Three rescued DDR dogs find out what life is like in a foster home during quarantine.(Photo: Detroit Dog Rescue)

While Detroit Dog Rescue is in need of essential supplies such as paper towels and bleach wipes, another way local residents can consider helping is by fostering a dog.

With the coronavirus crisis keeping many Michiganders indoors due to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order, there is a unique opportunity to foster or adopt dogs.

Thanks to public support dozens of Detroit dogs have found their homes during the pandemic. (Photo: Detroit Dog Rescue)

Experts say it’s good for both dogs and humans, as dogs have the power to help alleviate stress, anxiety and depression in humans. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a phenomenon known as the “pet effect” shows how pets, including dogs, can have a positive impact on their owners’ mental health.

A 2016 survey by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute of 2,000 pet owners showed that 74% reported mental health improvements from pet ownership.

The benefits don’t stop there, though — another 54% of pet owners reported physical health improvements from pet ownership.

“I think there are a lot of people out there who are sitting at home and are compelled to help,” said Kristina Millman-Rinaldi, executive director of Detroit Dog Rescue, the first and only no-kill shelter in the city of Detroit. “Dogs can help us get through this.”

Detroit Dog Rescue responds to needs of animals during COVID quarantine
Over 300 foster application came in when the Stay Order was released. Reba was one of the first fostered in Detroit while her foster is on leave. (Photo: Detroit Dog Rescue)

The 37-year-old West Bloomfield resident, who launched Detroit Dog Rescue in 2011, said a closure of shelters due to the virus means that first responders are contacting her organization for help with stray, abandoned or injured dogs.

“There isn’t a shortage of dogs who need help out there,” she said.

Fostering a furry friend

While Detroit Dog Rescue is in need of essential supplies such as paper towels and bleach wipes, another way local residents can consider helping is by fostering a dog.

The shelter is asking for at least a six-week commitment to minimize contact between staff and foster families. Their volunteer program is generally made up of 80 people putting in 800 hours per week, but those numbers have been severely cut due to the stay-at-home order. Millman-Rinaldi now has a staff of eight paid employees taking on all of the work.

Therefore, applications are assessed on a safety protocol basis. Detroit Dog Rescue determines how and when staff can do a home visit, which is a crucial early step to the foster process. Applications can be filled out online via its website.

“We are used to dangerous situations,” Millman-Rinaldi said. “Detroit Dog Rescue started during Detroit’s bankruptcy, during the foreclosure crisis. We are used to tough times and this is no different.”

Still, the organization is making it work.

Detroit Dog Rescue has fostered 80 dogs since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, a 50% increase from its usual monthly numbers. The shelter provides crates, food, toys and medical care. They ask foster families to provide two things in return: love and a home.
Millman-Rinaldi’s goal is to foster another 100 dogs, but there is no real limit, she said.
“Dogs are our best friends,” she said. “They know all of our secrets. They know when we need some exercise, they know when we need a break mentally.”

Detroit Dog Rescue responds to needs of animals during COVID quarantine
Thanks to the Bissell Pet Foundation adoption fees have been waived (while funds last) to existing fosters. (Photo: Detroit Dog Rescue)

Both humans and dogs can benefit from foster interaction, she said. Humans are given incentive to exercise, get outside and walk the dogs, an added benefit with many stuck at home. There is more time than ever to give dogs attention, too.

It also gives children an opportunity to play. There is the aspect of companionship, as well, which is especially rewarding in times of social distancing and for those who may be quarantining alone at home.

Many of the dogs who have gone into foster homes are thriving, Millman-Rinaldi says.

“They’re getting to hear things in a home they normally wouldn’t hear in a shelter, the sound of a dishwasher or playing children. All of those things will prepare them for forever homes.”

Danielle Zuccaro, 38 of Royal Oak, has been fostering with Detroit Dog Rescue for three years. She decided to foster a pair of dogs, Ace and Peanut, during the coronavirus crisis.

“As we started to react to COVID, I knew my employer would move me to working from home, which makes fostering multiple [dogs] a little easier,” Zuccaro said. “I knew COVID would drastically slow down our ability to adopt dogs, but not slow down the number of dogs that needed to be rescued.”

Having multiple foster dogs keeps her busy, and she walks them every night, which helps maintain a good work-life balance while working remote. “Fostering, especially during the stay-at-home order, is a great way to improve your mental health,” Zuccaro said.

Foster families who decide to adopt their dogs will be able to do so free of charge for the time being, due to a partnership between Detroit Dog Rescue and the Grand Rapids-based BISSELL Pet Foundation that will waive the usual $250 adoption fee while funding lasts.

Helping First Responders

A second partnership between Detroit Dog Rescue and Canine to Five, a dog boarding, daycare, grooming and training service with locations in Midtown Detroit and Ferndale, will offer doggy daycare and boarding services to first responders free of charge.

Detroit Dog Rescue responds to needs of animals during COVID quarantine
A newborn puppy rescued during the pandemic and being syringe fed by Kristina Millman-Rinaldi. (Photo: Detroit Dog Rescue)

“I previously worked at Beaumont Hospital and I knew, when I worked 12-hour shifts, my biggest worry was who was going to take care of my dog,” Millman-Rinaldi recalls. “Now we have people staying overnight at the hospital, paramedics doing double shifts, firefighters doing 72-hour shifts. And my thought was, ‘What about their dogs?’”

Called “Pay It Forward,” the initiative has covered $6,000 in daycare and boarding costs to date, which are paid by Detroit Dog Rescue. In return, Canine to Five donates 10% of funds back to Detroit Dog Rescue, a situation Millman-Rinaldi calls a “win-win.”

First responders can contact either location to set up service.

Detroit Dog Rescue chose to work with Canine to Five because of its proximity to local hospitals such as Henry Ford Health System and Beaumont.

“When Detroit Dog Rescue approached us about the idea, we thought it was brilliant and jumped at the chance to participate,” said Liz Blondy, owner of Canine to Five.

First responders are “drained,” said the 45-year-old Detroit resident, who grew up attending Temple Israel. “Drained often means barely having the energy to take care of yourself, much less a dog. This allows Canine to Five to help care for the dogs of these essential workers so they can care for Detroiters.”

The support for Detroit Dog Rescue in the Jewish community has been overwhelmingly positive, Millman-Rinaldi said.

Detroit Dog Rescue
The Detroit Dog Rescue Team is still rescuing dogs with the City of Detroit, Detroit Police Departments and at the request of Detroit Firefighters. (Photo: Detroit Dog Rescue)

Core values of Detroit Dog Rescue such as responsibility and tzedakah were instilled in her through her Jewish faith and grandparents, she explained. Millman-Rinaldi attends several synagogues, including Temple Beth El, Adat Shalom and Temple Israel.

The organization has also partnered with various Jewish initiatives including BBYO and AZA community service projects.

“We are so grateful that we have so many amazing supporters who are sending us cards,” she said of the Jewish community, “and writing us letters of support on social media.

“I’m extremely proud of my team because this shows why for the last 10 years, Detroit Dog Rescue has survived. Because when it’s time to get it done, we really get it done.”