Strays in the City: A closer look at Detroit’s dog epidemic

On a laundry list of municipal problems being heartily mismanaged in the City of Detroit, welfare for stray dogs has historically fallen to the bottom. This was until recently. In 2015, a whistle-blower pushed the archaic ran city facility back into the limelight. A look into the stray dog epidemic in Detroit and multiple efforts being made to combat it, including recent municipal restructuring.

Warning: Some images may be graphic


 

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In 2012, Detroit made national headlines once again. Not for the typical reasons: crime, poverty, or failing city infrastructure, but for the number of stray dogs roaming the streets. Rolling Stone’s Mark Binelli reported 50,000 stray dogs roamed the city. (An estimated 360 stray dogs per square mile of the city.) The problem with that report? It was wrong.

According to the American Strays Project, developed by the World Animal Awareness Society, based upon preliminary data there are at most 3,000 stray dogs in the City of Detroit, closer to 1,000. This isn’t to say their isn’t a problem – far from it.

Direct attacks, communicable diseases and traffic hazards are just some of the hazards posed by the still very high number of strays in the city.

The issue is a complex one, layered by a fiscally stressed city government, as well as families. “Fiscal stress leads families to abandon their domestic dogs; the dogs find shelter in abandoned buildings and food sources in urban wildlife and garbage; the dogs breed in the wild thus producing a growing number of feral animals,” says Laura A. Reese in her 2014 report “The Dog Days of Detroit: Urban Stray and Feral Animals.”

The complex and frankly problem is being combated with a variety of attempted solutions. There are many organizations working in the city to try and improve conditions for dogs in Detroit. The Michigan Humane Society is building a new animal care campus in the city. The campus is long overdue; the MHS current Detroit facility is a former piston ring factory built more than 100 years ago.

A large push for improved welfare for dogs in the city comes from Detroit Dog Rescue, the only no-kill shelter operating in Detroit, regulated by the Department of Agriculture.  The rescue also tries to work with dog owners in the city of Detroit to encourage responsible dog ownership. In the new year, the rescue plans on hosting regularly low-cost vaccination clinics for residents.

For years, DDR had a rocky relationship with the DAC with city officials threatening to seize dogs from the organization. Still, they kept pressing on. Shelby Sniffen became involved with DDR three years ago when volunteering as a foster.

In 2014, the organization was accredited and allowed to open a brick-and-mortar shelter in the city and by October 2015, after months of negotiation, DDR was allowed to finally begin pulling dogs from the Detroit Animal Control facility. The first 10 dogs pulled from the DAC were affectionately named Squad 10. The dogs were ill, to say the least. Kristina Rinald, DDR’s Executive Director says this sadly isn’t uncommon for dogs coming out of the facility. 

By December, most of the dogs are still in medical boarding. However, some of Squad 10 made their first appearance at an adoption event on Dec. 6 sponsored by 96.3 WDVD.

 

The DAC fell under harsh scrutiny this year after a former animal control officer, Brittany Roberts filed a whistle-blower lawsuit, producing photos of horrendous conditions inside the facility. The 18-page complaint contained horrendous photos from inside of the facility, some depicting dead and dying animals. Online reports cite that the DAC euthanized about 75 percent of the 3,869 dogs it sheltered in 2013, the most recent data available.

Since then, protests have spurred outside of the DAC facility, demanding new management and upgraded facilities. Some of the most recent of which were today:


 

In October, the operations of the DAC were restructured under the city’s health department. The department headed by Executive Director of Public Health and Health Officer Dr. Abdul El-Sayed who took his position as the head of the health department in October. This ultimately makes a lot of sense. “It’s not an animal problem, it’s a human problem,” says Al-Sayed.

With new hands at the wheel, El-Sayed has plans to improve the conditions at the Detroit Animal Control. He discusses the decision to incorporate DAC with the Health Department and future plans to improve conditions in the facility:

What comes next for the city of Detroit and the thousands of stray dogs roaming it’s streets are still unknown. However, it’s safe to say that conditions are improving. Shared responsibility by multiple organizations paired with a restructuring of municipal facilities hints towards better days ahead.

