Southfield's Almost Home Animal Rescue League fighting for future
After 13 years as Southfield’s only “no-kill shelter,” Almost Home Animal Rescue League and Haven faces an uncertain future.
Co-founder Gail Montgomery says the city appears to be backing away from a longstanding agreement to take in animals at a facility on Clara Lane the group is authorized by Southfield to run. For its part, the city says it is required to solicit contract bids to run the shelter.
The city has started seeking offers, including from Montgomery's group, to run the site and take over its services.
“It’s very important for me to have peace of mind and not have to worry about the ugly politics,” Montgomery said.
In a statement, representatives for Southfield said it continually reviews all city vendors and contractual agreements in an effort to review spending. .
"The city of Southfield issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) in March for management of the city’s animal shelter to ensure the best possible service for our community," the city told The Detroit News.
Southfield's statement said Almost Home is participating in the request for proposals and that the city was reviewing the proposals.
"No determination has yet been made," it said.
An agreement with city officials allowed Almost Home to remain in Southfield’s dog pound for a low monthly fee while fielding each dog and cat the city animal warden and police bring in, Montgomery said.
The shelter works to vaccinate the animals, rehabilitate them and find new owners. Meanwhile, the city handles utilities as well as maintenance and recently funded renovations for the kennel area, outdoor dog runs and more.
Montgomery said she and her staff had no advance notice before learning in March the city was seeking proposals to manage the 2,600-square-foot property.
In an email to group officials dated March 21, deputy city administrator John Michrina wrote: "As you know, the lapsed operating contract for the Southfield Animal Shelter has been a problem for both our organizations. Unfortunately, our internal rules prohibit the city from simply signing a new contract with Almost Home. We are required to put contracts of this sort out for bid."
Documents the city sent out indicate the building would remain an animal intake/animal service program site.
Montgomery claims several interested groups had been scheduled for “walk-throughs” while city officials continually rescheduled hearings to consider Almost Home’s proposal.
Montgomery believes her relationship with the city has been strained since supporters on the City Council and in municipal offices have died or retired. She also accuses the city’s new animal warden of targeting her operations.
She alleges the warden recently intimidated a woman to surrender a mixed-breed puppy accused of hurting a child, then had the dog euthanized before a quarantine hold ended.
In a statement, Southfield said it "categorically denies ... any claims that the city or its agent acted improperly with regard to any specific animal or its owner."
Montgomery believes the city has treated her group unfairly and she is unsure about its prospects.
“I’d like to stay there for a couple more years if possible. I have 50 dogs and they’re not the most adoptable," she said. "They need rehabilitation. They need to learn how to be domestic dogs. And it takes time and it takes money, so what am I going to do with all these dogs?”
Attorney Peter Schwartz, who has been assisting Almost Home, said he wonders if the city would turn over the group's animals to the county, where they might face euthanization.
"My hope is that the city would give Almost Home plenty of time to make arrangements for those animals," he said.
The situation prompted dozens of supporters to swarm a recent City Council meeting, including Melanie Mirisciotti, a longtime volunteer.
The efforts to possibly push the group out are “like a slap in the face after all the hard work and dedication,” she said.
“Gail stays true to the value of no-kill. Their heart and dedication is endless.”