Dearborn animal shelter reaches beyond city borders

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
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For years, Phyllis Moore has counted herself among the Dearborn Animal Shelter’s many fervent fans.

The city resident loves its offerings: programs giving pet supplies to struggling families; handlers who carefully groom cats or walk dogs sheltered at the facility. So, she eagerly donates to the group operating the site and supports efforts there.

“It’s just an incredible operation. It really is,” Moore said. “I volunteered with them starting in 2000 and was astounded by the emphasis on taking care of animals. That’s the only issue to them and finding homes for those animals.”

But shelter operators are raising ire among some advocates and others in the city over their plans to switch its name.

Officials at the Friends for the Dearborn Animal Shelter, the nonprofit that has run the facility since 1996, recently announced a fresh title they say better reflects the group’s growing support and outreach beyond city borders.

“Together, we are a vibrant part of Metro Detroit and believe it is a fair description to allow that the organization name indicates that as well,” said Executive Director Elaine Greene. “It is about humans helping companion animals with a little broader view. The new name for helping characterize that better is Friends for Animals of Metro Detroit.”

Meanwhile, the group also is working to raise the rest of a $5.7 million goal to build a new, more accommodating 16,000-square-foot facility on a 2.2-acre parcel near Michigan Avenue that once held the former Amtrak train station. When finished, that too could have another name depending on contributions to the fundraising campaign, spokeswoman Sandy Boulton said.

“The potential is there for naming rights,” she said, adding a large donor could still opt to keep Dearborn Animal Shelter as the name on the new building.

But the idea of possibly distancing the center from its longtime home base — once a pound — is sparking an outcry among Dearborn residents and even pushing City Council members to address the issue in a study session next month.

“This town really rallies around the shelter. People are crazy about animals, they love the shelter,” said Regan Ford, a business owner and president of the Southwestern Outer Drive Neighborhood Association who recently wrote a Dearborn Press & Guide guest column about the switch. “A lot of people are saying they are upset. They are reconsidering supporting the shelter now.”

Shelter officials insist the organizational name change is needed since some 65 percent of donors, 57 percent of volunteers and 79 percent of adopters live outside Dearborn. That’s also where, they say, the group’s community outreach and advocacy activities have extended in recent years.

“We were trying to help geographically characterize it,” Boulton said. She added that the Dearborn shelter has an open-admission policy and fields animals from other communities when space and resources allow, but their contract with the city $85,000 for 2015-16 requires taking on local ones first.

The facility, which relies mostly on donations to cover annual operation costs estimated at more than $900,000, tended to some 2,300 dogs and cats plus 200 other species last year, according to the website. The shelter has a placement rate, which includes adoptions and returns to owners, of 83 percent, Boulton said.

The shelter’s board of directors approved the final choice of a name after input from marketing professionals, stakeholders and others, according to the group.

“The majority of the people in our database of about 40,000 don’t even care,” Boulton said. “It doesn’t change a thing about the care or who we give it to.”

But critics of the name change claim it was never mentioned when officials presented relocation plans in the last three years. The Dearborn City Council has passed a resolution transferring the title of the Amtrak property, assessed at $400,000, and gifting a $600,000 contribution — 60 percent of which would be paid when construction starts.

City Councilman Mike Sareini questioned the rebranding and plans to ask about the shelter naming rights during a study session scheduled for April 21.

“I hope that the shelter realizes that the name of Dearborn adds value to their facility and I hope they appreciate the funds from the taxpayers and keep the name Friends for the Dearborn Animal Shelter on the façade,” he said.

Shifting from emphasizing the city’s name could be interpreted as a slight against residents who have strove to transform the site, Ford said. “We’re a big part of what they do and it’s a slap in the face to a lot of people.”

Still, whether Dearborn is dropped from both the operator’s title and the facility front, Moore remains devoted.

“There’s no operational change of the shelter, there’s no change in the care of the animals,” she said. “That’s the critical issue. The animals are cared for better than almost any other organization I’ve ever seen.”

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