For more information on adoption facilities near/in Detroit:

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Photo Story: DDR Adoption Event

For my final photojournalism assignment (and one of my final college assignments ever) I really wanted to highlight something I genuinely cared about: the welfare of stray dogs in Detroit.

I have been following the efforts of the Detroit Dog Rescue for months. As Detroit’s first and only no-kill shelter, they made history in October by coming to an agreement with the Detroit Animal Control and finally were able to pull dogs out of the city’s facility.

The first ten dogs pulled from the facility were affectionately named Squad 10, and these dogs were sick. Kristina Rinaldi states that nearly half of all the dogs they have pulled from DAC, not just Squad 10, are ill and in desperate need of treatment.

While most of Squad 10 is still in medical boarding, some of the members made their first appearance at an adoption event on Sunday, Dec. 6 at Bark  Avenue Play & Stay in Roseville. The adoption event was hosted by DDR in partnership with 96.3 WDVD. The event was one of the most successful in DDR history, with 15 dogs finding forever homes.

This photo story is just the beginning. Inspired by the efforts of DDR, expanded on the project and spoke to other sources. Soon I was able to create a full investigative piece on the multiple efforts being made to improve welfare for dogs in Detroit. Stay tuned for the full multimedia story.

 

 

Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The many Faces of Anonymous: a review

When I received Gabriella Coleman’s “Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The many Faces of Anonymous” in the mail, my initial reaction was shock – this book is big. With a whopping 481 pages, including copious citations and references, Coleman has produced the single most in-depth, well-researched text on the nefarious organization known as Anonymous.

By the second page of chapter one, I was enticed. Unlike other “bullshit academics,” Coleman personally connects with the hackers and trolls behind Anonymous, as seen by her conversation with notorious troll Weev, Andrew Auernheimer. I half-expected at this point to be pulled into a dramatic chain of events with most circumstantial or situational evidence to back up lofty claims, however, Coleman continually brings the text back to its core: researching and understanding anonymous, even reminding Weev that she knew more about him that he thought.

Coleman consistently follows up her personal anecdotes with hard facts displaying the incredible power and sizable hierarchy of the loosely organized organization. Her immersion into the murky world of Anonymous seems to give her an understanding of the organization no one else has quite grasped.

Even so, Coleman’s biggest downfall, in my opinion, ultimately comes from her attachment and vested personal interest in the story. The text itself doesn’t remain purely academic, as one may suspect, due to her close proximity to subjects she writes about. It’s in this way that some of the passages lack and begin blurring the ethical lines. At times, Coleman seems more interested in staying on the good side of her sources rather than remaining unbiased.

However, it’s important to note that Coleman’s connection with her subject is often what got her the exclusive information found in the text, such as her conversations with anonymous-hacker-turned-informant, Sabu. By sharing these secrets with her, her subject showed trust in her, and gave her information other academics and journalists didn’t have access to, such as their private, very personal histories that ultimately led them to the Anonymous world.

But, still, It’s difficult to think of the content as a super-credible, academic source when Coleman describes her emotions while interviewing subjects. “I waited for what felt like an eternity for his response,” she writes while describing a conversation with the now well-known Anonymous kingpin, Sabu. “To me it seemed like the world had stopped, the sweat drops freezing halfway down my back. But in reality, he replied almost instantly.”

Overall, the text was an easy read and presented complex issues in a conversational, sometimes downright funny tone. It’s impossible to say Coleman’s commitment to her research isn’t impressive. However, sometimes, her close proximity to her subjects blurred the ethical lines for a supposed anthropological text. While I personally enjoyed her first-hand accounts and emotional investment in her research, I can see how this could be jarring for readers looking for a cut-and-dry Anonymous report. I definitely would recommend the read to a friend, but with a small disclaimer.

Going Underground host Afshin Rattansi speaks to Coleman about her research:

Also see: Gabriella Coleman’s other texts, and Reddit AMA.

Learning to capture sports

This Sunday afternoon, I did something entirely out of my comfort zone, in just about every aspect: I photographed my first sports game. Admittedly, I’m not the sportiest girl. During my entire 5th grade basketball career, I didn’t score a single basket. But, I was determined as a photojournalist to capture the essence of the game – even if I didn’t know exactly what was happening during plays.

