Friday, November 11, 2011

Ace: A fitting mascot for Detroit city policy

It's not hard to see why Detroit has an image problem. With a trashed economy, hungry businesses and hungrier residents, and approximately 40,000 abandoned properties within its borders, Mayor David Bing is attempting to run a nearly dead city. In the middle of so much desperation, we can imagine how easy it is for the leadership to let stray dogs fall flat to the bottom of their to-do list, especially those skinny pit bulls who routinely fill the dead barrels at Detroit Animal Control's city shelter. (City policy will not permit DAC to transfer pit bull type dogs out to even the most highly qualified shelters or rescue groups. Nope. Not one.)

Detroit's mandatory destruction of unclaimed pit bull type dogs has marched on for years with little protest until last week when a starving dog showed up in an Ace hardware store in need of compassion and help. Today, despite quick thinking and the best efforts of several organizations, citizens and a judge to save him, that dog is dead - destroyed by DAC. What happened between his original rescue and his death tells us more about the state of a visionless city than it does of so-called pit bull type dogs.

Ace symbolizes Detroit in so many ways: Lost, forgotten - once beautiful, now dying. The untouchable dog that most would veer hard to avoid. He was destined to die on the streets without so much of a shrug, until a kind Ace Hardware worker noticed him and gathered the skeleton boy up from the corner of his store. (Side note: Detroit's citizens tend to have some of the biggest hearts you will meet. True grit and full of soul.)

Technically, he did the right thing when he found Ace. Just as you'd call an ambulance for a fallen citizen, you call the right city people who are charged with caring for its animals, right? Unfortunately that call sent Ace on a death march, and four days after he went unclaimed (DAC has stated that no one was able to satisfactorily identify him as their property, despite several failed attempts), he was duly destroyed at the shelter - business as usual. The Ace Hardware employee stated in a media interview how much he regrets making that phone call. Who knew?

Before Ace died - or maybe while he was dying - a miracle of sorts happened: Thousands of people found out about him through the Internet and, after learning about the city's 100% kill policy of all pit bull type dogs, pleaded for his life. Rescue groups raised their hands and lawyers were called in to request a euthanasia injunction from the courts. The large and influential Michigan Humane Society begged and pleaded and negotiated for his release (DAC refused their request). Even school kids got involved and sent letters to the mayor...

Dear Mayor Bing - My name is Veronica. I’m 9 years old. I go to The Roeper school. At my school we like to make a difference. Hearing Ace’s story broke my heart. I want to make a difference, that’s why I sent you this letter. Please save Ace because he is a innocent dog. Just because he’s a pit bull doesn’t mean he’s going to harm anybody. Please dig in your heart & think about how many people have sent you letters because they care about Ace & dogs like him. - Sincerely, Veronica

A judge agreed with Veronica - let the poor thing live so we can sort this mess out. (News Link) DAC has probably never heard such a racket (for a pit bull? good god), but the walls of the shelter must be pretty darn thick, because Ace was dead before the ink was dry on the judge's orders to keep him alive.

The city says it never received the court order, but Bruce King, general manager of the Environment Health Services Division explained in a statement why it was okay to kill Ace:

"If we grant this one exception, we are simply not set up for what will undoubtedly lead to overwhelming appeals in similar cases."

Read: "Screw the courts. If we let this dog be absorbed by people who want to take responsibility for him, we'll be stuck with helping other needy dogs find help too." Sadly, no one who's familiar with the city seems remotely surprised by the position it took, including the Michigan Humane Society. After all, it's Detroit and Detroit government has become a bit of an expert at allowing things in its care to die. Through his unnecessary death, Ace has unwittingly become a fitting mascot for the city leadership.

So what now? The cat's officially out of the bag about the city's inhumane policy regarding pit bulls, and everyone's rightfully pissed off, but reforming a city shelter in the middle of a collapsed economy with this kind of discouraging leadership would make anyone want to bang their head on rocks. We're certainly disheartened. Some are banging drums and vowing revenge, but to add to frustrations, some of the rescue groups in the Detroit area fight with other like cats and dogs. Their movement tends to be emotion driven, disorganized and territorial - a reflection of the chaos that reigns in a town without direction. Whether this horrible situation can evolve into something positive for the city animals is yet to be seen.

I'm so sorry about Ace - So sorry about Detroit. You were once beautiful (you were once my home) and you deserve so much better than what you've gotten: Arrogant, apathetic leadership, heartless policies, lost and ignored opportunities.

