Rescue group blasts care, oversight at Detroit animal control

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
Lux was euthanized soon after being turned over to Detroit Dog Rescue.

When Detroit Animal Care and Control recently turned over a pitbull-mix to Detroit Dog Rescue, executive director Kristina Rinaldi was stunned and disheartened.

She said Lux had languished at the site with a prolapsed rectum for several days in late April and was not properly treated, leaving the dog in such bad shape that he had to be immediately euthanized.

Her group, which acts as a transfer and community partner, is demanding major changes at the city-run facility, including better oversight and more staffing.

“The city has an obligation to care for these animals,” Rinaldi said Tuesday. 

The criticism comes as its latest leader leaves his post and city officials acknowledge improvements are needed. 

“Detroit Animal Care and Control has made some significant progress in a number of areas, but we recognize that more progress can be made in others," representatives said in a statement sent to The Detroit News on Tuesday. "We recently secured a $123,000 PetSmart Charities grant for spaying/neutering services and received $1.3 (million) in city funds for facility improvements, but we still are not able to provide the spectrum of care we’d like."

Soon after Pittsburgh native Charles Brown was named in August to become executive director following a national search, the city said there were plans to explore expansion, restructuring and improving its partnerships with animal service providers.

Brown has resigned; his last day is May 19, said Tamekia Nixon, the director of communications for the Detroit Health Department, on Tuesday. Nixon did not immediately respond to a question Tuesday about what led to Brown's departure.

Rinaldi has repeatedly spoken out about issues with the city's animal control facility, which has been overseen by Detroit's Health Department since fall 2015 and relocated the next year from its aging building near the Ambassador Bridge to the vacated site of the Michigan Humane Society on Chrysler Drive.

Some of her concerns involve having more than one veterinarian on site and enhancing staff training, which she believes could have helped Lux.

A concerned animal control officer had informed DDR about the dog, which was believed to be 2-3 years old, Rinaldi said.

Her group, which takes on most of the office's high-risk cases, was unable to take him at the time; staffers said they would seek help elsewhere, Rinaldi said. But within 48 hours, Lux's condition had worsened and DDR was called in again, she added.

By that time, the dog appeared lethargic and his rectum “had totally exploded the back end of his body,” Rinaldi said. “I was surprised at his condition, that they let it escalate to the point of no return. He was in so much pain. ... I was shocked and the excuse was that people didn’t see it.”

Lux was rushed to Oakland Veterinary Referral Services in Bloomfield Hills. But “there were just too many factors" to keep him alive, Rinaldi said. “Had a vet paid attention, I believe Lux could have been saved. It’s very, very sad.”

In the statement Tuesday, city officials said: “When Lux was brought to our facility on April 24, he was immediately assessed and determined to need surgery and provided medicine to ease his pain until Detroit Dog Rescue was able to bring him to a veterinary surgeon.  We appreciate the support these partners provide us as we constantly work to bring further improvements to the level of care we can offer.”

Rinaldi said the city has made "some great strides" in addressing staff issues and reducing the kill rate, which dropped from 74% in 2015 to about 35% in 2017, the most recent year for which Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development annual shelter reports were available.

But Rinaldi is disappointed when her group takes in animals that appear to have been given inadequate care, including Rockstar, a Rottweiler with an eye infection she said was emaciated and who needed antibiotics after spending about 10 days at the facility.

"This needs to be taken seriously," Rinaldi said. "I need some action."

Officials with city animal control said: "Because we are the care giver of last resort, we receive animals that are badly injured and sick and fighting for their lives all the time and our live release rate has increased and currently is holding steady at 70%. However, because of our limitations, we rely heavily on our third-party partners to help get dogs like Lux to veterinarians that can perform major surgeries.”