I was nervous as I entered the Matthaei Center to attend the Wayne State University women’s basketball game. Right away I began thinking back to what I learned in class. I knew I needed to turn my shutter speed up, 1/500 was the lowest I would be able to shoot to really get these ladies in focus. Despite the glaring lights, my shots were turning out dark, so I bumped my ISO up to the highest setting. In hindsight, this wasn’t my best idea as just about every one of my photos were super noisy, but the photos were at least properly exposed.

Once I set my camera to the proper setting, I began scoping where I could shoot. I tried to “circle the wagon” and get a wide variety of angles, however, I was held back by where I was allowed to shoot and where security would blocked my access. None-the-less, I climbed bleachers and ran around the doors to get to the other side of the court during timeouts. I definitely circled the wagon, maybe a bit too much. I ended up with over 600 shots.

Overall, I learned quite a bit during the experience, and was able to at least pull a few good shots which I think captured the essence of the tense, well-matched game. The WSU Warriors would ultimately beat the Lawrence Tech Blue Devils 82-72.

 

 

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Payton Bichmeier plays defenseduring a basketball game at Mattaei Center at Wayne State University in Detroit.
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Head coach Carrie Lohr reacts during a basketball game at Mattaei Center at Wayne State University in Detroit.
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Lawrence Tech Blue Devils leap for a basket during a basketball game at Mattaei Center at Wayne State University in Detroit.
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The WSU dance team takes to the court during half-time at a basketball game at Mattaei Center at Wayne State University in Detroit.

Can journalists use social networks to express opinions or advocate for causes?

The short answer is “not really.” Unfortunately.


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When I decided four years ago to pursue a career in journalism, I honestly didn’t take into consideration how much my personal online presence would need to be pulled back. I, like most liberal millennials, have some strong opinions when it comes to certain topics, be it politics, religions, or whatever other topics you’re not supposed to discuss over dinner. However, now I also can’t, or shouldn’t, discuss any of these opinions over social media at the risk of losing my credibility as a journalist.

Currently, because I am only a freelance journalist, I am not held under any specific rules or regulations by my employers. However, given that I am actively pursuing a full-time job in journalism once I graduate, I am still cautious about what I post. According to Eric Carvin, social media editor of the Associated Press, “It’s usually best to avoid the most controversial topics no matter what, though there might otherwise be some wiggle room.”

However, when it comes to Carvin’s employer, there isn’t much wiggle room for expressing opinions, at all. A 2013 AP employee handbook stated, “AP staffers must be aware that opinions they express may damage the AP’s reputation as an unbiased source of news. AP employees must refrain from declaring their views on contentious public issues in any public forum and must not take part in organized action in support of causes or movements.”

This isn’t uncommon. Other major news organizations  have adopted similar policies, including the New York Times, which tells employees, “Be careful not to write anything on a blog or a personal Web page that you could not write in The Times –­ don’t editorialize, for instance, if you work for the News Department. “

The Wall Street Journal is no exception either, explaining to employees in a 2009 bulletin, “Sharing your personal opinions, as well as expressing partisan political views, whether on Dow Jones sites or on the larger Web, could open us to criticism that we have biases and could make a reporter ineligible to cover topics in the future for Dow Jones.”

According to the Society for Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, “the highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public.” One of the ways in which to do this is to, “avoid conflicts on interest.” By making a social media post containing an opinion or act of advocacy with your name attached, it creates a conflict of interest as your name is also attached to material which is meant to be, by definition, unbiased. If journalists are considered biased, their work will be judged the same.

In today’s internet-obsessed age, it’s difficult to give up your identity on social media profiles as they become almost extensions of ourselves. However, as we’ve learned, nothing is really private, even if your account settings say so, and anything you post online as a journalist can be considered a reflection of your publisher. Because of this, unless you’re an advocate journalist, working for an advocacy-driven news organization, you’re opinions can’t be made public, and thus cannot be posted on social media profiles.

To see why these policies are often out-of-date, check out this article by social media expert JD Lasica.