Rest in peace, little buddy. Good luck Detroit.

A revealing and important series in Time Magazine on why Detroit is so screwed up. The Tragedy of Detroit.


Anonymous said...

So sad.

mandy_moo said...

That is just horrible :( It reminds me of a book, I think it's called The Canine Caper, and if I remember right it actually took place near Detroit. It's really sad the way we treat animals, and it really is telling about the leadership there, that things went down that way.

Unknown said...

Oh my goodness. I heard about this the other day, and you wrote about it so beautifully. It sickens me that they will not even consider transporting Pits. As if they aren't a dog or something. I am going to post a link to this blog on my site and spread the word. Detroit and other cities like it must be changed. People are being predudice of these dogs because they believe that they are supposed to. (Media Hype) Thank God for the internet, so the word of events like this can be spread to the world. This hatred to Pits MUST be stopped.

I really do enjoy your blog. Ive been following for about a month now, and you are a Fantastic writer. You are on my blog list, I would love for any one who reads my posts to come across your site and read a pro advocate for these dogs. Maybe you can stop by and look at my blog sometime.

Dianne said...

This is especially sad since it come so close to saving this little guy. I feel especially bad for the woman who thought it was her dog and came forward to claim him. And I am so sad for you Donna, I know what its like to love your hometown and sad to watch it crumbling as Detroit

Ashley K said...

With all the corruption that's been discovered in Detroit I'm not surprised that the DAC ignored the injunction with a we didn't get it excuse. I knew about it all the way in California I find it hard to believe they never got it. It's heartbreaking that this little guy who survived long enough to make it to that hardware store in the end died anyway. Hopefully Michigan will make the effort to change its policy on pit bulls that land at DAC.

Anonymous said...

I and our rescue is involved in this sad case we have been there from the beginning , we are one of the two groups that had the injuction served on the city, I wanted to let everyone know its not just pitbulls that they kill . Since they have not sent in state required reports for the past 5 years we are not certain how many animals die there , but its said 150 a day . They kill everything that is unlucky to end up there cats , poodles, rabbits , purebred or mutts of labs , shepherds, chihuahuas everything, They do not release any breed of dog or any other species to rescues or allow any adoptions so their barrels are full of every kind of dog and animal you can think of . The city knows they are in deep doo doo now and have asked our rescue and our lawyers to sit down with a written plan for them on how to fix their shelter problem We know its to placate the world right now but we will not let this die on the table where we will demand and discuss what needs to be changed. Please don't let this be forgotten there are petitions out there to sign to remove the people responsible please sign them . Pam Peterson of Last Day Dog Rescue

ShannonW said...

So very sad. May Ace rest in peace. Ace did not die in vain!

Janet said...

So heartbreaking for the animals and the citizens with grit and soul who want better for their city.

Supporters who tried to save Ace have started a petition to end breed-specific legislation: 25,000 votes are needed by December 10. Please sign and share with your friends.

There is also a facebook page for people to follow the call to reform Detroit Animal Control's policies. Follow "Save Ace" at

Thank you for sharing Ace's story.

Debra I. said...

It seems to me that two very important factors are forgotten when it comes to the pit bull's plight. Sadly, they originate from the same source, HUMANS. First of all, responsible breeding and hence, sales. Just because someone shows up with the right amount of cash doesn't mean they should allowed to purchase the animal, no matter what the breed. Responsible breeding includes responsible sales. I myself,have been scrutinized in the purchase of much less "negatively tagged" canine. Breeders should care about their puppies well being after they leave their property. Secondly, the prospective need to have done their homework too. Do they understand the breed they are purchasing? Is it honestly a good "fit" for their lifestyle and their plans? Do you have the time to train and spend to help insure you end up with a healthy well rounded companion? Dog ownership is a commitment not a

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean about the rescue infighting. I've been doing dog rescue in Michigan for 10 years now and I am so tired of one rescue trying to destroy another through petty arguments and spreading hyperbole. There is a crisis in Detroit. Everybody needs to help. It's time to grow up, recognize the complexity of the situation, and work together. I'd also like to make a stand against the rescue woman who sent her ex-fiance there to lie about being Ace's owner or "break him out." This kind of irresponsible action puts all rescues in a bad position and I'm sure it made the situation worse. I just hope it didn't lead to Ace being put down sooner than planned.

Renting With Rex said...

