Duggan advances plan for $5M new Detroit animal shelter

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan announced Monday plans to convert a former incinerator facility into the new home for the city's animal care and control program.

Pending the approval of Detroit's City Council, work on the building at Russell and Ferry will begin in the spring. It will open a year later.

The city's plan for the shelter, which will double kennel space, comes as Detroit animal control waived adoption fees and pleaded with the public in recent weeks to visit the existing shelter on Chrysler Drive to help ease "extreme" overcrowding. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announces that the city will build a $5M state-of-the-art shelter and office building for Animal Care & Control that will be located at Ferry St. And Russell St. in Detroit.

Duggan, who is seeking a third term in November as the city's mayor, said he expects the new facility will "dramatically improve the quality of care."

The city's new shelter will have more than 200 kennels and address the "significant issues with quality" that the city's animal shelters have had over the years. 

The facility at 7401 Chrysler Drive has 86 kennels. Last month, it had 170 animals.

Pending the approval of Detroit's City Council, work on the building at Russell and Ferry will begin in the spring. It will open a year later.

More:Detroit's animal shelter over-capacity, seeking more adoptions

When Duggan took office in 2014, Detroit's animal control was under the Detroit Police Department and stationed in a "very substandard facility" on Jefferson. Three in four animals were being euthanized, the mayor said Monday. 

But in 2015, Detroit's then-health director, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, asked to take animal control under the health department's jurisdiction, Duggan said.

"He (El-Sayed) took it over, got us into the interim facility, lowered the euthanasia rate and wanted the permanent facility," he said. "This is the culmination of what he had hoped for."

In December 2015, a 4-year-old boy named Xavier Strickland was dragged under his backyard fence and mauled by four pit bulls. The death prompted Detroit City Council to adopt tougher dangerous animal laws. 

Detroit Animal Care and Control is moving into a new $5M facility that is also kennel capacity. These kennels are their existing kennels that house a number of dogs and cats.

El-Sayed on Monday told The Detroit News that Strickland's death, just months into his tenure as medical director, "reminded me that animal welfare is about human welfare," and that "protecting kids means preventing the mistreatment of animals."

Duggan on Monday cited another tragic mauling death, that of Emma Hernandez, 9, in August 2019. 

"I'm really glad to see this moving forward," El-Sayed said via email. "It was simply unacceptable that Detroit children have lost their lives to stray or improperly cared for dogs and that Detroit dogs were being denied a second chance at a loving home."

Critics of the Detroit animal care facility have long urged the city to find an alternative to the current facility, a former Michigan Humane Society building.

Detroit's animal control relocated to site near the city's North End neighborhood in 2016, on the heels of calls for its closure and criticism over unsanitary conditions, high fees and a high kill rate.

Detroit Animal Care and Control Director Mark Kumpf gives a tour of the city's shelter, a former Michigan Humane Society building. Detroit has used the outdated facility since 2016. Kumpf on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, gave The Detroit News a tour of the kennels.

"This building has reached its productive lifespan," Detroit's Animal Care and Control Director Mark Kumpf said Monday during a rare tour of the facility. 

As he walked a row of kennels for medium-sized dogs, Kumpf pointed out the rust eating through the once-white wall.

"I can clean the cage. I can feed the dog. But I can't fix rust," Kumpf said. "I can't fix 1960."

Kristina Rinaldi, executive director of Detroit Dog Rescue, has criticized the building as "deadly to animals." On Monday, Rinaldi said a new Detroit animal care facility is "long overdue."

"While I am excited for a new house, you've also got to fix what's in the house," said Rinaldi, who has been critical of the program's management. 

Rinaldi suggested that the city boost the hours that it has control officers out on the streets. She noted the fatal maulings in recent years and that Detroit's shifts of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. aren't enough. 

Duggan said crews are available for emergencies. But Rinaldi countered Monday: "I have not experienced that," adding, "I get the call."

Detroit Animal Care also houses cats in their facilities.

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

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said Monday that there is no record of any new or pending complaints or inspections involving Detroit's shelter. 

More:Dog rescue group calls for improved Detroit shelter for homeless pets

Duggan said that the old animal care facility, on East Jefferson, was even worse than the old Humane Society site. 

While the Michigan Humane Society-donated building on Chrysler was considered an improvement, Duggan said, "it wasn't the permanent plan." 

The new building will have 30,000 square feet, up from the 16,000 square feet that the existing building has, and offer a large outdoor area for the animals. 

Due to the lack of air conditioning, Detroit Animal Care and Control staff place fans near the entrance of the kennel hallways at the city's shelter on Chrysler Drive in order to circulate cool air for the dogs. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, that a $5 million shelter will be built elsewhere in the city with double the kennel space.

Renena McCaskill has been with Detroit Animal Care and Control since its days at the E. Jefferson building. The move to the I-75 site, she said, was an upgrade. 

"It was inhumane for the animals, the way they were double-stacked," McCaskill recalled Monday of the city's older building. "It was the old way of animal sheltering."

The Jefferson facility did not have a surgery suite or an X-ray machine. Most dogs that came in did not leave alive, she said. 

Kumpf said a woman recently brought her dog in to be euthanized, believing removal of the dog's tumor was more than she could afford. 

But animal care had just gotten the X-ray machine, Kumpf said. The dog was the very first patient. After a scan, the dog's tumor was removed in the surgery suite.

When animal care called the woman days later to pick up her dog, she thought she was retrieving its cremains. Instead, the still-alive, tumorless dog was reunited with its owner.

The city's shelter takes in about 15 animals a day, 90% dogs, Kumpf said. About eight leave per day, and more on weekends. For the year, the live release rate is 93%.

In 2019, Detroit created a new animal control division that deployed inspectors by district to respond to dangerous dogs and crack down on irresponsible owners.

Detroit Animal Care and Control staff gave The Detroit News a tour of the outdated shelter building on Chrysler Drive on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. The city of Detroit, pending approval of Detroit's City Council, will construct a $5 million facility with double the space to house animals.

That September, the city hired Kumpf to direct it. At the time, Kumpf said the biggest challenge he faced was the condition of the city's overcrowded and run-down shelter.

In December 2019, Detroit announced plans for a new $3 million animal care facility, to break ground in spring 2020. It would have had 130 kennels.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and delayed the project. 

The building plan now has a $5 million price tag, $2 million higher than the original.

More:Detroit creates new animal control division to crack down on irresponsible owners

John Roach, a spokesman for Duggan, said the old plan was "a modular annex behind the existing facility," along with upgrades. This covers a new plan and new site, he said.

"It's a more substantive and long-term solution and worth the added investment," he said.