The Edmond Sun

Nation & World

August 21, 2013

In bankrupt Detroit, abandoned dogs roam the streets in packs

DETROIT — Thousands of stray dogs roam the streets and vacant homes of bankrupt Detroit, menacing humans who remain and overwhelming the city's ability to find them homes - or peaceful deaths.

As poverty roils the Motor City, many dogs have been left to fend for themselves, abandoned by owners who are financially stressed or unaware of proper care. Strays have killed pets, bitten mail carriers and clogged the animal shelter, where more than 70 percent are euthanized. Up to 50,000 of them roam the city, said Harry Ward, head of animal control.

"With these large open expanses with vacant homes, it's as if you designed a situation that causes dog problems," Ward said.

Up to 20 dogs have been found making dens in boarded-up homes in the community of about 700,000 that once pulsed with 1.8 million people. One officer in the Police Department's skeletal animal-control unit recalled a pack splashing in a basement that flooded when thieves ripped out water pipes.

"The dogs were having a pool party," said Lapez Moore, 30. "We went in and fished them out."

The number of strays signals a humanitarian crisis, said Amanda Arrington of the Humane Society of the United States. She heads a program that donated $50,000 each to organizations in Detroit and nine other U.S cities to get pets vaccinated, fed, spayed and neutered.

When she visited in October, "it was almost post-apocalyptic, where there are no businesses, nothing except people in houses and dogs running around," Arrington said.

"The suffering of animals goes hand in hand with the suffering of people," she said. Pet owners move leave behind their dogs, hoping neighbors will care for them, she said. Those dogs take to the streets and reproduce.

Compounding that are the estimated 70,000 vacant buildings that provide shelter for dogs, or where some are chained without care to ward off thieves, Ward said.

Most strays are pets that roam, often in packs that form around a female in heat, Ward said. Few are true feral dogs that have had no human contact.

Ward said Detroit's three shelters, his and two nonprofits, take in 15,000 animals a year, including strays and pets that are seized or given up by owners.

They are among the victims of a historic financial and political collapse. Detroit, a former auto manufacturing powerhouse, declared the largest U.S. municipal bankruptcy on July 18 after years of decline. The city has more than $18 billion in long-term debt and had piled up an operating deficit of close to $400 million. Falling revenue forced cutbacks in police, fire-fighting - and dog control.

With an annual budget of $1.6 million, Ward has four officers to cover the 139-square-mile (360-square-kilometer) city seven days a week, 11 fewer than when he took command in 2008. He has one dog-bite investigator, down from three.

"We are really suffering from fatigue, short-staffed" and work too much overtime, he said in an interview.

The officers, who wear bulletproof vests to protect themselves from irate owners, are bringing in about half the number of animals that crews did in 2008, Ward said.

In July, the pound stopped accepting more animals for a month because the city hadn't paid a service that hauls away euthanized animals for cremation at a cost of about $20,000 a year. The freezers were packed with carcasses, and pens were full of live animals until the bill was paid.

Pit bulls and breeds mixed with them dominate Detroit's stray population because of widespread dog fighting, said Ward. Males are aggressive in mating, so they proliferate, he added.

One type of fighting pit bull has become known as far as Los Angeles as the "Highland Park red," named after a city within Detroit's borders, Ward said.

Their prevalence was clear as Ward and officers Moore and Malachi Jackson answered calls Aug. 19. On a block where vacant houses and lots outnumbered occupied ones, they found four dogs in an abandoned house - a male and three females, including a pregnant pit bull with a prized blue-gray coat.

Ward said it appeared the dogs were fed by someone who used the house to hide stolen items.

Aggressive dogs force the U.S. Postal Service to temporarily halt mail delivery in some neighborhoods, said Ed Moore, a Detroit-area spokesman. He said there were 25 reports of mail carriers bitten by dogs in Detroit from October through July. Though most are by pets at homes, strays have also attacked, Moore said.

 "It's been a persistent problem," he said.

Mail carrier Catherine Guzik told of using pepper spray on swarms of tiny, ferocious dogs in a southwest Detroit neighborhood.

"It's like Chihuahuaville," Guzik said as she walked her route.

At two nearby homes, one pet dog was killed recently and another injured by two stray pit bulls that jumped fences into yards, said neighbor Debora Mattie, 49.

Last year, there were 903 dog bites in Detroit, according to Ward, adding that most go unreported to police. He said 90 percent are by dogs whose owners are known.

Many de facto strays are called pets by owners who let them wander, said Kristen Huston, who leads the Detroit office of All About Animals Rescue, a nonprofit that obtained the Humane Society's $50,000 grant last year to feed, vaccinate and sterilize pets. Some dogs run away from their neighborhoods and threaten people, she said.

