Ouster bid greets Detroit’s new animal control director

Detroit — The city has named a new director for its animal control operation, weeks after a child's violent mauling death and calls to install a leader for the department. 

Mark Kumpf was among more than 50 applicants in a national search for the job that had been vacant since spring after the city's last director, Charles Brown, resigned the post after joining the city in late 2018.

Detroit's Chief Operating Officer Hakim Berry said Kumpf started Monday and is the fourth new director for the office in as many years.

Berry said he's confident though that Kumpf, who has a 30-year career in animal care and control is committed to Detroit. He will earn $100,000 annually.

Francisco Hernandez, uncle of nine-year-old dog-mauling victim Emma Hernandez grieves the tragic loss of his niece as he stands with Tira Nowden, 9, of Detroit beside a makeshift memorial in front of Emma's house.

"He's taken the opportunity to drive around Detroit and get to know the area," Berry told The Detroit News. "He was just head and shoulders different than anyone we’ve ever seen before. I think he's really dedicated."

But Kumpf's tenure in Detroit is already off to a rocky start as some opponents and animal advocates are pointing to published reports that show he was terminated last year from his most recent position as director of the Animal Resource Center in Montgomery County, Ohio.

“I was concerned once I was notified that this person already has a past history of being not good in the animal welfare community,” said Theresa Sumpter director of the Detroit Pit Crew Dog Rescue.

“I was extremely surprised that this would be the candidate that the city of Detroit would pick especially in the wake of the Emma Hernandez mauling and subsequent death.”

Reached by The News on Monday, Deb Decker, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County, declined to comment on the terms of Kumpf's separation from his employment there.

She also declined to speak about Detroit's decision to hire Kumpf, saying: "We're not going to comment on another community's decision to hire someone who used to work with us."

Kumpf was not made available Monday for an interview. Officials said his first order of business will be to meet with the animal control staff.

Berry said that Montgomery County gave Kumpf a neutral reference. He's seen the news reports about Kumpf's termination in Ohio but said they are outweighed by his "30-year career and experience."

The city, Berry added, did conduct a background check to validate Kumpf's references.

"We don't have any concerns," he said. "I would say judge his experience versus a couple bad articles."

The firing, according to reports by the Dayton Daily News, came amid criticism from animal rights advocates over high euthanasia rates and a critical report from independent consultants, Team Shelter USA.

"There are a lot of things that go into what's considered live-release rates, and I can't speak to all the issues there," Berry said. 

Sumpter said she's concern about reports of Kumpf being a part of a civil lawsuit in a dog mauling case from 2014. The suit claims the victim, a Dayton woman, had notified the rescue center multiple times of a problematic dog next door.

“There has been a lot of light shed on the public safety issues that Detroiters face with all the dogs running around, and I think the public and the community have expressed their need and their wishes for their public safety to be taken more seriously,” Sumpter said. “I guess the city wasn’t listening to that. This person is not the person that I feel like we should trust with public safety or with meds.”

Sumpter also took issue with a Team Shelter USA report dated November 2018 that noted the rescue center improperly stored vaccines and reused syringes.

“There’s a number of things that would make me very hesitant to want to hire him in the position of director of Detroit Animal Care and Control,” Sumpter said. “They really must have been scrapping from the bottom of the barrel.”

A petition calling for Kumpf's removal as the director had reached nearly 5,000 signatures by Monday afternoon. Sumpter said a protest is scheduled for Oct. 1 outside of the mayor's office. 

There are some in the dog rescue community willing to give Kumpf a chance.

Kristina Millman-Rinaldi, executive director of the nonprofit Detroit Dog Rescue, said she met with Kumpf on Monday after reaching out to the city. She said she liked what Kumpf had to say about his stance on animal welfare, public policy and public safety. 

"I want to set him up for success,” Millman-Rinaldi said. “I want to be an ally for anybody that wants to help Detroit and wants to help the animals. Do I think he’s been dealt a few unfair stories? Maybe. I wasn’t there. I don’t know. But do I know that sometimes people in the position of leadership are blamed for things, or take the heat for things that are maybe a policy or aren’t their fault."

Millman-Rinaldi said believes Kumpf genuinely likes animals and is open to feedback. She said she'd like to work with him to create a positive work environment and address the needs of the community. 

"Everybody nationally has a hard time filling these positions," she said. "The burnout rate is extremely high, and if we have someone who says he's willing to do the work, who has 30 years of experience, I think it's at least worth taking a look at. I was presently surprised. I was not expecting this meeting to go as well as it did."

Berry said Kumpf has won several national awards and is a certified animal control instructor and animal welfare administrator. 

"In the past, we’ve had directors that didn’t have municipal shelter experience," Berry said. "That’s always come with a little learning curve. He's someone who really understood how the shelter runs and how the animal control division runs and where we can have opportunities for improvement."

The Michigan Humane Society is collaborating with Detroit on animal care services and is supportive of the city's decision to bring on Kumpf, said Matt Peppers, the society's president and CEO.

"The city has really struggled to maintain leadership over animal control," he said. "I know the city is making a commitment to improve animal services. We're certainly stronger with an effective Detroit Animal Care and Control."

Peppers said while he's never worked directly with Kumpf, he's encountered him during functions for the National Animal Care & Control Association and at an Ohio animal association. 

"I've found him to be smart," Peppers said. "He clearly has a passion for the industry, and I think he's got the experience that can be added with what the city is trying to do."

Prior to his time in Ohio, Kumpf also served in a municipal animal control operation in Virginia.

Detroit's City Council has hammered the city administration in recent weeks over the lack of leadership in the animal control office as it debates stronger laws dog owners following the August mauling death of Emma Hernandez in southwest Detroit.

The 9-year-old was killed by three pit bulls while riding her bike in an alley near her southwest Detroit home.

Council President Brenda Jones' office spearheaded a series of proposed changes to the city's ordinance earlier this year, including new dangerous animal classifications and nuisance penalties.

After Emma's death, additional recommendations were suggested, including for special animal licenses, spay and neutering requirements, ticketing for a public nuisance and "Emma's Clause," which calls for a mandatory house visit in response to a complaint.

Jones, during a recent council subcommittee meeting, was critical of the city for not moving faster to appoint an animal control director and remarked that conditions at the shelter facility were deplorable.

Kumpf's appointment by the city administration does not need council approval. Jones could not be immediately reached Monday for comment. 

The operation moved into a former humane society building on Chrysler Drive several years ago on the heels of calls for its closure and criticism over unsanitary conditions, unreasonable fees and a high kill rate.

Animal control's budget is about $3.4 million annually, up about $700,000 from its prior funding level. There's also a capital campaign underway that would provide $1.3 million in renovation work for the shelter, health department officials have said. 

Berry said Kumpf is joining the office as Detroit's animal control operation expands.

The animal control workforce has doubled in the last year and currently has 10 officers in the field. Nine others will be certified and in the streets next month. 

Berry said he expects that residents will be pleased with Kumpf's leadership.

"My prediction is they will see an immediate change as soon as mark hits the ground," he said. "We’ll have experience on how to deploy and support those folks out in the field and answering to the needs of the residents."