Best Friends Network spotlight: Detroit Animal Care and Control

Best Friends advises Detroit Animal Care and Control on implementing new lifesaving strategies and developing partnerships with rescues.
By Arin Greenwood

Being part of the Best Friends Network gives animal welfare groups across the country the tools they need to save more lives and the chance to work together to Save Them All.

Best Friends has network partners in every single state and all of them are saving lives daily. We never get tired of hearing their stories, and that’s why we want to share them with you, too. So today, we're proud to present one from Detroit Animal Care and Control in Detroit, Michigan.

Detroit Animal Care and Control (DACC) held its first public adoption event in a decade on March 18 of this year. Staff and volunteers were so excited and so thrilled to have their shelter's pets going to homes that they couldn't stand still.

"We were having dance parties. We were so giddy," says Kelly McLaughlin, DACC's interim director.

Celebrating dog adoptions in Detroit

Every adoption is worthy of celebration. For folks at Detroit's municipal shelter, though, these pets going into homes feels extra special.

Until recently, Detroit Animal Care and Control was known more for its problems, and not dance parties and adoptions. In 2015, the shelter's save rate was just 20 percent. Animal advocates criticized what they called inhumane and archaic practices.

That began to change at the end of 2015 when the city hired a new director committed to making things better for the shelter’s pets and for the community. The shelter developed new partnerships with rescue groups and local nonprofits, started a volunteer program and by 2016 had moved into a larger facility.

The building was gifted to the city by the Michigan Humane Society (MHS), a private nonprofit shelter in Detroit that also is a new Best Friends Network partner and regularly partners with DACC by taking in pets and helping with veterinary care. MHS had recently built a new facility and wanted its former home to benefit the city's animals.

"We are stronger as a community if everyone is successful," says Matt Pepper, president and chief executive officer of MHS. "At the Michigan Humane Society, we believe that all animals in Detroit are our animals and our responsibility. If DACC is successful, then we are successful."

Help for a city animal shelter

With new leadership and new resources, DACC’s save rate rose to 63 percent in 2017. It was a great improvement, but there were still far too many pets entering the shelter, but never coming out. So, the shelter director contacted Tawny Hammond, Best Friends’ Midwest regional director, to ask for help in getting to the next level of lifesaving.

Tawny conducted a shelter assessment to determine what DACC needed to do and the list of suggestions included the following: better use of software and technology, building a foster program for pets at risk and dying, discontinuing temperament testing, developing partnerships with other local nonprofit organizations to save lives and reduce the shelter population, and hiring specific staff to free up the director for important initiatives. The agency embraced the need for more lifesaving changes and invited Best Friends to continue working with DACC.

"The lifesaving progress in the city of Detroit is nothing short of amazing,” says Tawny. “The Greater Detroit area can be at a 90 percent save rate or better if they keep working together and focus on measurable lifesaving changes. This kind of dedication is the heart and soul of getting the Midwest and our nation to no-kill by 2025."

What’s the save rate in your state?

Adopt a dog in Detroit

Helping DACC start adopting out dogs to the public for the first time in many years became one of Tawny’s big missions. (For now, the shelter's cats are transferred to rescue groups and other shelters.)

Tawny helped the shelter prepare for this next step by creating forms and procedures and reassuring the staff and volunteers that they could do this, and that the community would support them.

"I had no idea what to expect," Kelly says. "Would anyone come to adopt? Would we have a high level of returns? But the second the public showed excitement, we were all in. And the second they started coming through our doors to see our dogs, we couldn't contain ourselves. Dance parties ensued, and every dog and adopter were showered with applause and excitement."

A successful dog adoption event

Tawny wasn't at the shelter that first day, but watched the event streamed on Facebook live. And she cried as she saw the first dog get adopted.

"It was very moving to watch,” she says. “They kept sending me updates as each dog was adopted out. That one little dog (that first adoption) we won’t forget anytime soon."

Kelly and her staff hoped that perhaps five or 10 dogs would be adopted that first day. "We had 24 adoptions and two fosters," she says proudly. People from all over Detroit and the surrounding area wanted to bring DACC dogs homes.

With the shelter open to the public for adoptions, there's been more than 60 of them so far this year. Kelly says DACC is saving between 65 and 70 percent of its animals every month and working to save even more.

It's not easy. There are still policy and procedure changes to address, but there’s also plenty of hope. Better medical care, a communications plan, a team devoted to adoptions and a more robust foster program are at the top of the list of needs.

Still, despite the ups and downs, the progress and setbacks, each adoption is cause for celebration. "We've come a very long way," Kelly says. "Seeing the faces of the adopters and the (pets) they're going home with is indescribable."

Best Friends Network partners are heroes for animals. Find one near you.

Photo courtesy of Detroit Animal Care and Control

Network Partners