Lil Mama, a pit mix who found her way to an east side Detroit Fire Department house, leans into the arms of Kristina Millman-Rinaldi of Detroit Dog Rescue after being rescued.
Lil Mama, a pit mix who found her way to an east side Detroit Fire Department house, leans into the arms of Kristina Millman-Rinaldi of Detroit Dog Rescue after being rescued.

DDR is celebrating more than 10 years as Detroit’s first no-kill shelter and is getting ready to expand its no-kill operations.

Detroit Dog Rescue (DDR) started back during the Great Recession, when high unemployment drove foreclosures and bankruptcies, and many people had a hard time feeding themselves let alone their pets. Unfortunately, thousands of dogs were being abandoned, according to the organization’s executive director Kristina Millman-Rinaldi.

“The Big Three car companies were laying off employees and people were losing their homes and, in some cases, had to leave their dogs behind,” she said. 

So, Millman-Rinaldi and a group of friends decided to do something about the stray dog epidemic. “We made YouTube videos of our dog rescues, and we started our social media presence,” Millman-Rinaldi said.

Detroit Dog Rescue relies on outreach partners like Detroit K-9 Pet Supplies to supply families in need
Detroit Dog Rescue relies on outreach partners like Detroit K-9 Pet Supplies to supply families in need

In 2011, the organization was born. Now DDR is celebrating more than 10 years as Detroit’s first no-kill shelter and is getting ready to expand its no-kill operations. 

As DDR started to grow a name for itself, the 39-year-old executive director says they received a call from an angel donor who gave $1.5 million in Coca-Cola stock to their cause. While DDR wasn’t Millman-Rinaldi’s full-time gig at the time, she had reached a crossroads in her life. 

“I came to a moment when we got that $1 million donation and I said, ‘Oh, man, I can finish nursing school, or I can really build something.’”

With the support of her friends and family, Millman-Rinaldi decided to leave nursing school and take on DDR as a full-time vocation. 

Turning Passion into Purpose

Millman-Rinaldi says her passion to rescue dogs and find them a forever home comes from personal experience.

“Unfortunately, I come from a pretty bumpy background. My mother isn’t in my life and my father died early on,” she explained. 

Kristina Millman-Rinaldi
Kristina Millman-Rinaldi

Millman-Rinaldi’s rough childhood included episodes of abuse and being shuttled from house to house.

“I knew what it was like to feel displaced. To not have a permanent place or a safety net. To not be sure if I was loved or where I belonged.”

Raised by her Jewish grandmother, Rita Millman, she found support and a place of belonging in the Jewish community.

“Thank goodness the Jewish community has always stood by me. But also, I looked at these dogs and I knew exactly how they felt. And some of them like me, just needed a chance,” she says. 

Before finding a home with DDR, Millman-Rinaldi found her way working in the entertainment industry in the Detroit music scene and by working in the health care industry.

 “I was working at Beaumont Hospital and going to nursing school when plans for DDR all started,” she said.

A New Place for DDR to call Home 

DDR opened its first shelter in Detroit in 2014. The following year, Millman-Rinaldi met with Mayor Mike Duggan and assembled an animal welfare reform committee for the City of Detroit. The nonprofit continues to help 80 to 120 dogs at any given time and has helped rescue and rehabilitate thousands of dogs in their shelter.

“Our current facility is 2,000 square feet, and we can hold about 22 to 24 dogs there. We’ve obviously grown out of that space,” she said.  

“I received a call one day from a veterinarian who owned a building on Grand River and she said, ‘I’m retiring. I’ve seen you on the news. I’ve seen what you do. I would like to gift you my building.’ She donated the entire building to DDR.”

The 11,000-square-foot former veterinary clinic built in 1962 was donated to DDR in November 2018 by the Westcott family. 

“The building was formerly the first of many Wescott Veterinary Hospitals. It had a long history of helping Detroiters, and the owners wanted to see it used in a capacity to continue to help while they downsized their own operations,” Millman-Rinaldi explained. 

Millman-Rinaldi says while the building has great bones, it needed some work. She then called her friends at PCI One Source Contracting in Oak Park and Stucky-Vitale Architects in Royal Oak and started making plans. 

Long before planning a new facility, Millman-Rinaldi spent more than a decade traveling to other shelters to help with their initiatives.  

Kristina Millman-Rinaldi waits for bolt cutters to rescue a pair of skinny dogs chained in an abandoned home in Detroit.
Kristina Millman-Rinaldi waits for bolt cutters to rescue a pair of skinny dogs chained in an abandoned home in Detroit.

“I spent a solid year studying other shelters to build the new DDR. I visited four states and over a dozen shelters and farms to gather ideas for our space and programming, but, most importantly, I met with representatives, religious groups, block clubs and residents to hear what they needed in the city of Detroit.”

To renovate the existing Westcott Veterinary Hospital and sustain operations for the first year, DDR created a $2.3 million campaign. Millman-Rinaldi says the new building will include more than 60 kennels, spacious outdoor yards, puppy preschool and more. The new facility will be able to house 68 dogs, which is 40 more than its current location. The new shelter is slated to open in November.

