It didn’t take long for Danica, Dash, Dodge, Daytona, Diesel and Dale to lick the topping off of each of their huge “pupcakes” to celebrate their first birthdays.
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The sibling dogs, all black and white except for Daytona, who is brown and white, wore bandanas emblazoned with “happy birthday.” They gathered for pictures with their caretakers at Macomb County Animal Control and County Executive Mark Hackel on Wednesday, before heading into individual kennels with a cot, blanket, water, toy and their names and balloons written in rainbow colors on each glass door.
The animal control staff is the only family the dogs, believed to be Australian cattle dog mixes, have known for nearly a year.
That’s because the dogs have been in legal limbo.
They are waiting for a judge to decide whether they will be returned to Pontiac-based TriCounty Dog Rescue, which brought them in from another state or given to the custody of animal control, which has been caring for them for 10 months. The dogs were surrendered by a foster human after they all became sick with parvo, a highly contagious disease, and the rescue wouldn’t take them back, Chief Animal Control Officer Jeff Randazzo said.
“They were sick, sick puppies with parvo,” he said of the dogs, which came around March 2023. “They were getting worse. The rescue wouldn’t take them back, and the foster surrendered them to Macomb County Animal Control.”
Randazzo said animal control took the then-10-week-old puppies after the person fostering them spent what she could on vet bills to care for them.
Randazzo said they dogs were brought into Michigan through the rescue group. He said the foster person, who is in Macomb County, received the puppies directly from the truck that brought them in from out of state. After the puppies were surrendered to animal control, he said, the puppies had to be isolated and animal control employees cared for them for about three weeks before they got better.
‘Animals shouldn’t be raised here’
He said animal control has spent more than $60,000 to care for the dogs, mostly on medical needs. Randazzo said animal cruelty and neglect charges were filed against the owner of TriCounty Dog Rescue and a civil forfeiture action was filed. For several reasons, he said, including the defendant’s lawyer changing and court postponements, the dogs have been with animal control for nearly a year.
Randazzo said he is sharing the dogs’ story to shine a light on the judicial system and state law and how animals are looked at as property. “We don’t look at them this way,” he said. “They’re like living animals.”
“We try our best, but no animal should be in an animal facility. Animals shouldn’t be raised there. Puppies need socialization periods. They’re missing out being in a home, getting a higher quality of care in a home where someone works with them” consistently, he said.
Karmen Schooly of TriCounty Dog Rescue told the Free Press that the foster brought the six dogs to animal control in March and “they were healthy. They weren’t getting adopted quick enough … and she reached out to Randazzo in hopes of getting them adopted quicker. Somehow, he turned that around to them being sick.” Schooly said the puppies already had three vaccines.
She said, “they were sick, but we waited a month before we put them up for adoption to make sure they were healthy. There’s no way they were sick again.” Schooly is charged with abandoning/cruelty to animals and unregistered animal shelter/pounds, per online 42-2 District Court records in New Baltimore. A hearing is scheduled Jan. 25 in district court.
“These charges are ridiculous, that’s why it’s been taking so long,” Schooly said. “And it’s a shame to throw his weight around so these poor dogs would have to suffer all this while. … There’s three sides to every story, and all these people are only hearing one.”
Legislative proposals to change animal neglect and cruelty laws
Randazzo said he offered to sterilize this group of puppies, whose names are related to auto racing, but said the rescue owner would agree to do so only if the charges were dropped.
He said if animal control gets custody of the dogs, they will be spayed or neutered and put up for adoption. He said staff slowly have been acclimating the dogs to being with other dogs aside from their siblings.
Randazzo said two bills proposed in the state Senate would change to the state’s anti-neglect and anti-cruelty statutes to allow animal control more authority in situations like the ones these six dogs are in.
The proposals would allow an owner or possessor of a seized animal to post a security deposit or bond that may prevent the forfeiture of the animal for the duration of the court proceeding or until the court makes a final determination regarding the animal’s disposition. Failure to post a security deposit or bond within 14 days of notice from animal control would result in the forfeiture of the animal. The owner or possessor also could request a hearing about the security deposit or bond before the 14-day period expires, according to the proposed bills.
Randazzo said animal rescues are not regulated in Michigan, though efforts failed about five years ago to do so.
The six dogs were born sometime in January, Randazzo said, but staff celebrated their birthday Wednesday. That’s the same birthday as actress, comedian and animal advocate Betty White, who died in 2022 just before turning 100.
Macomb wants new animal shelter
He and Hackel also used the dogs “pawty” to discuss the need for a new animal shelter in the county. Animal control is doing a space needs study, Hackel said, “to try to better figure out how do we care for these animals in our custody for a number of reasons and this happens to be one of them.”
There is interest in a new animal control facility, with officials talking about it for several years, Hackel said.
For example, Randazzo said, with the current below-freezing temperatures, the shelter has no place to let a dog loose for exercise inside.
Hackel didn’t know how much a new facility would cost as the space needs assessment is just starting, but the county would use crowdfunding to find donors to help pay for a new facility.
A new animal shelter, at an estimated cost of $16.5 million, was listed in the county’s 2024-28 Capital Improvement Plan. It was tentatively scheduled for 2025 using about $13.5 million in donations from nonprofits and $3 million from the general fund, according to the plan. The plan included $750,000 next year for the design.
Contact Christina Hall: [email protected]. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter: @challreporter.
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