The population of the Motor City has plummeted since the recession began, but its stray dog population has skyrocketed. Estimates vary, but groups say the number of strays on the streets is somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000.
People have been abandoning Detroit — a city where the unemployment rate in February dropped below 9 percent for the first time since 2008 — in search of jobs, and they often leave their pets behind. By abandoning them, some dog owners may think they’re giving their pets a fighting chance in a city whose animal shelters have a euthanization rate of more than 70 percent.
Today, dogs have taken over many of Detroit’s abandoned buildings, and packs of them roam the streets, prompting some residents to arm themselves with pepper spray.
In fact, the city’s stray dog problem is so bad, that the Discovery Channel was planning to air a reality show about it until Mayor David Bing denied producers permission to film it. Bing was reportedly concerned that the series would paint an even more negative picture of Detroit.
But two of the filmmakers, executive produce Monica Martino and location scout Dan Carlisle, a local rapper who goes by the name of Hush, were determined to make the homeless dog problem known.
"It's a homeless epidemic of these animals," Carlisle told The Associated Press.
Martino and Carlisle posted a shocking video of the city’s dogs on YouTube, and it went viral, attracting donations from across the nation. (You can view the video here, but portions of it may be disturbing to some viewers.)
Carlisle and Martino founded Detroit Dog Rescue, and in December, an anonymous philanthropist donated $1.5 million to the organization. Today, DDR estimates its volunteers have rescued more than 200 dogs, but the process of rescuing the city’s stray dogs has not been without controversy.
DDR has faced a number of complaints from local and national organizations, including the Department of Agriculture, because it’s illegal for rescue groups to operate a shelter or pick up strays unless they are licensed animal-control officers. DDR says its members are undergoing training, and the group is scouting locations for its no-kill shelter. Until a location is found, the group is adopting dogs out through its website, DetroitDogRescue.com. Everyone at DDR has adopted at least one of the rescued dogs themselves.
Although the organization has been successful in rescuing hundreds of homeless pups, its volunteers admit that sometimes they’re too late. They’ve found many dogs that have already starved to death and others that are victims of dogfighting.
Still, DDR is providing Detroit’s stray dogs with a second chance. The organization is committed to its no-kill philosophy, and the city’s dog-loving police officers will occasionally violate procedure and call DDR instead of animal control, with the understanding that dogs in the city’s shelter will likely be euthanized. One member of Detroit’s City Council has even suggested outsourcing the city’s animal control to DDR.
To learn more about Detroit Dog Rescue, check out the video below or visit the DDR website.