DETROIT (WXYZ) — When Chantal Rzewnicki began her work with Detroit Animal Care and Control, it wasn't about the money. She began as a volunteer at the shelter that is often overwhelmed with dogs so she could make a difference in their lives, and in early 2020, she began her paid position as an animal shelter assistant.
Rzewnicki became a go-to person at the shelter when it came to helping get dogs, many of them sick and injured, transferred to area rescues for outside veterinary care, fostering, and adoption. So she was devastated when she recently learned that the city had placed Canine Companions Rescue Center (CCRC) on suspension, halting their access to transfer dogs to them.
The non-profit that has pulled hundreds of dogs out of the City of Detroit's animal shelter had been blocked.
"It's heartbreaking. Erica has pulled hundreds of dogs, medical cases, injured dogs. Anytime I call her and ask her, she would show up that day," Rzewnicki said about CCRC and its longtime operations manager, Erica McCarthy.
Both believe the suspension is retaliation.
On August 9, McCarthy contacted the state about her concerns at Detroit Animal Care and Control, sending Michigan's head of Animal Shelters, Breeding Kennels & Animal Control a lengthy email in which she detailed medical problems she alleges took place or worsened for dogs while at the city shelter.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) oversees animal shelters in the state and McCarthy said she had no choice but to contact them after she said her attempts to voice concerns about the shelter to city officials "were ignored."
McCarthy said the state never responded to the information she sent to them via email.
What McCarthy later learned is that three days later, on August 12, Detroit Animal Care officials had contacted the state to report that a dog was transferred to Canine Companions "without the proper paperwork."
"Mr. Nelson" is the name of the dog city officials claim was illegally transferred to Canine Companions on July 20.
Mr. Nelson was brought in the day before by animal control officers with a prolapsed rectum and placed in a cage in the general population of animals, according to former employee Melanie Thomas.
When a dog has a prolapsed rectum, part of the intestinal tract is protruding from its rectum because the tissue has turned inside out.
"Mr. Nelson that sat there for over 24 hours with no medical care and no pain medication with a prolapsed rectum," McCarthy said.
Thomas said when she came into the shelter the next day and the paperwork on Mr. Nelson's cage indicated that he had not been seen by the veterinary staff, she contacted McCarthy with Canine Companions for help.
"I had all the proper paperwork," Thomas told 7 Action News.
But the next day Thomas was accused of "theft of department property" and fired.
"I was blown away that I saved the dog, and got it out for medical and freed up a kennel, and, yet, I'm being punished for it," she said. "It's not like I put the dog under my jacket and walked out."
City officials never asked Canine Companions to return Mr. Nelson, and, if there was an issue with them having him, no one at the city shelter told McCarthy. Instead, the next day other animal control workers asked her to take in a dog that tested positive for parvo.
Then, on August 3rd, a supervisor at Detroit Animal Care asked Canine Companions to take three puppies, two of them were sick.
McCarthy said it wasn't until she reported her concerns to the state that the city refused to let her pull any more dogs out.
"There's a personnel matter that has yet to be resolved," said Mark Kumpf, City of Detroit Director of Animal Care, Thursday. "They (Canine Companions) are part of that ongoing situation. Pending the outcome, they're temporarily suspended. They are not banned, nor is any other rescue. Once that personnel matter has been resolved, we'll revisit the issue, but until that time, we're not able to place animals with that organization."
McCarthy said she will continue to work to get someone in leadership at the City of Detroit to sit down and discuss her concerns on a dozen dogs, even the ones that died during transport to get to her.