New study: Nowhere close to 50,000 stray dogs in Detroit

Jan 21, 2014

Reporter Sarah Cwiek's excellent guard dog, Mencken, hails from the streets of Detroit. While strays are a big problem in the city, new data suggest previous "wild dog" estimates were hugely inflated.
Reporter Sarah Cwiek's excellent guard dog, Mencken, hails from the streets of Detroit. While strays are a big problem in the city, new data suggest previous "wild dog" estimates were hugely inflated.
Credit Sarah Cwiek / Personal photo

An animal welfare group says there are far fewer “wild dogs” running Detroit streets than many have suggested.

Detroit has captured national headlines in recent months for its stray dog problem, with some reports estimating the city was home to at least 50,000 dogs roaming the streets.

But according to preliminary data from the American Strays Project “canine survey,” there are at most around 3,000 “loose dogs” in Detroit on a given day –and more likely closer to 1,000.

Tom McPhee is director of the World Animal Awareness Society, an animal welfare group behind the American Strays Project.

McPhee said that while there’s no question Detroit’s stray dog numbers have been wildly inflated, the city still has a serious canine problem.

“It’s never been about the number,” McPhee said. “We wanted to change the headline of this story.”

McPhee said that over three years, volunteer surveyors have observed no more than 10 packs of “wild” or “feral” dogs throughout the city.

The much bigger problem appears to be lost or abandoned pets. In many cases, community members then “use” those dogs in some way, whether for dog-fighting, protection, or breeding.

While stray dogs can certainly be dangerous, McPhee said the “packs of wild dogs” narrative creates a misleading impression.

“It’s not some random dogs out in the field that are causing these issues,” said McPhee. “This is the community as a whole, and how it takes care of its pets. And there is a great deal of neglect, a great deal of abuse.”

McPhee said the situation is a "complex" one tied to Detroit's larger social and economic problems – and solving it won't be easy.

But the group believes “education is key,” and thinks teaching kids about animal welfare is a good way to start. They’re working on lesson plans aimed at teaching Detroit fifth-graders about responsible pet guardianship, and looking out for the dogs in their communities.

Volunteer citizen researchers did most of the work for the project, though McPhee said they had help from Michigan State University analyzing data.

The group plans to release a full report on their findings in September. The Detroit survey will serve as a template for a similar dog census in other cities, with the aim of producing a national American Strays report in 2015.