Humane Society: City Should Consider Animal Limits After Complaints Emerge Regarding Dogs At GR Home

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Humane Society of West Michigan says they’d like to be involved in the discussion about how many dogs should be allowed inside residential dwellings in the city of Grand Rapids.

The issue has been of concern in the Preston neighborhood area after a woman moved into her aunt and uncle’s home from Massachusetts a few months ago.

She has now stated to Kent County that she has 37 dogs listed at the home with a former caretaker of the animals also reporting there were seven cats.

A neighbor who said that she hears dogs fighting constantly at the home on Oakwood NE made an appeal to FOX 17, asking someone to do something about what she says is a big problem.

“(I) have seen and heard them fighting. It was bad enough with 20, but now almost 40? Something has to be done and soon. They are bringing in more dogs because they can get away with it,” said Allison Preston.

We talked to another neighbor who said that he didn’t mind that Grand Rapids didn’t have a limit on animals.

While yet another neighbor felt it was too many for an urban home.

“I love dogs and animals, but there`s a proper place for them,” he said.

Another neighbor reported to FOX 17 noise issues with the home when 20 or more dogs were let out in the middle of the night.

Some neighbors and critics who contacted FOX 17 have complained that this is a possible hoarding situation.

We had spoken to Kimberly Savino, the dog’s owner, previously as she battled with those complaining about the care of the animals.

A former caretaker called animal control to file a complaint about her with the county in early Novmber, saying the dogs were kept in tiny crates all day.

Savino said she was fired for breach of contract and defended her right to own the animals.

“The animals are taken care of. It`s not an issue of quantity, it`s an issue of quality of care,” said Savino.

The Animal Behavioral Specialist with the Humane Society of West Michigan says she’s not surprised that neighbors might hear the dogs barking and fighting.

“I think it`s kind of an expected thing to see a lot of conflict within dogs or among dogs when they are forced to live in such a close environment with so many dogs,” said Namiko Ota-Noveskey.

She said that dogs are very similar to people in their social and stress patterns and behavior.

“If we put 40 strangers in one home, and we can see how well they live together, some may live well, some may not,” said Ota-Noveskey. “If you`re talking small even to medium sized dog in a regular residential Grand Rapids City, then I think it`s too many.”

City commissioners have said that concerns over animals are typically an issue for Kent County to handle, not the city.

“The traditional approach to issues around dogs and in particular abuse is the county addresses that,” said Ruth Kelly, city commissioner.

“It is a partnership with the county. The major responsibility lies with the county,” said Elias Lumpkins, city commissioner.

Although a Kent County Animal Control officer did investigate, he said he couldn’t charge Savino at that time.

However, he felt that more than 40 animals in the home was too many.

His report stated, “I told Kimberly that there did not appear to be animal cruelty violations that I could charge at this point’….’I advised that it was in my opinion too many animals to keep in a residential dwelling.”

The county has explained, even if their officials feel the numbers are too high, there is nothing they can do because the city of Grand Rapids has no ordinance limiting dogs.

We took his opinion on the matter to some city commissioners.

“I hadn`t heard that,” said Ruth Kelly, “Yet again, we`ll meet with the county that`s the plan.”

Dave Shaffer, City Commission, First Ward said, “I would think it would take a little bit more time to look at how we`re currently operating it, what other cities have done. I think we`re looking at that now.”

“I don`t know but it should be reviewed,” said Elias Lumpkins, city commissioner.

The Humane Society of West Michigan said they would like to talk about the issue as well, saying it’s their opinion that guidelines might be needed.

“I think many people`s hearts are tugged, when you hear about 40 animals in a very small enclosure,”” said Trudy Ender, Executive Director of The Humane Society Of West Michigan. “It went from 20 to 40 rather quick and so my thought is that 40 may lead to more and this case blows the lid off of the fact that there aren`t any limitations that need to be made.”

Savino wanted to respond to the complaints about noise and fighting from neighbors and other critics. Her thoughts are below.

“There is no and has never been any fighting among the dogs. All dogs will have disagreements and compatibility issues at times, and if they are closely supervised and are kept safe, this is a normal and non-harmful part of canine interaction. Our dogs get along very well together. The incident that was reported to animal control back in July, we later learned was due  to the reporting person not “liking” us having a number of dogs in the house, rather than out of concern for their wellbeing. They were told that animal control would not handle noise complaints, and knowing that there was no basis on which to file one with the police, the person simply made a false report of fighting, which s/he knew would be investigated.
As for noise, five of my dogs and two of their dogs are herding breeds, and there are times when they initially go out or come back indoors that one will attempt to herd the others. This can lead to increase in barking and other types of high-pitched noises, which some of our “concerned neighbors” may misconstrue as fighting. We do our best to prevent this, and by re-grouping and altering who goes out when, it’s actually improved quite a bit recently. I am a trainer as well, and would obviously not permit fighting to go on within our group. Our dogs are free of wounds or other injuries as confirmed by our visit by animal control, and each dog has had a full physical between the end of July and present by our veterinarian(s).
There is minimal barking that occurs when they first go outside, and we continue to work with this. The dogs are never left outside alone, and the initial barking has never exceeded 10-15 seconds 5-6 times daily (yes, I have monitored and verified this, following the first and only report made to animal control back in July.)  We do have several neighbors in our immediate area (ie, on Comstock and Oakwood) who tie their dogs outdoors, or leave them unattended in fenced yards, and these dogs have barked nearly continuously for 10-20 MINUTE periods at a time. We have never permitted this and never would. There are people who do not like any noise in a neighborhood of any kind, whether it’s from dogs, motor vehicles, music, power tools, etc. If people need literal dead quiet, they belong living out in the country, away from other people – not in a city neighborhood. If a problem exists pertaining to excessive noise, it’s the person’s responsibility to take it up with the involved neighbor, and if this doesn’t work, to seek help from other agencies.”
We have received no “reports” from neighbors, nor from the police or animal control. Unless we do, I will take it with a grain of salt.
The dogs I picked up are owned by me, and continued to live at our “Dog House” back in MA with caregivers while I’ve been out here. I simply brought them back with me during the last trip. Renee was aware of this. I have lost 8 dogs this year, and have adopted 6. Since most of the dogs have chronic illnesses and other significant special needs, there are a number of losses each year.  I restrict my population to somewhere in the 30-40 dog range typically, and depending on the needs and expenses of the dogs at the time, am able to take in other dogs when some pass away or are euthanized. Three of the six dogs were from the shelter in MI (two were a bonded pair with skin and vision issues, and one was a heartworm positive, emaciated lab mix who desperately needed care). The other 3 dogs were adopted early last spring.
– Kimberly Savino

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