Kristina Rinaldi has the know-how to care for dogs in Detroit, but she’s well aware that many residents aren’t as fortunate.
As executive director of Detroit Dog Rescue, Rinaldi has spent more than a decade rescuing and caring for stray, injured and abandoned animals. In June, DDR will broaden its reach with the long-awaited opening of a new west side headquarters in the Five Points neighborhood.
The DDR shelter on Grand River Avenue is expected to provide Detroit dog owners access to training, vaccinations, spaying and neutering, adoptions and other free and low-cost pet care services.
“We can shelter animals all day, but it’s really our boots on the ground efforts and what we’re doing in the community that is going to help,” Rinaldi told BridgeDetroit during a recent tour.
The former veterinary care center was gifted to DDR in 2017. Rinaldi said the group’s $1.6 million building transformation called for extensive planning and a solid year of fundraising. It also faced delays tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Here we are, five years later, and finally finished,” she said.
The shelter officially opens to the public on June 1. However, Rinaldi said DDR “won’t be taking dogs at the door.” If residents want to report a stray or surrender a dog, they should visit the DDR website to fill out a help line form or call the shelter at (313) 458-8014.
Rinaldi said the rescue’s first order of business is to recruit more volunteers. DDR intends to host a neighborhood vaccine clinic in its parking lot in July and it will do ongoing community outreach about pet care and services.
DDR is also planning to expand its reach on the east side. The organization’s original east side location on Harper Avenue is closed for renovations and expected to reopen next spring as an “outreach hub,” that Rinaldi said she envisions as a part-time pet pantry and pop-up site for vaccines and spay and neuter clinics.
“There’s nowhere for residents to spay and neuter (dogs) on the east side of Detroit, especially when it comes to low-cost spay and neutering,” Rinaldi said. “We can’t ask residents to spay and neuter their dog, vaccinate their dog, when there’s transportation issues, financial issues, so we will be right there on Harper Avenue.”
DDR is already dispatching crews to Detroit’s neighborhoods from the new west side location.
“Right now, we’re getting over 180 calls, but over 600 emails per day,” Rinaldi said. “We could answer 5,000 calls a day – I’m not inflating that number – and people would still say that we’re not doing enough. The problem (with stray and neglected dogs in Detroit) is just out of control. People need help.
“They want us to have the conversation (with their neighbors) and we do welfare checks,” she said. “Not every dog is a stray, not every dog is loose, but we see a lot of animal neglect and people want help talking to each other. They don’t know what to say or they are scared to say anything.”
DDR is among the partner groups working with Detroit’s Animal Care and Control. The rescue talks with animal control officers before dogs are taken to the city’s shelter and the dogs often are rerouted to DDR instead. DDR formed in 2011 as a foster-based operation and in 2015 it secured licensing to operate as the first no-kill shelter in the city’s history.
“Not only are we trying to serve the public and residents that call us, we are helping animal control by being a direct link of a care facility. We do that as often as we can,” Rinaldi said.
Lori Sowle manages Detroit animal control and said residents already contact DDR for many things. The city, she said, is thankful that the rescue is increasing its capacity with a newly renovated and larger building.
“We (DACC) can’t be everywhere. We do 1,600 responses a month and roughly 6,000 phone calls a month. It’s a lot,” Sowle said. “We have a staff that can run 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and we do – but boy, it’s a big problem.”
The added help couldn’t come soon enough, she said. The city’s animal control office took in 655 dogs last month alone – hitting 600 for the first time since December, Sowle said.
“This year is going to be the year that we really get to see the reality of people going back to work and going about their lives,” she said.
Sowle said residents regularly need help with fencing, food, training and vaccines for their dogs.
“We want them (residents) to keep their dogs. We want dogs to stay with their family because we don’t want them isolated and on the streets, looking for help and being harmed,” she said. “It’s everything, including education, understanding what the requirements are by law and that your dog needs to have a shelter, shouldn’t be out in rain 24/7 and to make sure it has water.”
The city’s animal care department doesn’t have the capabilities to spay and neuter privately owned animals, but it does spay and neuter and vaccinate adoptable dogs under the city’s care.
A new Detroit animal shelter is under construction that will combine animal control and shelter space under one roof. The building will replace the city’s existing shelter, a former Michigan Humane Society building on Chrysler Drive. The project should wrap up before the end of the year, Sowle said.
She said DDR, the humane society and Detroit Pit Crew are among the groups that focus heavily on helping Detroit dog owners.
“Everybody helps each other. Everybody is focused on the dogs and trying to get the job done,” she said. “Kristina’s group offers incredible resources for the citizens. We (animal control) can’t. We stop running at 7 p.m. When a dog is in need, a person is in need, she’s there and can help them. I can rely on Kristina and citizens feel the same way,” Sowle said.
Sowle said it’s positive news that DDR plans to use its new and former site to serve Detroiters.
“I don’t know of any organization (in Detroit) that has two locations. That can make a big impact,” she said. “A lot of the rescues are in the suburbs.”
DDR’s new 10,000-square-foot headquarters can house between 68 to 75 dogs at a time, depending on size and age.
Among its features is a “meet and greet” room for pets and prospective adopters sponsored by the Bissell Pet Foundation. Bissell founder Cathy Bissell provided a $100,000 matching gift toward DDR’s work on the shelter, Rinaldi said. The hallway leading to the room is known as “Betty White Adoption Avenue,” in honor of the late actress and animal advocate. Rinaldi said DDR launched a shelter fundraising campaign in White’s honor after her 2021 death, earning DDR another $100,000 from across the country toward the project.
The building has offices, an exam room that will be used for monthly checkups with help from DDR partners Greenfield Animal Hospital and Union Lake Veterinary Hospital. DDR will offer spay and neuter clinics for neighborhood dogs after a part-time veterinarian joins the staff next year.
The shelter also includes the “Mutt Maternity Room” in its mother-puppy unit, a preschool room for puppy enrichment, and a senior lodge – a quieter room with soft bedding — for older dogs who have a hard time in the general population, Rinaldi said.
Jaclyn Ermoyan, DDR’s volunteer coordinator, said DDR is restructuring its volunteer program to ensure volunteers know more about the commitment and job they are signing up for whether it’s a kennel attendant, dog handling position or for special events. The volunteer options will soon be posted on DDR’s website.
Kristen Kuechenmeister is director of training for DDR and makes sure they get the enrichment and attention needed to transition into permanent homes.
“The shelter is an extremely stressful place for dogs,” she said. “We put a lot of effort in.”
DDR, she said, is developing more offerings to help residents who want to keep their dogs but don’t have the resources or the skills to address behavioral issues. That might include online training and enrichment videos, she said.
“If they say, ‘if I could just get my dog to not do this, I would keep them,’ I want to help them because I don’t want that dog to end up in the shelter,” Kuechenmeister said. “Sometimes the smallest idea can really make a difference for a dog and it can keep them in the home.”