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Changes in store for troubled Detroit Animal Control

Courtesy of Detroit Dog Rescue

Detroit officials announced a major overhaul of the city’s animal control operations Friday.

Animal Control will again become part of the city’s health department. It’s been under police department oversight since 2012.

And the city’s animal shelter will reverse its no-adoption policy, allowing the Michigan Humane Society to help transfer “dozens of dogs a month” to animal rescue and foster groups.

That’s welcome news to animal welfare organizations and some Detroit residents, who have long criticized the city’s animal control practices, and accused department director Harry Ward of everything from animal cruelty to the illegal seizure of dogs.

“Any release of a dog is a celebration for the animal rescue community, but it still does not address that concerns we have about the conditions in that facility,” says Detroit attorney Tamara French, who calls those conditions “absolutely inhumane.”

Dr. Abdul el-Sayed, the city’s new public health director, said larger changes are in the works. “This is not sort of a one and done deal,” he says. “As Animal Control comes under the leadership of the health department, we’re really thinking about all of our processes.”

El-Sayed said that stray and aggressive dogs are a real and multi-faceted public health problem in Detroit, but suggested the city’s animal control practices “need to come into the 21st century on some things.” He said it’s too soon to say whether that will involve changes in leadership or other policies, but these moves are “a good first step.”

“We’re committed to making sure we have one of the best-run animal care facilities in the country, and we’re going to do what it takes to get there,” El-Sayed said. “This is an opportunity to turn the page, to think about how we promote health and well-being, whether it be among humans or animals.”

French says that at this point, many animal welfare advocates who have pushed for changes at animal control are hopeful but still wary.

“So on the one hand we’re getting dogs out, but is this really the solution to the problems at Detroit Animal Control?” she says. “It’s just sort of the tip of the iceberg.”

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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