December 01, 2013


 Counting dogs

Census tries to quantify Detroit’s stray dog population
Posted Nov. 20, 2013 

Detroit’s stray dog population has been estimated in the thousands—as high as 50,000, according to some published reports. Forthcoming results of a census conducted may show the actual number of free-roaming dogs is much lower, however.

Tom McPhee is executive director of the World Animal Awareness Society, which is conducting the American Strays research project. For two days in September, volunteers fanned out across Detroit’s 139 square miles to count the city’s stray dogs. “We’re not seeing mass numbers, we’re not tripping over dogs in the streets that are biting us and chasing us,” McPhee was quoted as saying in a Michigan Live article published Sept. 23.

In September, National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” reported that, even if the stray count were to end up being much lower than 50,000, the bankrupt city still has a huge animal control problem. Detroit’s three authorized shelters take in 15,000 stray dogs a year and can’t cope with a further influx. Moreover, the city’s animal control department has only a handful of active officers.

The city is filled with thousands of shuttered homes and buildings, now a haven for dogs. Detroit ranks sixth among cities with the most dog attacks on U.S. Postal Service employees.

The American Strays research project worked with Michigan State University to create a map dividing Detroit into 42 sections. Inside each section, 50 points were randomly placed. Volunteers traveled to each location and observed for 5 minutes for possible strays. Their data were documented by use of GPS technology and photography as well as descriptive coding of observed dogs.

The goals of the survey are to develop an accurate count of dog populations in Detroit while creating a set of data collection tools built in a user-friendly template for use elsewhere. Goals of the survey are to define the abundance and distribution of free-roaming dogs, show population trends over time, and provide insights into relationships between animal populations and human activities.

Preliminary results of the Detroit dog census are expected to be published in early 2014.

McPhee is also a filmmaker, and he’s been working on a documentary that focuses on a few dogs in Detroit. “We think it’s very important to tell this intimate portrait of what these animals are going through, because most of them have become outcasts and have been pushed out in society,” McPhee told Michigan Live.

“And we want people to reconnect with these animals, that they’re beings, that they can connect with them and they’re going through all these things­—not just the bad interactions with people.”