"Technically, it's illegal to let a dog roam, but with the city being bankrupt, who's going to do anything about it?" Huston said.

Huston said she walks through some of the poorest neighborhoods to talk to pet owners about how to care for their animals, sometimes giving them bags of food or even a free doghouse.

 Ward said more needs to be done to educate pet owners. He said his crews are too few, but help keep dogs in check.

Four months ago, a woman sitting on her porch on the east side was attacked by two strays that tore off her scalp, Ward said.

"We got those dogs," he said. "It's a big difference to that lady that those dogs were gone that day."

 

1
Text Only
Nation & World
  • MS_injection well.jpg Agency clarifies earthquake-related misinformation

    A state agency says misinformation related to the debate about the cause of more earthquakes across Central Oklahoma includes oil well types, well numbers and injection pressure.
    The Prague sequence of 2011 along the Wilzetta Fault zone included a significant foreshock, a main shock of magnitude 5.7 and numerous aftershocks. It has been suggested that this sequence represents tremors triggered by fluid injection.
    More recently, earthquakes have been recorded in the vicinity of Jones, Arcadia Lake, Edmond, Guthrie, Langston and Crescent. Regulators and scientists are working together to better understand what’s causing all the shaking.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • bomb1 VIDEO: A year after marathon bombing, Boston remains strong

    The City of Boston came together Tuesday to honor those who were injured and lost their lives at the Boston Marathon on the one-year anniversary of the bombing. While the day was sure to be emotional, those affected by last year's race are showing they won't let the tragedy keep them down.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • New study counters pot legalization argument

    A new study raises a strong challenge to the idea that casual marijuana use isn’t associated with bad consequences, a researcher says.
    Researchers say the findings suggest recreational marijuana use may lead to previously unidentified brain changes and highlight the importance of research aimed at understanding the long-term effects of low to moderate marijuana use on the brain.

    April 15, 2014

  • Anita Hill.jpg Anita Hill reflects on her fateful testimony, 23 years later

    Back in 1993, I rounded a corner of a Laguna Beach, Calif., grocery store and walked straight into Anita Hill.
    We both stopped in our tracks. She looked slightly panicked, like someone had turned on a light in a room, and all she wanted was the door.
    It took a moment to register that this was the woman who, just two years before, calmly testified before a Senate committee about the sexual harassment she endured while working for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas  at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, of all places.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • jc_Erick Wyatt.JPG Norman man takes on challenge to unseat Inhofe

    EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of candidate profiles leading up to the 2014 Oklahoma elections.

    Erick Wyatt is running for U.S. Senate to be a strong voice of the people, he said. More than anything, Wyatt said he is running against incumbent U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe for the sake of his children.
    The Norman Republican vows to represent the people’s interests instead of the interests of powerful political groups, Wyatt said.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140414_MALAYSIA_Bluefin.jpg In new phase to find Flight 370, search robot will enter ocean

    The pings have sputtered out in the multinational search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, forcing search crews to deploy an underwater robot to find a plane that’s eluded human efforts.
    In a last-ditch effort to find the Boeing 777 and its black box flight recorders, a U.S. Navy submersible vehicle will be used to scan an area in the southern Indian Ocean for debris.
    “We haven’t had a single detection in six days, so I guess it’s time to go underwater,” Angus Houston, who heads Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Center, told a news conference in that country’s western city of Perth on Monday.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • 25801486.jpg VIDEO: Northern California bus crash kills 10

    At least nine people died in Northern California on Thursday night, in an accident involving a bus, a car and FedEx truck. The bus was filled with high school students from Southern California who were on their way to visit a college campus.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Strong earthquake rattles Logan County

    Ray Dorwart, owner of Guthrie’s Dorwart Custom Boots, 117 S. Second, said he was in his store working on a sewing machine when he felt the structure shake Monday morning.
    Dorwart was on the phone with an out-of-state friend when he heard some tools rattle and felt the wood floor vibrate.

    April 7, 2014

  • Number of Americans without health insurance reaches new low

    The share of Americans without health insurance has dropped to the lowest level since before President Barack Obama took office, according to a new national survey that provides more evidence the health care law is extending coverage to millions of the previously uninsured.
    Just 14.7 percent of adults lacked coverage in the second half of March, down from 18 percent in the last quarter of 2013, the survey from Gallup found.

    April 7, 2014

  • Daniel Dissinger, 13.jpg Investigators seek cause of fire that killed 3 brothers

    Two siblings, a 14-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy, survived the early-morning Friday inferno that may have been touched off by kerosene lanterns used in the home. They ran to a neighbor’s house to ask for help and were later treated for smoke inhalation.
    A sixth child, age 4 ½, was spending the night at a friend’s house.

    April 7, 2014 2 Photos