The city of Detroit is understaffed for its stray animal problem

Feb 3, 2014

The question of how many stray animals are in Detroit has been talked about ever since Bloomberg News put out this piece with the typical "Detroit is a hellhole" headline:

Abandoned Dogs Roam Detroit in Packs as Humans Dwindle

Chris Christoff reported that the city had "as many as 50,000 stray dogs."

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reported that other groups said there's no question that the number has been "wildly inflated."

Tom McPhee of the World Animal Awareness Society estimated there were between 1,000 to 3,000 stray dogs in the city.

Now, yet another estimate has been published.

A recent Michigan State University study puts the number at 7,500 stray dogs and 18,000 stray cats. The bottom line, the researchers say, is that the current system can't handle the problem: 

While there have been other estimates – both higher and lower – Reese said the important point is there are far too many stray animals to care for in the current system.

And it’s not just strays. With the recent subzero temperatures, tethered dogs have been found frozen to death in Detroit backyards – proving the need for better education, said Reese, a longtime volunteer at her local animal shelter in Washtenaw County.

Detroit has just four animal control officers, according to the MSU press release. The MSU researchers say the city could take advantage of nonprofit groups that are willing to help:

One possibility, she said, is for the city to contract with the nonprofit organizations for services such as sheltering, adoption and community education.

“We use public-private partnerships for all sorts of things, from housing provision to health to education,” she said. “Why not animal welfare?”

The Detroit News' Kim Kozlowski confirms that the city has just four animal officers, along with three supervising officers, one veterinarian, and one investigator in the city's animal control division.

A spokesman for the Detroit Police Department, Sgt. Michael Woody, told the News that the city plans to hire more people:

Woody said the department was never operating at full capacity and has the money to hire more staff. He says 10 animal control officers will be hired next month and that, over the next three months, the department should get an additional four investigators.

“Last year, we had 703 dog bites and we had one investigator doing all that work,” Woody said.

Woody said the city recognizes the need for additional staffing in this area.

- Mark Brush and Paige Pfleger, Michigan Radio Newsroom