I think that Anonymous who does rescue in Michigan needs to be listened to. This is not a pit bull problem. It is a shelter-wide problem for all dogs, just like a lot of shelters in other states. Ace is only one of millions of animals that die in shelters every year because shelters have a policy/rule/law about not adopting out to rescues, or that the shelter can judge whether an animal is adoptable or not.

Shelter employees are not the best people to make decisions about what is adoptable and what is not adoptable.

Two of my dogs were adopted from rescues groups who got them from shelters here in CA who wanted to euthanize them, deeming them un-adoptable. But, since the rescue wanted them, the shelter had to surrender them to the rescue.

Like here in California, all states need a law like the Hayden law that states that shelters must relinquish animals to qualified shelters if there is one willing to take the animal.

Government shelters are run solely by laws. They only follow the laws. To change what a government shelter does, the laws must be changed at the state level. Then the government shelters must follow the laws. That is where all this killing will end: by enacting and enforcing proper, life-saving laws.

People can complain and wish and hope and dream of a better life for animals that end up in shelters, but until laws are changed, the government shelter will follow the laws of their area, good or bad.

Lily said...

This abandoned and suffering soul WAS so close - offered mercy and salvation first by one person, then by a world of people and organizations within his city and beyond, and then by the law itself. Instead, he was defiantly and calculatingly killed by the very individuals who were hired and paid to SERVE those entities via an agency whose mission expressly includes humane treatment as one of its elements, (see Who We Are at:

For me, looking into Ace's eyes on the internet, reading of the mercy and chance-at-life that were his but stolen is painful beyond words. I cannot imagine how it must feel for the already-struggling citizens of Detroit to have had Ace's life taken so and, with it, have their progress made on his behalf, their hearts, their hope, and their faith all slammed. Imagine if it had simply been otherwise: Beloved Ace released, healed and homed; the people of Detroit experiencing collective waves of relief, empowerment, warmth joy and resolve as they witness reports of Ace's recovery and join to change the system for all dogs; the city of Detroit, sparing Ace, enjoys its very own living and beloved symbol of reclamation and renewal... and pride.

Instead, whatever good is to come from this must be fueled in part by loss, sorrow and a great shame.

May the wisdom, savvy, positive energy and endurance with which BADRAP deals with such hard realities set the tone for the momentum in Detroit. And please, please may Ace be in Peace.

Linda in CA said...

This was so well written, Donna. I was one of those who wrote to the mayor. I hope your blog will be put into more general media. Care2, Huffington Post or Alternet put up news that is not what the Times, Bees, Record and other general outlets look for and print. Detroit does need the nation to care what happens to their people and their dogs cats and other pets left behind. One in CA who cares.

Anonymous said...

It is certainly time to get your city in order especially DAC. The route cause of strays needs to be addressed and the following implemented:

Vetting and license for dog ownership. This could be set on a sliding scale dependent on income.

Tagging (if dogs do get lost) enabling swift return to rightful owner.

Compulsary neutering of pets to stop over breeding and unwanted litters.

Yearly vet check or compulsory vet insurance.

Licensing of all dog breeding establishments and taxing of these establishments to pay towards implementation of the vetting by certified government officials.

The situation of Ace, the pit-bull, murdered by DAC in recent days, should serve as a catalyst to make changes in not only Detroit, but America.

Detroit will be forever remembered by my family in UK and many other folk around the world for the cruelty it shows to defenseless animals, in a nation that purports to be civilized.

Marianne Jackson
Great Britain

Beckie H said...

I live between Detroit and Flint. This is happening everywhere around here. Flint has the same policies. I foster and volunteer for a local rescue and tried to pull a little dog from Animal Control in Jackson. I was told their dogs are available for adoption by rescues for 2 hours then euthanized. Please sign this extremely important petition to force government funded animal groups to work with rescues.​titions#!/petition/aces-law-an​imal-welfare-rights-act/XLLS4s​rL

xfileluv said...

Just a minor clarification. The man who called DAC was the owner of the Ace Hardware store, and he is devastated by the outcome. He wrote a gut-wrenching farewell letter to Ace on the Save Ace page. Citizens of Detroit can try to do the right thing, but it only works if the city government is willing to work with them. RIP, beautiful boy.

Carrie said...

