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City of Detroit admits its animal shelter can no longer be considered no-kill

Posted at 7:24 PM, Jul 08, 2022

DETROIT (WXYZ) — After months of criticism from animal welfare advocates saying the city of Detroit was increasing the number of animals being euthanized, a city official admitted that it's true and the city-run shelter can no longer be considered no-kill.

7 Action News has learned that the city of Detroit stopped being a no-kill shelter nine months ago, setting into motion a decline in faith that the city will ever regain its footing on the right track when it comes to serving its residents and their pets, controlling dangerous strays, enforcing tether laws and dispensing compassionate care.

And questions now surround construction of what is supposed to be the city's new animal shelter on the grounds of the old incinerator.

"I don't have faith in anybody in charge that there will ever be a new building," said Chantal Rzewnicki, who resigned from her position at Detroit Animal Care and Control last fall amid problems she said she could no longer overlook or was given the capacity to fix.

"I think they will delay and delay and delay until they give up," she said.

Construction on a new animal shelter was supposed to begin in early 2022, but multiple sources told 7 Action News that the city's $5 million budget was not enough to build what they envisioned and needed on the site.

Kristina Rinaldi, director of Detroit Dog Rescue, said when she toured the old building that was going to be completely overhauled, she could see the true costs were going to be $10 million upwards to $12 million to do what was needed.

"A $5 million budget, realistically, from somebody who's been in animal welfare a long time and also has building experience, it's not going to happen," Rinaldi said.

Time has certainly run out on the current building that was never meant to be a long-term solution for Detroit's animal care and control needs.

The city shelter had to close to the public for several days last month due to an outbreak of parvovirus, which is highly contagious and often deadly.

Much of the problem is that sick dogs cannot be properly isolated in the building nor can the building be properly cleaned due to so many surfaces being porous and crumbling.

And then there are the rats.

7 Action News obtained an email dated June 25, 2022 from Detroit Animal Care Director Mark Kumpf, detailing some of the problems they were battling that weekend:

"During our attempts to clear space yesterday a work crew was assigned to clear the rodent debris left after the pest control company had conducted mitigation operations. Earlier this week, a camera install crew had been working in the drop ceiling when dead rodents and waste fell on them. Their company issued a stop work and we reached out to GSD to get the spaces cleaned," he wrote. "Their crew arrived at 430pm yesterday. Their action was to pull down the majority of the drop ceiling tiles; however, they did not drape, cover or otherwise protect any of the areas. They started on the staff empty side and when I saw what was happening, taped off areas to prevent additional work as they were simply dumping dead animals, fecal matter and other waste on every exposed surface. This included hundreds of poison baits and traps. There was a “haze” of aerosolized fecal matter and dust in the air. Their folks were in hazmat and masks for the conditions. As soon as I noticed this, I had the remaining staff leave the building. My understanding was that they were to clean, remove all debris and sanitize. That did not happen."

At a press conference in October to discuss a new 30,000-square-foot animal shelter, Mayor Mike Duggan said, "When this new shelter is completed, the DACC staff, as well as residents and animals will have the type of first-class facility they deserve.”

Animal welfare advocates, including Joseph Dobesh, the president and CEO of Michigan Pet Alliance, were present for that announcement of a new shelter.

But after the press conference, which was weeks away from the Detroit mayoral election, Dobesh said he couldn't reach anyone at the city to discuss his concerns on a number of issues including remediation of any contamination on the site, which was home of the old incinerator.

"I have not had any communication with the city since the press conference, despite my best efforts," Dobesh told 7 Action News. "We need to be sure that that facility is not only safe for the animals that are housed there but for the employees who staff the facility."

On Friday, Jeremy Thomas, a communications and marketing manager for the city of Detroit's General Services Department, wrote in an email that the original contractor, DeMaria, that was awarded the contract in October 2021, "could not meet the original timeline set by the City of Detroit."

DeMaria and Hannah Neumann Smith, the architectural firm, released the following joint statement Friday:

DeMaria/Hannah Neumann Smith was hired to perform design build services for the City of Detroit animal control center. Our team began the initial phase of schematic design and estimating services to reconcile the City’s initial budget estimate. During that process we were unable to meet the City’s estimate or time frame, which we were provided during the process. The cost and schedule were hampered by global market conditions with project material lead times, including, but not limited to, steel and kennel procurement. We amicably agreed to move on from the project. We wish the City of Detroit well with this project.

Thomas said that the city of Detroit is committed to completing the project and will be using a new contractor with construction now set to begin in January 2023. The new shelter is now expected to be completed in the fall of 2023.

"Actions speak louder than words," said Dobesh, who also shared with 7 Action News a letter he fired off last month to Brad Dick, the director for the city of Detroit's General Services Department.

"Even though promises around the groundbreaking of a new shelter seem empty, serious issues belie the vaguest of plans," he wrote. "These issues include the stated plan to refurbish an old city incinerator into a new animal shelter, a preposterously insufficient construction budget, and a building design seemingly bereft of humane sheltering and animal care expertise."

"The goal is to return the animal shelter to previously successful standards, to improve quality of care and to prevent the mayor's office from continuing to ignorantly insert itself, enforcing archaic, inhumane policies on staff and the defenseless animals they are supposed to care for," Protz-Sanders said.

"There is a real opportunity for improved life-saving in Detroit and the community is demanding it, but the city administration needs to get out of the way or get educated. All they are right now is a burden and a roadblock."