Detroit unveils plan to get a handle on dangerous dogs and negligent owners

Dec 9, 2019 at 11:48 am
click to enlarge Stray dogs rummage through trash in Detroit. - Steve Neavling
Steve Neavling
Stray dogs rummage through trash in Detroit.

The city of Detroit is revamping how it handles dangerous and neglected dogs after years of slow response times and inadequate enforcement.

Mayor Mike Duggan's administration announced Monday it's pumping more money into Detroit Animal Care and Control to hire new employees and expand the city's shelter.

The city expects to have a new team of seven investigators, each of whom will be responsible for a city district, by January. The inspectors will respond to complaints and raise awareness about responsible dog ownership.  

The city also is hiring an additional seven animal care technicians for shelter operations and two veterinarians. Nine animal control officers recently completed training and were sworn in on Nov. 20.

Animal Care and Control handles nearly 500 animal complaints a week, runs a shelter, and provides other services. For years, the department has been notoriously understaffed and unable to respond promptly to calls about dangerous dogs.

On most days, the animal control officers are only available for five hours, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. But that's about to change. The department will soon expand its hours to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week.

The city also is reorganizing animal care. The Health Department will focus on sheltering and caring for animals, and the General Services Department (GSD) will take over enforcement to protect the public from dangerous dogs.

"For years, DACC has been challenged with managing the dual responsibilities of animal control — making sure residents are safe — and the care that must be provided to the dogs we take in to our facility," Denise Fair, the city’s chief public health officer, said in a news release. "In order to give both of these important functions the attention they require and deserve, we determined that it would be more effective if care and control were managed separately, coordinating when appropriate. This is a model we have seen in other cities."

The city also added a hotline — 313-922-DOGS — so residents can ask questions and report stray dogs.

The restructuring comes four months after three undernourished pit bulls slipped under a fence and fatally attacked 9-year-old Emma Hernandez near her family’s home on the city’s west side. Emma’s family said they’d talked with authorities in the past about the dogs, which often escaped their neighbor’s yard, but nothing happened. The attack incensed city council members, who adopted a tougher dog ordinance in April 2017 aimed at preventing maulings after pit bulls attacked and killed 4-year-old Xavier Strickland.

A Metro Times cover story in October chronicled the perilous consequences of irresponsible pet owners and a city without the resources to adequately handle an abundance of neglected and stray canines.

"Dog owners have a moral and legal responsibility to keep their dogs securely on their property," GSD Assistant Director Lori Sowle said in a news release. "Dog owners must ensure their fences' gates are properly tethered, meaning a bar or chain is in place to keep the fence gate properly enclosed. Pet owners are also responsible for keeping their dogs on a leash and or collar, especially in public spaces."

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