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Gut-Check: Fifty Thousand Stray Dogs in Detroit?

By Louis Bach, Communications

Image courtesy of Rolling Stone

In Rolling Stone’s story on the organization calling itself Detroit Dog Rescue, the magazine gives voice to an unattributed estimate that the city of Detroit has 50,000 stray dogs. The author, Mark Binelli, acknowledges the number “seems quite inflated,” but the figure still made it into the article’s headline: “Detroit’s Epidemic of 50,000 Stray Dogs.”

Fifty thousand dogs in a city of 138.8 square miles would mean that the average city block (4.71 acres) would be occupied by 2.65 stray dogs. Obviously some areas of the city have many more strays than others, but does that figure seem believable? Let us know in the comment section.

When we start tossing around estimates in the tens of thousands, I’m reminded of the stories of stray dogs in Bucharest, Romania. In an extreme example a city facing an “epidemic” of stray animals, Bucharest has an estimated 40,000 strays, which caused 13,000 dog bites in 2010. It’s hard to believe that stray dogs are a bigger problem in Detroit than in Bucharest.

(via Curbed Detroit)

10 responses to “Gut-Check: Fifty Thousand Stray Dogs in Detroit?”

  1. F.D. Hunter says:

    Thank you for this article reference! I was traveling back from DC two weeks ago and a gentleman told me heard that there are wild dogs running all around the city of Detroit. I of course defended my city and other misconceptions that he had. However, I had no idea where the “wild dogs” comment came from. Now I know. