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:

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.

Capturing features photos in WSU’s new student center

Comedy hypnotist Erick Kand puts his volunteers into a deep trance using repetitive commands and soothing music.
Comedy hypnotist Erick Kand puts his volunteers into a deep trance using repetitive commands and soothing music during a hypnotist event on Tuesday at the WSU student center. // WSU PJ Lexi Trimpe

Finding an enterprise feature photo, meaning a sporadic, unplanned image that can tell a story, is easier said than done. Especially when you’re working full-time, attending school full-time (and in the middle of midterms week), and the weather just happened to turn terrible overnight. When assigned with the task of finding a enterprise photo, I didn’t take those various factors into consideration.

Finding significant time was the first hurdle I encountered. I headed out late Sunday afternoon to Corktown once I finished my mountain of homework and laundry. I figured with the Lion’s game playing, I should encounter some fans walking the street, or taking photos in front of the train station. Instead, I encountered a mostly dead strip, with bicyclists unwilling to stop even if I hailed them down. I headed to Two James Distillery to drown my frustrations, and snap a few craft cocktail photos, something that is more of my forte.

The next week kicked off midterms for my other classes, leaving me with time on Tuesday night to scour campus for a shot. It was even colder this evening and I was losing daylight fast. This was the last opportunity I had to snap the shot before my class on Thursday, I needed to find some students fast. But, where? After $26.5 million in renovations, hopefully the Student Center.

To my elation, I was right. The basement of the student center, which used to be dimly lit and seldom saw students, was packed. I followed the sounds of hip hop music playing down a corridor and found students playing ping pong and pool in a new rec room. Because WSU is a commuter school, I was shocked to see so many students interacting with each other and relaxing on campus. One student name Ahmed doesn’t even live on campus. He is currently pursuing his master’s degree in Civil Engineering and retreats to the basement of the student center to blow off steam by playing ping pong. From the corner of my eye I saw an undergrad resident student named Irvin winning a game of pool.  I found a story.

Previous to this, I was a pretty staunch proponent of the amount of money spent on the student center. It was perfectly fine in my opinion. But, after seeing this, I saw how the renovations have led to students have a clean, safe place on campus for students to relax, especially during stressful exam weeks.

After this, I knew what I wanted to focus my event feature photograph on — what was happening around the student center. With all this new space, what sort of events are they hosting? I began searching for events that fit my crazy midterms-week school schedule.

What found could be more visually appealing – a hypnotist show in the student center on Nov. 4.  figured this would be perfect. I got in early, set my meter, and the captured the show.

What I learned most from this lesson is that feature stories are all around us, even in places we may visit frequently. If you look for them, you’ll find them. Anytime, any day. And most importantly, always, always, always, remember your shutter speed. If you shoot below 1/125, you’re going to have a bad time.

Undergrad student Irvin Phillips shoots the winner point in a game of pool in the newly renovated WSU student center.
Undergrad student Irvin Phillips shoots the winner point in a game of pool in the newly renovated WSU student center on Oct 28. // WSU PJ Lexi Trimpe
WSU students John Mandwee, Gabrielle Hoults, and Ali Shahin "speeding away from police" while hypnotized.
WSU students John Mandwee, Gabrielle Hoults, and Ali Shahin “speeding away from police” while hypnotized by Erick Kand at the hypnotist event on Tuesday night. // WSU PJ Lexi Trimpe

The First Amendment: what it means to a student journalist

As stated by the constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment is nothing new to a journalism student in her fifth year of college. Most journalism courses I’ve taken have even begun with an entry quiz, “name your first amendment rights.” Despite how much I’ve studied journalistic laws and ethics, I’m constantly reminded of just how valuable they are to me as a journalist (and budding photojournalist), and why as a student I’ve been ingrained to know my journalistic rights, and realistically, limitations.

This lesson in particular drove home the lesson that the First Amendment doesn’t make a journalist untouchable by the law — not by a long shot. It doesn’t give a journalist the right to manipulate the truth (also an ethical issue) or interfere with a story. Even if you are directly obeying your First amendment rights, you run the risk of police interference, as we’ve learned from countless examples including the Lima tank plant incident involving Toledo Blade reporters. This was also seen with the journalist arrests during the Ferguson unrest. Good journalists are still arrested in 2015, and police may overstep their legal boundaries. In these cases, knowing your journalistic rights and freedoms is not only an academic suggestion, but a legal necessity.

Another point driven home by this week’s lesson was the ethical responsibility of journalists to cover the truth, regardless of how downright depressing the content may be. We do this because journalists have a fundamental responsibility to the public to accurately report information. Why? To give the public all the information they need to make informed, responsible decisions. Photographing a brutal drunk driving car crash seems crass and invasive, but it gives the public the truth and when presented with the disgusting truth of drunk driving, maybe they’ll think twice.

So, I’m still a student — why am I choosing a path that could lead to such headaches, heartaches and potentially life-altering consequences? Because, as put by Lori King, “Depressing news is the price we pay for democracy.” A free press is not the product of democracy, but the requirement. There is not a democratic nation without a free press.

Who’s that girl?

Lexi Trimpe has spent the last four years studying journalism and combining her passions of writing, food and entertaining. While writing for Hour Detroit Magazine, beginning in 2015, she worked with a variety of talented, Detroit-based food entrepreneurs and writers. Her article entitled “Food Porn Illness,” which featured local food photographers are blogger’s tips and suggestions for amerature food photography, appeared in Hour’s August 2015 “Foodie” edition, and was eventually featured as a segment on Fox 2 Detroit morning hour.

She has also covered various events for the magazine, as well as her university newspaper, The South End. Trimpe began freelancing as a production assistant for major Detroit art-based events in 2012, working with the Detroit Creative Corridor Center. A self-admitted foodie, Trimpe documents Detroit’s emerging culinary playground through her professional blog, as well as her experiences and visual observations while living in the city. She can also be found on Instagram @thewestvillageidiot or contacted at ltrimpe@gmail.com.