The rebirth of Detroit involves many challenges. The challenges include cutting through many layers of legacy issues. Dealing with the animal overpopulation and animal cruelty issues within the city is just one of those layers. The new Detroit proposed budget includes $1.7M for Detroit Animal Control. That is not enough money to fix this problem. Yet the problem will not just right itself either. Those who care about the future of Detroit like Melissa Szumlinski will take part in this important challenge. Heightened animal welfare contributes to our overall quality of life.
The World Animal Awareness Society is collecting data on the number of strays in Detroit. Hard to say exactly how many stray dogs, but is in the thousands at least. And don’t forget the cats! I can confirm through my work with the Cass Corridor Cats that there are 40 feral cats in just a couple of blocks in that area, and we assume most are pregnant. There is also a cultural difference in some areas, a difference of how people view their animals. Debby MacDonald, Senior Cruelty Investigator for Michigan Humane Society recently stated that “some people throw away their animals like Bic lighters. They have no value to them”. Emphasis on some, because as many of us do not feel that way. The problem seems overwhelming and it is easy to lose trust and focus. However, the hard work of people like Melissa Szumlinksi help us to renew that trust and focus.
Meet Melissa Szumlinski
I first met Melissa Szumlinski at a Town Hall Meeting hosted by WDET’s Craig Fahle and Charles Pugh. Melissa stood in line for the entire length of the meeting to speak with Mr. Pugh about his previous support of the Save Ace scandal last fall. Instantly I knew I had to meet her! After a quick conversation, I was delighted to discover that Melissa is one cool chick. She shares my same passion and viewpoints on the topic of animal welfare. Melissa has a degree in Education from Michigan State, but after a job loss in 2007, she fell into her real passion. Today, she is a working professional specializing in animal behavior training, animal rescue, and education, and collaborates with a multitude of different rescues in Michigan such as Dog Aide 2012, Paws for Life and Detroit Bully Crew. In my opinion, she is like the Wonder Woman of Animal Rescue, minus the cape. Recently Melissa has traveled to Kentucky to assist in the rescue and rehab of animals displaced from the tornados. She also went to Allegan County to help with the puppy mill dogs. She is a busy lady! In March while down in Kentucky, Melissa took some time to chat with me on the phone and provided me with some valuable insights and firsthand knowledge.
Animal issues are people issues
What can we do as a community to help fix this problem? First things first, get involved. Volunteer if you can. Support financially if you can. Teach our young people how to treat and care for animals. Remember to spread the word about the importance of spaying and neutering your pet. If you see acts of animal cruelty or see an animal in need, make the call for help or reach out to your social media network. Keep the numbers for your local humane society/rescue group/animal control in your cell phone. Melissa said that if you want to learn and get involved, the Save Ace group is a great place to start for information and connections. And don’t forget that there are lots of ways to get involved other than direct care or fostering. Many groups need help with things like legal advice, graphic design, PR work or accounting help. There are lots of ways to use your talents”.
Those that remember the Save Ace story should remember how many rescue groups all stood together and rallied around that dog. Many rescue groups stepped up to help Ace and were denied by DAC because of their “policies”. Those policies need to change. According to Melissa, “One good thing from the Save Ace story is that we learned that nothing will change unless we stand together and make changes together”. This point stands out very clearly. As Detroit goes through their current struggle and new leadership steps in, we need to pay attention to who is taking over. If we can find one ally amongst them, we can fight to change the policies of DAC and get better programs in place to allow other rescues to step in for the animals in need.
On the topic of promoting education and providing resources in the City of Detroit, Ms. Szumlinski stated that “animal issues are people issues. When people don’t have access to education or resources, everyone fails. A lack of education and resources leads to animals loose on the streets, which in turn becomes a public problem. It’s not normal (in our country anyway) to see dogs running around with no leashes. Resident dogs outside on chains are 2.8 times more likely to bite a human being. Dogs need that family experience in order to know how to act around other humans. The owners are usually at fault not the dogs; yet the dogs get the blame. They are not raising the dogs. They are failing the dogs. We chose to bring them into our society, we owe them”.
Melissa Szumlinski went on to explain that taking the time to speak with and get to know people in the community is extremely important. Chances are if their dog is hungry, that family is hungry too. “Taking the time to talk to people about their animal, you build a bond”. At first they are suspicious because you look out of place and probably have nothing in common. But once they open up about their animal they will start to trust you and share with you. There are many barriers in our area whether they be language or cultural. “Breaking down those barriers and creating trust is key”. As Melissa pointed out to me, “Dogs only want trust, we can learn from the dogs”.
“The measure of a society can be how well its people treat its animals.” ~Mohandas Gandhi