I live in Canada and I will never believe that they didn't get the court papers. The truth is more like this: They killed Ace immediately or shortly after his arrival to the shelter. Unfortunately, they didn't expect Ace to be the one dog that would unite the hearts of people around the world. Now they had too much bad publicity and when the real owner showed up, they showed her the wrong dog. We all in our hearts knew then, that Ace was gone. So they are screwed and they know it, especially when the court got involved. Best way to cover up their murder of Ace is say they never received any court documents. Ace did not get the 4 days. This is a shelter that lives by their own rules. Everyone is covering butt and Detroit is now being watched by the rest of the world. It's not okay anymore to ignore what has been going on. Ace came looking for help. He thought he found it. Unfortunately, humans are always screwing up. Yet some humans more than others. The manager of this shelter and his cronies have been getting away with this crap for way too long. The people of Detroit need to stand up and say enough is enough. Fire every single person involved in Ace's death. You can't tell me the world new about the court injunction and not one employee at the shelter didn't know about it. Why didn't someone speak up? Because Ace wasn't there! People need to hear the truth. How many people want to admit that my version is correct?

Lori said...

I recently worked hard against the Saginaw, MI breed-specific legislation. We made a few positive changes in the law, but overall lost most of what we wanted. The fight took months, and, I have to be honest, most of what I observed from the other folks who were against the Saginaw BSL was *burnout*. Very, very few sustained the fight, even though they truly cared. Only one other person besides me was there from the very start to the very end (and neither of us lived inside the city). Things in Michigan have been very bad - economics, politics, crime, housing - for much longer than elsewhere in the country, and most people who could leave have left Michigan. Those who are left, I think, have some learned helplessness setting in, and feel they cannot control what is going wrong and have too much "wrong" to sustain a fight. Just my opinion, but there was a lot of "we can't fight city hall" talk a lot of the time. This is what happens when life is very bad for a long time. To turn things around, I think we need something to fight FOR (e.g., a very positive no-kill movement) instead of more things to continually fight AGAINST. Lots of folks in MI lack a positive vision of how things can get better.

Anonymous said...

I'm sick about this. They had to know a court order would reach them. Many reputable shelters would have taken Ace. Now, the whole world can dislike Detroit. A city where almost nothing works yet they want people to move back to this.

I am a volunteer at an area shelter and there is a good policy for finding homes for pitbulls that can adapt to a home environment. This determined effort to destroy a poor dog was insane. What a kill-crazed mentality.

Those who went forward in the destruction of Ace should have their names publicized and should never be allowed to work with pets again.

Donna said...

Thanks for your comment, and especially your tenacity Lori. I admire your commitment to sticking it out, even though I can only imagine how tired and discouraged you get. Growing up in MI, I remember the shoulder shrugs people would give for everything from the auto industries flight to Mexico, the arrogent and unforgivable incompetency of the leadership (Mayor Coleman Young) to the more difficult challenges brought on by the ever-present amount of poverty, racism in the Detroit area especially. I'll never understand why my beloved home is so complacent about basic ideals and human (much less animal) rights we all should be fighting for, but it literally made us move away - and land next door to Berkeley CA. We were just talking about this last night over dinner ... How did the big mitten (we could add Ohio and other parts of the midwest) ever lose the will to put up an intelligent fight? Did it ever have it in the first place? I really want to understand this cultural phenomena. My beacon of hope will always be the kind of pioneer spirit that somehow keeps the flame going - including contributions like yours and this kind of stubborn bravado ... (in fact, we'll be back in Detroit next month and I hope to tap in here to feed my soul a little bit and hopefully restore some faith!)

Anonymous said...

Donna, Thank you for articulating my own frustration with the apathy we have to deal with daily here in Michigan. I hope the good people who support legislation to change the BSL will continue to support all of the rescues and the MI Humane Society. God bless you Ace, RIP little buddy.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Detroiter, an some facts given here are just false false false. I adopted two dogs from the DAC. They have been lab mixes.
Also the man across the street from me had a pit go there. He got it back because one he had papers and two could actually identify his dog.

Is the DAC perfect far from it. But just tired of seeing them get falsehoods told about them.

alexis. said...

You are a woman full of grit to even post a story so heartbreaking. I hate that he was in such misery that he couldn't even get a shot of hope. I do not believe in euthanizing animals, and I follow your blogs because of this. And as before (a long time ago), I thank you for the love and awareness you and your team raise on behalf of beautiful pit bulls. I do wish Detroit the best. It's not my favorite, so I hope there's hope left for its people and its animals.