Dog rescue group calls for improved Detroit shelter for homeless pets

Detroit — A dog rescue group in the city is calling for the relocation of animals housed in Detroit's shelter amid claims the dilapidated building is a breeding ground for deadly respiratory infections and disease.

Kristina Rinaldi, head of Detroit Dog Rescue, said Thursday that she's urging city officials to immediately seek out an alternative site for dogs, cats and other animals at the shelter, a former Michigan Humane Society building off Chrysler Drive. 

DDR's Kristin Rinaldi said her group has found "horrendous respiratory infections" in dogs from Detroit Animal Control and Care. The city said kennel cough has been a problem at the facility but denied major issues with the city's care of stray animals.

"This building is deadly to animals," Rinaldi said during a Thursday press conference outside the Detroit Animal Care and Control building. "For me, someone who has been doing this for 10 years with the city, it almost feels like we're going backwards."

Rinaldi said her group and other local rescue partners have found dogs from the center infected with "horrendous respiratory infections" that resulted in deaths and severe sickness.

"This should not just be up to rescue groups (to deal with)," she added. "There are ways to fix this."

Detroit Chief Operating Officer Hakim Berry countered in an interview with The Detroit News on Thursday that there is not a serious problem within the shelter.

"We have no complaints from those that have adopted animals from us," Berry said. 

Berry, however, acknowledged a mild case of kennel cough has spread through the shelter. He said all animals were treated.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has no record of any new or pending complaints involving Detroit's shelter, MDARD spokesman Jessy Sielski said Friday. 

The concerns from Rinaldi's no-kill rescue group are the latest for the long-troubled department plagued with overcrowding, inadequate staffing and revolving leadership.

Mark Kumpf joined Detroit animal control in September 2019 as the fourth director in four years. Kumpf's hiring was met with protests and an online petition calling for his ouster over his record with the Animal Resources Center in Montgomery County, Ohio, where he was fired.

Kumpf last fall said the city's animal control and care operation was proving to the public that it was doing a good job. He said, however, that an ongoing challenge was the inadequate facilities. 

A planned upgrade of the shelter was supposed to begin last spring, but was pushed to spring 2021 due to the pandemic.

Berry said Thursday that the city has instead made plans for a new shelter. He declined to release details on where it will be located, the funding available for the project or when contruction would begin.

"We've had an opportunity to revisit our plans and come up with a better plan," Berry said. Plans, he added, are in the final stage of approval. Details will be released in the future, he said.

Kumpf has said Detroit's current shelter wasn't designed as an animal shelter.

Dangerous and distressed dogs, he's said, take priority, and the department encourages residents who find dogs to hold onto them, giving owners, likely from the same neighborhood, a chance to locate them.

The current policy states that voluntary surrenders be referred to the Michigan Humane or Michigan Anti Cruelty Society but the policy is addressed on a case-by-case basis, said John Roach, director of media relations for Mayor Mike Duggan.

Rinaldi has repeatedly spoken out about issues with the animal control facility, which has been overseen by Detroit's Health Department since fall 2015.

The sheltering operation relocated in 2016 from an aging building near the Ambassador Bridge to the vacated humane society building in the city's north end. The move came amid criticism over unsanitary conditions, unreasonable fees and a high kill rate. 

In late 2019, the city created a new animal control division to better respond to calls for dangerous dogs and crack down on irresponsible owners. 

Under the restructuring, the General Services Department assembled a team of seven inspectors, one in each of Detroit's council districts, to crack down on irresponsible owners, attend community meetings, speak at schools and provide a neighborhood point of contact for residents dealing with loose dogs and bites.

The city's animal care duties stayed under the Detroit Health Department, with Kumpf overseeing sheltering, care and vaccinations, and licensing and adoptions.

The city on Thursday said DACC's live-release rate is 95.8% through June. That's up from last year's rate of 92.5% and 91.5% in 2020, he said. 

Prior to that, the rate was 76.3% in 2019 and in 2020, it was 15.5%. Rinaldi said she's offering the services of her group for free and hopes to sit down with Duggan to discuss options for improving animal care. 

She warned that ill dogs being sent to foster homes or who are adopted is dangerous and noted that signs on the building encouraging visitors not to drop of stray or surrendered animals is a "disservice."

"We need pressure to move this building immediately for the animals and the residents of the city of Detroit," she said. "We need change. It needs to start now."