POSTED: 02:15 a.m. HST, Sep 21, 2013
DETROIT (AP) — It doesn't matter to Jessie Clarke how many stray or loose dogs are roaming the ruins of Detroit. Even one or two are far too many.
On Clarke's left arm is scar tissue from dozens of stitches used to close a gash ripped by two pit bulls that attacked the 65-year-old outside her east side home in April. Similar marks are on one of her legs.
"There was a lot of biting. There were a lot of stitches," Clarke said from her dining room, looking through a window at the spot of the attack.
On Saturday and Sunday, volunteers will scour the city in an attempt to count the number of strays as part of an Internet documentary series. It also is seen as a first step in finding a way to humanely deal with what has become a disease and safety risk for residents as the strays breed, increasing their population even as the city's population falls.
Detroit became the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy protection in July and is pinching pennies. State-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr says the city needs to find dollars to hire more "dog catchers."
"It's clearly a public safety issue," he told The Associated Press. "We need to fund them at a higher level."
Clarke and other city residents are aware that Detroit is home to packs of dogs — some vicious and wary of people — that find haven in vacant houses and buildings.
"If you are not getting rid of them, what are you going to do?" she said. "You can't round them all up. You can tear down the vacant buildings, but where are the strays going to go? Up and down the street?"
About two months after Clarke was attacked, a teenager reported that she was bitten by three dogs that had escaped a yard. Loose dogs forced postal officials to suspend deliveries for about six weeks in a four-block area of northwest Detroit in 2007.
The department that handles dog complaints and rounds up strays had only six animal control officers at the start of the year, according to the Detroit Police Board of Commissioners. About 970 dogs are confiscated by officers or surrendered by the animals' owners each year. Another 1,700 strays are captured annually, commissioners were told.
Thousands more are believed to live among the more than 30,000 vacant houses and abandoned buildings that dot Detroit's 139 square miles, said Tom McPhee, a filmmaker and executive director of the Ann Arbor-based World Animal Awareness Society.
McPhee's two-day canine survey is part of his American Strays research project, a documentary in syndication on the Internet.
Volunteers will take photos and use smartphones to count free-roaming dogs. Teams will not go onto private property or into abandoned structures to take the count, said McPhee, who hopes to use footage from the survey to produce a feature-length documentary about Detroit's stray problem.
The Michigan Humane Society is not part of the survey, but some of its volunteers are participating and it's interested in the results because it has no idea how many strays there are, said Ryan McTigue, society spokesman.
But Daniel Carlisle, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Detroit Dog Rescue, is unconvinced.
"I don't think that counting — and not rescuing — makes any sense," Carlisle said. "These dogs aren't going to stand here and wait for you to count them."
Carlisle said Detroit Dog Rescue captured and found homes for about 100 stray dogs last year. So far this year, he has done the same for about 150 strays.
Grants and donations pay for shots, spaying and neutering, boarding and feedings.
He blames irresponsible owners and a culture that sees breeding, selling or fighting the animals as a way to make a quick buck.
Detroit's economic deterioration and high unemployment rate is partly to blame, Carlisle added.
"No one can afford to license their dogs. They shouldn't have those dogs," he said.