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



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: