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The dog bite epidemic: a public health crisis

October 17, 2018 | Comment

By Kathy Beard

The economic resurgence in Detroit has lead to many improvements in the Midtown and Downtown areas, as well as some neighborhoods. The Detroit Parks and Recreation Department is reactivating many community parks.Walking and biking paths are being built and bikes are now available to rent. Still, some residents are reluctant to use them due to the fear of roaming dogs. Their fears are not unwarranted.

Although estimates of stray and feral dogs were once as high as 50,000, newer estimates put it at one stray/feral dog for every 14 residents: still too high. In a city where residents struggle with poverty, diabetes, heart disease and obesity, access to inexpensive exercise, such as biking and walking, could significantly improve residents’ health. So, how is the city responding to this? And how can the MOTION Coalition Support these initiatives?

A recent study by Laura Reese, professor of Urban and Regional Planning at Michigan State University showed that dog bites are more likely to occur in areas with vacant homes and commercial properties. Stray dogs tend to live in the buildings as a means of shelter and a source of food. So, boarding up or demolishing vacant buildings should help mitigate the problem. In the past year, the city launched an aggressive demolition and boarding up program. Since then, the Board Up Brigade has boarded over 10,000 homes. The demolition project has razed over 15,000 commercial and residential buildings.

The city has also improved Animal Control Services. They released the following statement about the situation:

Detroit Animal Care and Control (DACC) has increased its number of animal intakes by more than 850 in 2017, compared to [previous year], and the number of dog bites has decreased by 32.7 percent.

The safety of our residents is our primary concern and DACC is doing the following to reduce the number of stray dogs in the community: 

  • Canvassing neighborhoods throughout the city three nights a week.
  • Taking in stray dogs seven days a week.
  • Enforcing ordinances that require residents fix their fences where dogs are present.
  • Writing tickets to residents who do not comply with Detroit City Ordinance.
  • Partnering with non-profit agencies for free/low-cost spay and neuter services.
  • Hiring more employees to respond to calls.

All residents should call 911 if they feel there is an immediate threat to their safety.

Additional staff and vehicles along with a 7 day work week is currently in effect. This has resulted in a 106 percent increase in citations in the first half of 2018 and a decrease in the number of reported bites by 13 percent. Whether these measures have had an impact on the stray dog population remains to be seen. MOTION Coalition can be impactful by supporting the city in its on-going efforts to control blight and alleviate some barriers to outdoor activity.

Second, Dr. Reese’s study showed that not all areas of Detroit have the same issues. Some zip codes have a higher number of reported bites, particularly among young males. In these areas, violent crimes are also significantly higher than predicted. These factors may suggest a link between bites and dog fighting. Reporting these activities could help reduce the incidences; however,residents have legitimate concerns for their safety if it becomes known that they reported a crime. One solution is to use the city’s new interactive crime databank, Crime Viewer (http://detroitmi.gov/crime-viewer/index.html). It allows anyone to view crime statistics by crime, date, time and location. Missing from the crime list is animal cruelty. Adding this crime to the database would help develop neighborhood-specific policy efforts to addressthis crime without putting the safety of residents in jeopardy.

In order for Detroit to promote active living, it needs safe neighborhoods. Managing the wild dog population is one big way we can support this objective. MOTION Coalition can support these initiatives by voicing its support for these initiatives.

Further Reading:

Detroit’s Stray Dog Epidemic: 50,000 Or More Roam The City

The Dog Days of Detroit: Urban Stray and Feral Animals

Detroit’s Board-up Brigade marks 1 year changing lives, communities

Emergency Department Visits and Inpatient Stays Involving Dog Bites, 2008

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

Detroit Demolition Program

A Closer Look at Dogfighting

Detroit Crime Viewer

Kathy Beard is program manager for MOTION Coalition. The MOTION Coalition, an initiative of Authority Health, is a coalition of over 80 organizations in Southeast Michigan focused on obesity and wellness.

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