Rescue groups call on Detroit to terminate controversial animal control leader

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Animal advocates protested outside City Hall on Tuesday, calling on the city to fire its controversial new animal control director.

Mark Kumpf took the reins of Detroit's Animal Care and Control just over a week ago. But his hiring spurred immediate backlash by some welfare groups over his record and ultimate firing from the Animal Resource Center in Montgomery County, Ohio. 

"We want to send a message to Mayor Duggan. We would like to have Mark Kumpf removed immediately as director of Detroit Animal Care and Control," said Theresa Sumpter, director of the Detroit Pit Crew Dog Rescue, who helped organize the rally.

The group joined a couple of dozen animal advocates from Metro Detroit and Operation Help Detroit Dogs & Cats, which launched an online petition last week in support of ousting Kumpf. 

A volunteer, who would not give her name fearing reprisal, protests in front of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.

On Tuesday, protesters carried signs that read "Detroit Can Do Better" and "Dayton Fired Him, Detroit Hired Him" as cars honked in support. Some city volunteers wore masks to conceal their identity out of fear of retribution. 

Mayor Mike Duggan, during a community meeting last week, defended Kumpf's hiring, saying "he's going to be judged" and "I'm satisfied" with his experience. 

"I don't believe in character assassination," the mayor said in response to concerns. 

The administration on Tuesday had no additional comment in response to the protest and said that Kumpf would not be made available yet for an interview. 

Mark Kumpf

Kumpf was selected for the $100,000-per-year position following a national search to fill the job, which had been vacant since spring after the city's last director, Charles Brown, resigned.

Kumpf's firing in Ohio, 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.

Detroit Ombudsman Bruce Simpson addressed the protesters Tuesday, vowing his office will speak with health department leadership and investigate the concerns of opponents.

Simpson's office acts as a liaison between the city and individuals who raise complaints about operations of departments or employee conduct. 

"Obviously, this director has come in with a lot of scrutiny and under fire. I've never seen anything like it in my 15 years of working in this building," he said. "Hopefully, as a city, we make the necessary changes to help them feel comfortable with the way we're doing our job as well as the rest of the general public. We're not here to pick sides. It's about making sure city services are provided appropriately."

Kumpf's hiring comes in the wake of the fatal mauling of 9-year-old Emma Hernandez in August. Emma was attacked by three pit bulls while riding her bike in an alley in her southwest Detroit neighborhood.

The death sparked outrage over a lack of animal control leadership and an urgency for Detroit's City Council to strengthen its dangerous animal laws.

Sumpter said she's concerned 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.

Opponents also point to a Team Shelter USA report dated November 2018 that noted the rescue center improperly stored vaccines and reused syringes.

Montgomery County has declined to comment on the terms of Kumpf's separation from his employment there. 

Shawn Waeghe, a member of the rescue group 313 K9 & Kitty Rescue, said Kumpf isn't the right choice for Detroit. She came out Tuesday and expects to return on Wednesday "to remind them that we're not going away." 

"I think they were just looking for a body to fill the position, somebody who would be a yes man," she said of Kumpf.

The petition for Kumpf's removal as the director had more than 16,000 signatures by Tuesday afternoon.

"I sign petitions where I think it's needed, and this is a very needed cause," said Darlene Williams, an animal advocate from Mount Clemens. "He was fired. He was fired for a reason. I certainly don't want him working with animals in my state."

The city administration has touted Kumpf's 30-year career in animal care and control and the support of the Michigan Humane Society in his hiring. 

Duggan has said that Kumpf's hiring is "one piece of the solution" to fix the city's troubled animal control operation. A number of steps, he said, will be rolled out in the coming weeks. 

Groups that have met with Kumpf, Duggan said, were pleased. But Sumpter said Tuesday she hasn't tried to meet with Kumpf and doesn't need to.

"I've already seen everything I need to see about his history," she said.