No, Detroit Is Not Beset By Wild Dogs

That Bloomberg piece you've been sharing all over the Internet about 50,000 wild dogs roaming the oh-so-bankrupt (we know!) streets of Detroit is likely hyperbolic bullshit. So here's some insider insight.

Here's how I knew that story was bunk: The lede. Let's revisit:

As many as 50,000 stray dogs roam the streets and vacant homes of bankrupt Detroit, replacing residents, menacing humans who remain and overwhelming the city’s ability to find them homes or peaceful deaths.

50,000 according to who, though? Out of the eight sources listed — neighbors, Detroit animal control officers, and a national humane society woman — none actually give conclusive data to support how exactly 50,000 dogs came to be loose in Detroit.

Oh, sure, there's lots of anecdotal evidence. The economy, which has sucked long before Detroit or two of its auto companies went bankrupt, takes the brunt of the blame for pooch poverty. Because what do you do when you're laid off, your house in foreclosure and your car repossessed, thus depending on a craptastic regional transit system? Purchase an expensive living creature to feed and care for, of course.

Nathan Bomey at the Detroit Free Press provides a takedown of Chris Christoff's Bloomberg piece, which is mildly entertaining since Christoff was the Freep's former Lansing bureau chief before landing at Bloomberg. Ain't no love in the heart of the city, huh?

While no one disputes that Detroit has a significant number of stray dogs, animal care nonprofits differ on how many are actually living in Detroit. Bloomberg attributes the 50,000 figure to Detroit animal control division director Harry Ward, who was not available for comment.

His estimate equates to one abandoned dog for every 14 Detroit residents. It’s about 360 stray dogs per square mile in Detroit. At least one leader of a animal care nonprofit doesn’t believe it.

“That’s not true,” said Kristen Huston, Detroit team leader for southwest Detroit clinic All About Animals Rescue. “That number has been floating around for a couple of years.”

Huston said the idea of “whole packs of dogs roaming the street has gotten out of control.”

The Freep also points out that a bunch of other publications, including Rolling Stone, have added to the brew that led up to the Bloomberg piece — all of them citing data that has yet to be proven.

Also, there's also the basic common sense about how dogs behave around people. If, as the Bloomberg piece claims, the same dogs that are terrorizing people also used to belong to someone at some point, how are they vicious if they're actually domesticated — and breeding with fellow homeless domesticates?

The rhetoric amplifies Detroit’s predatory caricature, but experts challenged the portrayal of violent dogs preying on people, saying most abandoned dogs actually avoid people.

“By nature these dogs are domesticated,” Carlisle said. “It’s not like these dogs are feral. These dogs tend to be afraid of human beings because they’ve been abandoned. They’ve been kicked out and they’ve been abused. They don’t want anything to do with people.”

And wait a minute there, you high-falutin' New Yorker reading this wondering if your city is next. Chances are, your city might already be there.

It’s not a new problem and it’s not exclusive to Detroit. In fact, after the Bloomberg story was published, Yahoo! journalist Justin Hyde, a former Free Press reporter [editor's note: Also a Jalopnik writer], dug up a link to a January 1997 Associated Press article reporting that Detroit took in 8,700 dogs that year, compared to 25,000 in Chicago. The story said the animals pose a “public health threat with their danger of rabies, viruses and even physical attacks.”

WHAT? Chicago is worse than Detroit at something? Wait, it doesn't matter who's worse, because Midwest Rust Belt.

But also let's think about this: Besides the overinflated number, the story heavily trades upon emotion and affection for animals, which — partially thanks to Sarah McLachlan — stirs up the kind of emotion that can cause someone to not think critically about what's really going on.

Add that emotion to the general attitude toward Detroiters, that we're all a bunch of a lifeless savages with zero regard for anything and anyone, and you've got a typical "Detroit is crap" story. Fun fact: The Michigan Humane Society, the largest of its kind in the state, handles the bulk of stray animals in Detroit, but is also an independent nonprofit whose finances have nothing to do with the city's bankruptcy.

Lastly, my partner and I own three dogs in the city (one of whom turned 10 this week — happy birthday, Callie!). Every other home on our street is a dog household, from itty-bitty terriers to aging Schnauzers to slobbery Rottweilers. Can you believe that people in Detroit like to own dogs for love and companionship, and can afford to take care of them? I know, right? And plus, we wouldn't let our dogs piss in our backyard at night if there was the threat of attack.