Detroit’s dog problem

I was home sick one day this past week and succumbed to the rotation of reading, napping, and daytime TV. I saw an episode of “Animal Cops: Detroit.” I have watched this show before, but I don’t think I have ever seen a Detroit episode. The episode was not new- it was filmed more than 10 years ago (2002). However, the content was relevant then and still is today.

This past week in Detroit the former mayor (and others) was convicted of federal bribery and racketeering charges while in office, and the governor appointed an emergency financial manager for the City- the largest municipal EFM appointment in national history. Detroit has been among the best cities in the country in the 1950s, to among what feels like the lowest right now.

Detroit has a dog problem. Strays roam the streets. A lot. Drive down any Detroit street and you will see dogs, dogs, dogs. And, more than likely they will be pit bulls. Unfortunately dog fighting is a prevalent pastime here too. It’s no wonder that so many suburban cities have BSL (breed specific legislation) regarding pit bulls and pit bull mixes. Any pit rescued from Detroit is likely a fighting dog, or a fighting dog in training, and a challenge at best to rehabilitate- if not impossible.

The “Animal Cops” episode indicated that in Detroit you may not walk a pit bull if you are under the age of 17. According to the show, the Michigan Humane Society (Detroit office) has the right to seize the dog and take it to the headquarters and the animal will be euthanized if an underage person is found walking a pit bull in the City limits. The thinking is that in many dog fighting rings the dogs are exercised by the younger members. An animal that is purposely bred for aggression, and trained for strength and lack of impulse control, will show those tendencies at 18-24 months of age.

To be fair, I could not find any documentation stating that this was the law (17 years of age) in the City of Detroit. Nor could I find that the Michigan Humane Society has the right to seize your dog in the City of Detroit. Again this was filmed in 2002, it could have been the case then. The Michigan Humane Society are not police, but they do work with the police and are advocates and diligent, very hard workers for animal cruelty within the City.

What I did find was that in 2006 the City Council discussed a proposed change in the dog ordinance which would be a ban on pit bulls. Current owners could keep their animals provided some restrictions were met: owners were at least 21 years of age;  $100,000 insurance policy for each animal; tattoo registration on the animal; obtain a permit for travel within the City with the animal- same applies to anyone wishing to travel into the City with a pit bull; other restrictions listed here. This did not pass.

The City does have an ordinance that states that once a stray, rescue, non-owned pit or pit-mix dog is at the shelter it must be there for four days to see if an owner will claim it. If no one claims it (proof of ownership by vet papers, photos and rabies vaccination- how many low-income families have that by the way?), the dog must be euthanized. The City will not adopt out or release to other rescue shelters a pit or pit mix. If you live in this area, you probably remember the story of “Ace”. Everyone petitioned to save this emaciated dog. Shelters were clamoring to sign waivers to release the City of any liability and in the end there was “mix-up” of paperwork and Ace was euthanized.

I like to end on happy, uplifting notes- not depressing what-has-the-city-come-to or I’m-afraid-to-walk-around kind of feelings. There are people that are making a difference. The non-profit group Detroit Dog Rescue tackles the very problem of Detroit’s strays. Even though I have narrowed in on pit bulls and the dog fighting world, strays come in all breeds. There is a store in Detroit called the Bully Depot. Part store and part club almost, the owner and patrons not only shop the pit merchandise, but breed, train, and compete their dogs. But not how you might think. Just like Border Collies and Labs like agility courses, these dogs excel at the dog version of a “Toughman” contest. All dogs need exercise- mental and physical, and this group provides it.

Detroit has a dog problem, a stray dog problem. Detroit also has a dog fighting problem.  There are good people and good organizations that are helping to combat cruelty, rescue strays, and rehome animals. In this area in particular, I think the mindset of the dangerous pit bull has now become so ingrained because of the City’s history and the breeding (and well intentioned rescuing) it will take a long time to overcome. Support the efforts of these organizations, or volunteer yourself, and change the story!

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