Detroit — The city's animal shelter is amending its vaccination practices amid allegations of improper certification now under review by two state regulating agencies.

Detroit's Animal Care and Control on Wednesday told The Detroit News that it became aware of concerns regarding the issuance of rabies vaccine certificates for dogs that have come through the shelter in recent months. 

The concerns, flagged by the head of an animal welfare group, contend in at least two cases, staff at the animal control office stamped rabies certificates with the electronic signature of a veterinarian who wasn't there and did not observe the vaccine being administered.

"We looked into these concerns and determined them to be valid; and immediately, we changed our processes to ensure the name of the licensed veterinarian that administers or supervises administration of the vaccine is same as the one that appears on the rabies certificate," the animal control office said in a provided statement.

The department went on to stress it's "fully confident" all rabies vaccinations are being properly administered by licensed staff and "this issue is limited to the proper issuance of the certificates for rabies vaccinations."

Shawn Waeghe, president of 313 K9 & Kitty Rescue, filed complaints with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the state's Licensing and Regulatory Affairs office over what she deemed "deeply concerning behavior" at the shelter. 

"I know what the laws are; a veterinarian has to give it (the shot) or witness it being given by a vet tech," she said. "If nobody is there to witness it, who is giving this? Who is stamping this?"

The vaccination worries mark the latest controversy for the troubled department that's faced criticism in recent years over its kill rate, conditions and fees.

Last month, the office gained its fourth new director in four years. But Mark Kumpf's tenure was met with backlash by some animal welfare groups over his record and ultimate firing from his last leadership role in Ohio. 

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MDARD spokeswoman Jennifer Holton confirmed the department received Waeghe's compliant and forwarded it to the state's animal shelter program manager, who made arrangements to visit Detroit's shelter Wednesday. 

"This is an open and ongoing discussion/investigation," Holton wrote in an email.

Matthew Erickson, a spokesman for LARA, said the regulatory affairs office received a complaint on Monday but could not comment on specifics. 

Detroit Animal Care and Control currently has three part-time veterinarians, including Amy Nicols whose name appeared on copies of the rabies certificates provided by Waeghe.

Animal control, in its statement, said MDARD has informed Detroit that its new protocols are compliant with state regulations.

"Because this is a matter now under review by the state, we can’t comment further on the circumstances of this matter," the animal control office added.

Waeghe, a shelter transfer partner, contends that two times within two weeks she pulled dogs from the shelter and was provided a rabies vaccine certificate. Both were stamped with the signature of Nicols, a veterinarian who was not present. 

In late September, a rottweiler her group pulled from the shelter was provided a rabies certificate without being taken back for the shot, also prompting worries over whether it was administered, she said. 

During the other visit in early October, proof of rabies certificate was provided that day for a small-breed dog the rescue group was picking up, but there was no veterinarian on site, Waeghe said.

"Did they just give me a stamped certificate with no vaccine or a vaccine with a stamped certificate without the vet there? Whatever the answer is, I certainly can't trust that," she said. "Even if the other vets were giving these rabies vaccines, those (signature) stamps are not interchangeable."

MDARD noted vaccinations, client-patient relationships and the practice of veterinary medicine fall under the oversight of LARA, which declined to comment beyond verifying its Monday receipt of a complaint.

State law requires that shelters have a veterinarian named on file with MDARD. The law does not require that the veterinarian be full-time, MDARD said. 

The Dog Law of 1919 requires that dogs four months or older be vaccinated for rabies by a licensed and U.S. Department of Agriculture accredited veterinarian.  

According to MDARD, there is no state mandate requiring shelters to provide rabies vaccines. That responsibility, the department said, rests with the pet owner.

Waeghe said laws over vaccine administration are in place to protect animals and more importantly, the public. 

"All it takes is one scratch, one bite from a dog that didn't actually get their vaccines to then get rabies, and possibly give it to a person," she said. 

Questions regarding rabies vaccination certificates should be directed to Detroit Animal Care and Control at (313) 224-6356.

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