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Dog's death raises more questions about Detroit animal control

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A dog’s death at Detroit’s animal control shelter is sparking renewed calls to overhaul the facility.

The dog died of the highly-contagious parvovirus, after its owner and staff found it in grave condition at the shelter. Animal control officers had been holding the dog after it reportedly bit two people.

The Detroit Police Department, which oversees animal control, says it’s taking steps to stem the potential spread of the virus among the nearly 180 dogs currently at the shelter.

Sgt. Cassandra Lewis, a Detroit police spokesperson, says no other dogs have exhibited symptoms of the disease. “But we’ll be testing every single dog that’s in our care to determine whether or not the virus is active in the facility,” she said.

Lewis said the shelter would also follow “cleaning and disinfecting procedures, per protocol” in all potentially contaminated areas.

But some animal welfare advocates, long highly critical of Detroit Animal Control, say the incident highlights chronic problems that need to be addressed immediately.

Theresa Sumpter with the non-profit Detroit Pit Crew Dog Rescue, said the deceased dog was found in horrific conditions. A video taken by the dog’s owner shows the dog confined in a cage with what appears to be blood seeping out around it.

“No animal should be laying in their own blood and feces,” said Sumpter. “That is completely unacceptable, and they need to be shut down.”

The dog’s owner, Veronica Seward, blames her dog’s death on unsanitary conditions and staff neglect.

Sumpter agrees with Seward’s assessment of the facility. “The conditions are deplorable,” she said. “I was in shock when I went in there.” Her group is organizing a protest at the shelter Saturday.

This isn’t the first time Detroit animal control has come under firefor alleged animal cruelty. Critics also decry the shelter’s high animal kill rate and no-adoption policy.

In a release about the parovirus death, Detroit Police didn’t directly address any of the larger concerns surrounding animal control. Assistant Chief James White supervises animal control.

Spokesperson Lewis said she “can’t speak to” questions about the dog’s condition at the time of its release, or any other issues of policy and protocol.  

The statement did note that Seward was issued three citations, including one for “harboring a vicious dog.” Police also note that she was unable to produce a license, registration or vaccination records for the animal.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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