It’s a rare sighting in large cities: stray dogs. But for Detroit, which declared bankruptcy in July, it’s almost impossible to manage the growing number of stray dogs that roam the streets. For a community that once had 1.8 million people, those numbers have dwindled to about 700,000, and as people moved out, they left their dogs behind. Current reports estimate that Detroit has as many as 50,000 stray dogs.
“With these large open expanses with vacant homes, it’s as if you designed a situations that causes dog problems,” Harry Ward, head of animal control, told Bloomberg.
Even with $50,000 donations to animal organizations meant to help with vaccinations, feeding, and spaying or neutering dogs, their numbers have increased dramatically. Pet owners who moved after the bankruptcy assumed their neighbors would take care of the dogs, however, many of them end up as strays, congregating near female dogs in heat, and reproducing, Amanda Arrington of the Humane Society of the United States, told Bloomberg. Many of the dogs, which are pit bulls or breeds mixed with them, take shelter in one of the city’s 70,000 vacant buildings. Some of them are tied up, guarding stolen items.
Detroit’s three shelters have also been overrun with animals. Each year, they take in 15,000 animals, many of which end up being euthanized — a procedure the city can’t afford anymore either. In July, one of the shelters refused to take in anymore animals until the city could pay an outstanding bill for $20,000 for a service to take euthanized pets away for cremation.
The problem is exacerbated, because animal control forces have become increasingly short-staffed and fatigued from overtime. In 2008, Ward had 15 officers taking care of the city’s 139-square-mile expanse. But now he’s down to four officers, all of whom wear bulletproof vests to protect themselves from pet owners. They’re only able to capture about half the number of dogs they were catching in 2008.
Perhaps one of the gravest dangers the dogs pose is that many of them are aggressive — a result of being from dogfighting backgrounds. Last year, there were 903 dog bites, with many more going unreported. Mail delivery service was been temporarily stopped in certain neighborhoods after 25 reports of carriers being bitten between October and July. One pet dog was also recently killed and another injured as two stray pit bulls hopped over fences into yards. Four months ago, a woman sitting on her porch was attacked by two strays that tore off her scalp.
“We got those dogs,” Ward told Bloomberg. “It’s a big difference to that lady that those dogs were gone that day.”
To remain safe when faced with an unknown dog, the American Humane Association advises that people remain calm and still, while also trying to avoid eye contact. Running can excite the dog, causing it to begin chasing.