Detroit gets first no-kill dog shelter

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
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This article has been updated to clarify that Detroit Dog Rescue was founded by Detroit rapper Daniel “Hush” Carlisle. In addition, the nonprofit’s co-founder is Emmy-nominated TV producer Monica Martino.

A nonprofit rescue group has secured licensing to operate the first no-kill animal shelter in Detroit’s history — a certification it says could help ease the burden on the city’s overwhelmed animal control office.

Detroit Dog Rescue, initially formed in 2011 as a foster-based operation, opened its shelter on Harper on the city’s east side in May of 2014 and has now secured a permit from the state sanctioning the operation.

Detroit Dog Rescue is known for taking troubled animals that most regard as unadoptable, says Kristina Rinaldi, the group’s executive director. Since its inception, she said, the group has found homes for about 650 dogs. It now has room for about 30 dogs at a time.

“We get the dogs that have been shot. We get the dogs that have been victims of baiting from dog fighting,” she said. “These are crazy circumstances. We pioneered that in Detroit.”

The group’s licensing comes as Detroit Dog Rescue had been at odds with Detroit Animal Control over regulations for taking in strays. By law, rescues can harbor animals, but are not permitted to capture them. That can be done only by Animal Control, which after capture can relocate dogs to shelters to be trained and offered for adoption. Rescue advocates say that approach is outdated and doesn’t reflect the practical challenges of dealing with Detroit’s stray animal problem.

“We can keep them here, but how they are brought in remains a gray area,” Rinaldi said. “The (city’s) laws...are not dated for the animals of Detroit today.”

In June, the issue reached a head when city officials demanded paperwork from Detroit Dog Rescue showing how it had received its animals. Acknowledging tensions over the issue, Mayor Mike Duggan last month assembled a reform committee to review city animal policies.

Rinaldi says her group wants to relieve the burden on Detroit Animal Control, which is under fire for its kill rate — critics suspect it is higher than the city contends — and allegations that the facility is poorly run, dirty and crowded.

“We know that we are not going to walk into Detroit Animal Control and see a lot of dogs that can be placed right off the bat,” she said. “It’s not going to happen. But we are willing to put the time in. We’re willing to provide a service to the city at no fee to the residents or the city.”

The animal control office operates under the Detroit Police Department on an annual budget of about $1.2 million. The center has 20 budgeted staff positions and can house up to 200 dogs.

Harry Ward, head of Detroit Animal Control, says many policies followed by the office are governed by state law.

Ward said the city’s policy for stray dogs mirrors the state act that requires strays be relinquished to the animal control facility within the municipality in which they are found.

Dogs, he said, are considered property, and the law provides a common place for an owner to search for lost pets. There is a holding period of four business days. If an animal is not claimed, the dog is currently evaluated for adoption through the Michigan Humane Society.

Ward says he’s hopeful that the department can work with Detroit Dog Rescue to help more animals.

“I’m hoping they can become yet another conduit to place dogs that will eventually find homes,” Ward said, noting the humane society, with a shelter facility on Chrysler Drive in Detroit, is another organization that aids with placement.

Ryan McTigue, a spokesman for the Michigan Humane Society, says the organization will be an active participant in the committees being formed to discuss Detroit’s animal control and policies.

“We think these are positive steps for the animals in the city and for the various groups that are qualified and willing to help,” he said.

Some groups and residents have criticized animal control’s euthanasia rate. Ward says the office’s kill rate range is between 69 to 71 percent so far this year. Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development records have indicated the kill rate is 74 percent.

In 2014, the department took in 3,320 dogs and 1,803 cats, as well as other animals. Of those, 2,383 dogs and 1,244 cats were euthanized. The rest were returned to owners or transferred to registered shelters, records show.

Earlier this month, a Detroit resident raised alarm over claims of unsanitary conditions at Detroit Animal Control after she said her dog was confined in a too-small cage without water and contracted deadly canine parvovirus after a 12-day stay at the facility.

Police have said the dog had been taken in after it escaped from a yard and had bitten two people. The owner was unable to produce vaccination records.

An online petition titled “Petitioning Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan: Shut Down Detroit Animal Control” had more than 13,700 signatures by Monday afternoon.

Detroit Police Department Assistant Chief James White says there is room for improvement within Detroit’s Animal Control, but stressed the department is “not as broken as all (critics) are indicating.”

White on Monday said that prior to complaints being made about conditions at Animal Control, they contracted with a fumigation company, instituted an aggressive cleaning and made improvements, including lighting upgrades.

The contention that the facility is unsanitary is “not a fair assessment,” he added.

White said animal control does not euthanize animals based on its population. The majority of the animals put down are sick, aggressive and have been deemed unadoptable, he said.

Detroit Dog Rescue’s shelter has between 40 and 60 dogs at any given time between its facility and foster program, organizers said. About 70 to 80 percent of the group’s dogs are pit bulls.

The shelter is not open to the public, but the group hosts adoption events every other weekend.

The rescue, co-founded by Detroit rapper Daniel “Hush” Carlisle and TV producer Monica Martino, is funded by private donations. The group was also formerly featured on an Animal Planet reality show.

The rescue employs an executive director, three paid kennel staffers and has about 40 volunteers, with a budget close to $200,000 for 2015.

Rinaldi says the partnership between the mayor’s office, police and animal control will open new doors for animal welfare in the city.

“Detroit needs a lot of help when it comes to the stray dogs and dog fighting and we’re definitely here to help,” Rinaldi said. “It’s really a new day in rescue.”

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