Southfield officials reject Almost Home as city’s animal shelter

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published August 7, 2019

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SOUTHFIELD — According to city officials, Almost Home, the animal rescue that operates Southfield’s animal control shelter, no longer has a home in the city.

Community Relations Director Michael Manion recently made the announcement in a press release and at the July 15 City Council meeting.

Almost Home, 25503 Clara Lane, is a no-kill, nonprofit shelter dedicated to finding and rescuing animals that are in need of a home. Almost Home also acts as the city of Southfield’s animal shelter.

Manion said that during a review of city vendors and contractual agreements, the city issued a request for proposals for operation of the building in March.

“The city only received two proposals back, including Almost Home’s,” Manion said. “However, after thorough review, neither of these proposals will provide the level of service that the city requires. As such, the city is currently in the process of exploring other viable options for management and the operations of the city’s animal shelter.”

The shelter’s tenure with Southfield goes back to 2006, when co-founder Gail Montgomery-Schwartz approached the city to use its abandoned dog pound to operate a no-kill animal shelter. At the time, Southfield police had used the building to hold stray and rescued animals before taking them to the Michigan Humane Society in Westland.

Montgomery-Schwartz said previously that she and her team have saved countless animals, and the partnership took the burden of animal care off the city’s shoulders.

Southfield Deputy City Administrator John Michrina said in a previous report that under the terms of the operating agreement between the city and Almost Home, the city does not contribute to the operation costs of Almost Home other than by providing a location for the shelter to operate.

In January 2017, the Southfield City Council unanimously voted to give the facility a facelift, allocating $300,000 to renovate and expand the building for Almost Home’s use. The organization was moved to the John Grace Community Center, 21030 Indian Road, while the renovations were completed.

During the renovations, Montgomery-Schwartz said previously that the packed schedule didn’t allow her to do as much fundraising as she would have liked, creating a $100,00 deficit.

Michrina said previously that the city was unaware of the shelter’s financial issues, but if the shelter were to cease to operate, the city would continue with another group without any interruption of service to the residents.

Manion said during the July 15 meeting that Almost Home’s proposal was rejected because it simply was not up to par with the city’s expectations of an animal shelter.

“Despite the continued efforts to work effectively with Almost Home — including investing almost $300,000 to improve and upgrade the shelter — the organization has repeatedly failed to provide a consistent and satisfactory level of service for our community and residents,” he said.

“They have not met the city’s basic needs,” City Administrator Fred Zorn said recently. “In particular, dogs have been turned away. The contract is real simple. You’re supposed to be able to accept — at any time — dogs from Southfield residents.  … We’ve had our purchasing agent and outside entities do the review, and they didn’t meet the criteria.”

Manion also outlined a handful of issues he said the city has been experiencing with the group historically and recently.

During the meeting, Manion said several Almost Home employees had made “open and veiled threats” against city employees, failed to accept animals brought in by the Southfield Police Department, failed to accept animals surrendered by Southfield residents, failed to adhere to safety protocols, spayed and/or neutered animals without the permission of owners, and that Southfield residents had been denied adoptions because of their residency.

Zorn said that Almost Home “followers” recently made threats against himself, city employees and Animal Control Officer Shannon Hamilton by publishing home addresses, phone numbers and personal information.

“I can’t control these volunteers. My employees have not made any threats,” Montgomery-Schwartz said. “The volunteers are very passionate. They go against what I want and I can’t stop them. It’s not my fault they’re upset.”

Zorn said that at press time, the city was not seeking any legal action against the volunteers for the alleged threats.

Montgomery-Schwartz and longtime volunteer Melanie Mirisciotti denied the other claims against their organization, calling them blatantly false.

However, Mirisciotti said there was some truth in the claim that they spayed and/or neutered animals without the permission of the owners, but it was for the health and safety of the animals, and they were lifesaving measures.

“We made miracles work for 12 years in a run-down, outdated building that was not feasible for the type of work we did. Almost Home took lemons and made lemonade; happy to have the opportunity to save animal lives,” Mirisciotti said in an email. “While the building was being renovated the summer of 2018, Almost Home successfully ran the shelter out of a gymnasium with flimsy, makeshift kennels that were provided for us. It was stressful, but we made it work with zero safety instances.”

Mirisciotti said in an email that awarding a certain amount of adoptions to Southfield residents was never in their contract.

“Nonetheless, we have adopted many animals to Southfield residents. Our objective has always been to find the most properly matched home where an animal could be successful in,” she said in the email. “Accepted applicants are not based on what city they reside in, but on the sole purpose that they be responsible pet owners who can pass reasonable basic screening, including a history of good vet checks on their past and/or current pets.”

Montgomery-Schwartz said she has rebutted the city’s claims in detail on her organization’s Facebook page.

“I have all the documentation,” Montgomery-Schwartz said.  “You can fight Muhammad Ali but you can’t fight the city. They’re always right, matter how wrong they are.”

Hamilton did not return a request for comment by press time.

Montgomery-Schwartz said she has repeatedly requested a meeting with city administrators, but she said the request has not been accommodated.

“Let’s work together and stop the mudslinging. We’re adults. We don’t have to put out all those accusations that aren’t true. It’s all rebutted. I have documentation,” she said. “Please sit down with me and maybe my attorney and let’s have a heart-to-heart talk so we can make things better. No more mudslinging.”

The organization reportedly has until November to vacate the building.

In the meantime, Zorn said, the city is working on both short- and long-term arrangements to make the transition as smooth as possible.

“They’re a group that has a mission. It’s unfortunate that their mission could not take care of the needs of the Southfield community,” he said. “We are working on finding a way to take care of our needs of the community with some short-term arrangements. We’re pursuing some long-term arrangements, as well, with some of our peers and even, hopefully, with Oakland County.”

Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki contributed to this report.

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