Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Detroit Has Many Strays, But 'We're Not Tripping Over Dogs'

A stray dog in Detroit last week.
Carlos Osorio
A stray dog in Detroit last week.

While there's a serious dog problem in Detroit, the initial results of an effort to count the number of homeless canines in the city indicate there are far fewer than the 50,000 strays that some news accounts have talked about. reports that over the weekend, "volunteers with the American Strays research project spread out across Detroit's 139 square miles" to try to count wandering dogs.

"We're not seeing mass numbers; we're not tripping over dogs in the streets that are biting us and chasing us," Tom McPhee, filmmaker and Executive Director of the World Animal Awareness Society, tells MLive.

He adds that "Detroit has problems — we just think it's a bit much that Detroit is being jumped on with this idea whole that there are 50,000 stray dogs and they're biting and hurting and its a vicious situation. In terms of actual, what we call actual, stray dogs, the number is demonstrably different than 50,000 number that's being published."

Just how much different the American Strays census concludes the number really is should be known in several weeks.

According to The Associated Press, on Saturday and Sunday volunteers fanned out to "take photos and use smartphones to count free-roaming dogs." Working with Michigan State University, American Strays came up with a protocol. Volunteers were given 50 "sampling points" and were told, in part, to:

-- Working in teams of two, spend five minutes at each point.

-- During those five minutes, "scan from left to right ... documenting any dog that you observe."

-- "For each dog seen during the five minute observation period a picture will be taken (if close enough). Along with the picture, observer should document: a. The category the dog falls under (as determined by the sheet provided) b. Any notable markings such as but not limited to color, size, breed, scars/injuries."

The project also aims to put GPS tracking collars on 50 of the strays, to keep tabs on where they go. Many dogs are known to live in some of the estimated 30,000 abandoned homes in the city.

Quinn Klinefelter of NPR member station WDET tells our friends at All Things Considered that even if the stray count ends up being much less than the 50,000 figure, the city still has a huge problem. Its three authorized shelters take in 15,000 stray dogs a year, he reports, and can't cope with an influx of strays.

What's more, the bankrupt city's "cash-strapped animal control department has only four active officers — a fifth is recovering from being mauled in a kennel," Quinn says.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.