Millman-Rinaldi says she has received a lot of support from the Jewish community over the years. She says her daughter’s preschool at Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield has held fundraisers and so has Adat Shalom in Farmington Hills. Countless mitzvah projects also have been done through Temple Israel in West Bloomfield.

A group of young males from the mentoring program Building Better Men join Kristina Millman-Rinaldi at the opening of Detroit Dog Rescue’s new shelter on Detroit’s west side.
A group of young males from the mentoring program Building Better Men join Kristina Millman-Rinaldi at the opening of Detroit Dog Rescue’s new shelter on Detroit’s west side.

“This is something that is truly built by the community, for the community and it takes community engagement to keep it going,” she said.

Support And Friendships

Deborah Charfoos, M.D., with Michigan Women’s Health in Farmington Hills is one of the many donors who continue to help support Detroit Dog Rescue. While their relationship first started through doctor visits, now Charfoos considers Millman-Rinaldi a family friend. 

“Kristina is just an amazing person who always wants to take people under her wing and help, and our family just got closer to her,” Charfoos said.

Throughout the years, Charfoos became involved with DDR, and it became a family affair.

“I introduced one of my sons to Kristina,” Charfoos said. “He had recently finished his undergrad and wasn’t sure what he was going to do next at the time.”

The Charfoos Family
The Charfoos Family

Charfoos’s son, Dustin Banooni, began working with DDR and was there for the next two years. 

“When I first started at DDR, I was completely unaware of the monumental impact it would have on my life. Initially, I was aimless, disorganized and generally headed nowhere. I went to DDR to find myself, but the outcome was so much more, Banooni explained. 

Dustin Banooni while working at DDR
Dustin Banooni while working at DDR

“My time at DDR matured me as an individual, shaping the person I am today on all fields, both professional and personal. To this day, I’m proud to say Kristina is my lifelong mentor and friend,” added Banooni, the proud DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) student. 

When Charfoos heard about the new building for DDR, she knew she had to contribute.

“If we’re going to give money to anything, we wanted to support DDR because our whole family is connected to the organization. My niece wants to be a vet and my son who worked for Kristina is now halfway through veterinary medicine school,” she said.

The Charfoos Family Mutternity Room is a birthing room in the new facility where pregnant dogs can rest or give birth in a quiet room.

Eliana Weiss, 13, of Huntington Woods has also created a strong relationship with Millman-Rinaldi from her volunteer work through her mitzvah project with DDR. Wise has held donation drives for DDR raising $2,800 in monetary donations and about $3,300 in items.

Eliana Weiss has held garage sales and a lemonade stand to raise funds for DDR
Eliana Weiss has held garage sales and a lemonade stand to raise funds for DDR

“The money I raised actually helped build some of the stalls inside of the new building,” Weiss said.

She says she looks up to Millman-Rinaldi and plans to continue volunteering her time with the organization even though she’s finished with her mitzvah project. 

Others like Melanie Page offer support to DDR by adopting and fostering dogs. 

Melanie Page and her dog George
Melanie Page and her dog George

“I’ve known Kristina for over 10 years and, while we connected through a business relationship, we still are connected today,” Page explained. 

Page adopted her first dog, RJ, through DDR and a year later she was ready to adopt another and happened to get a call from Millman-Rinaldi.

“She calls me and says, ‘We have a cocker spaniel that we found.’ It was during the polar vortex back in 2014.” 

Page explained how this dog named Lucy wasn’t in the best condition.

“She had horrible ear and skin infections. Lucy was literally skin and bones, just really, really, frail. Kristina told me that she wouldn’t be able to survive in the shelter,” Page said. 

Page then offered to pick Lucy up, and while she had many health issues over the years, Page gave her the best life she could give her.   

Page has fostered three dogs and adopted two through DDR.

“DDR has been a huge part of my life and my kids’ lives,” Page said. “I feel like when you adopt one of her dogs that you become part of her family.”

Next Chapter 

Millman-Rinaldi now lives in West Bloomfield with her husband, David Rinaldi, and their two daughters Aubrey, 8, and Laila, 3, and their dog Robo.

“I pretty much have created the most comforting and wholesome family,” Millman-Rinaldi said.

While the new building is in the works, Millman-Rinaldi says she’s always thinking about what’s next for DDR. “We’re already thinking about the next step and we’re scouting out buildings to build our own vet clinic.” 

Dogs aren’t the only furry friends that Kristina Millman-Rinaldi has rescued.
Dogs aren’t the only furry friends that Kristina Millman-Rinaldi has rescued.

Millman-Rinaldi says while they have great partnerships with veterinarians at Greenfield Animal Hospital and Union Lake Veterinary Hospital, they want to have their own vet clinic.

“We see some of the worst of the worst,” she said. “We need triage centers, operational bays. So the next steps for DDR are a vet clinic and an outreach center.” 

To follow Kristina Millman-Rinaldi and DDR or to see how you can help the cause, visit https://detroitdogrescue.com or follow them on social media @DetroitDogRescue.

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