Detroit Animal Control visit “because they know it’s a death sentence.”

According to the most recent statistics from the Michigan Department of Agricultural and Rural Development, city animal control officials reported euthanizing an estimated 2,889 of the 3,869 dogs they received in 2013.

That’s why DDR and other groups “have serious concerns about welfare and services in the city of Detroit,” Rinaldi said.

Detroit Animal Control is overseen by the city’s police department. Sgt. Cassandra Lewis, a spokeswoman, said Ward and his colleagues are “committed to working with any of the nonprofit groups” to address their concerns.

“There are definitely some things that we could probably do better,” she said Friday. “However, we do operate within city ordinances and state laws that have been written. And Detroit Animal Control is willing to have any necessary conversation with any of the dog rescue groups in the near future.”

Ward recently told the Detroit News 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 the Michigan Humane Society; anyone who tries to seize the animals beforehand are acting illegally, he said.

“Everybody has to operate within the guidelines of the law, and Detroit Dog Rescue was informed what the law was,” Lewis said. “Just like everybody else, they have to conform to those rules and regulations.”

Still, animal advocates who rescue in the city insist local animal control should mirror, not target, their efforts.

“They could concentrate more on fixing the system that’s broken and allow us to help them,” said Chris Staller, adoption coordinator for A ReJoyceful Animal Rescue in Mount Clemens. “They basically want to kill these animals instead of letting us find them homes. We want change. It’s not that we don’t want to work with them — we need them to put the effort into rehabilitating and adopting dogs.”

mhicks@detroitnews.com

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