Just over a month after the financially-troubled city of Detroit, Mich., filed for the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, news of another crisis has animal lovers wondering what can be done.
Once the home of American automobile innovation, manufacturing, and the birthplace of Motown music, Detroit is now home to packs of abandoned dogs, four-legged victims of the city’s widespread poverty and political missteps.
According to the head of animal control in Detroit, Harry Ward, upwards of 50,000 dogs currently roam the streets of the once-grand Motor City.
Left to fend for themselves, many of these dogs take up in one of Detroit’s estimated 70,000 vacant buildings and homes left behind when the city’s human population — once well over 1.8 million — fell to only 700,000 in recent years.
“With these large open expanses with vacant homes, it’s as if you designed a situation that causes dog problems,” Ward explains.
Because of Detroit’s widespread dogfighting problem, many of the dogs who wander the streets are “bully breeds” — Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and mixed breeds of the like. But animal control officers have spotted dogs of almost every breed. In fact, a pack of Chihuahuas currently rules a southwest Detroit neighborhood.
“It’s like Chihuahuaville,” says neighborhood postal worker Catherine Guzik, who admits she has had to use pepper spray on the hoard of pint-sized but aggressive dogs as they attack her while she walks her delivery route. In some neighborhoods, postal service has completely ceased due to both the number of strays roaming the area.
Amanda Arrington of the Humane Society of the United States visited Detroit back in October 2012 and says she could not believe what she saw.
“It was almost post-apocalyptic,” Arrington says of the city, “where there are no businesses, nothing except people in houses and dogs running around.”
Arrington tells Bloomberg News that the sheer number of stray animals is indicative of a humanitarian crisis. Pet owners left reeling from the loss of jobs and homes move away from Detroit, often leaving their animals — many not spayed or neutered — behind. These pets form packs and build dens around female dogs who are in heat, leading to more and more dogs in a city already overwhelmed by its current canine population.
“The suffering of animals goes hand in hand with the suffering of people,” she says.
City shelters are overwhelmed with intakes, Ward says. The three shelters within Detroit proper — the city’s and two nonprofit facilities — take in approximately 15,000 animals per year between the pets who are abandoned in the streets, those seized, and those who are relinquished. With rescue staff and volunteers finding it more difficult to place dogs in loving homes, as many as 70 percent of shelter dogs in Detroit — most of whom are not truly feral, Ward says — are ultimately euthanized.
Despite the obvious crisis involving the city’s animal population, Detroit only employs four animal control officers. That’s only four officers on staff to serve 139-square miles of city.
Private nonprofit organizations have now stepped in to try and help as many of the Detroit strays as possible. One group, the Detroit Area Rescue Team (DART), established by the president and CEO of IT company Creative Breakthroughs Steve Barone, has partnered with the Detroit Dog Rescue (DDR) to distribute much-needed supplies to abandoned dogs, The Oakland Press reports. The group spends each week filling vehicles with donated supplies, and more donations are always needed to serve Detroit’s abandoned dogs.
“The main supplies — dog food for puppies and adult dogs, something high in protein…dog homes are a big thing for winter season…and crates and dog bowls,” says Creative Breakthroughs Sales Director and DART volunteer Laura Zecca.
For more information about how you can help the homeless dogs of Detroit, check out the DART Facebook page or consider making a donation to the Detroit Dog Rescue. Together, the groups are conducting a supply drive this week, August 19 through 7:00 p.m. August 23. For a list of needed supplies and the address to the collection center, check out DART’s website.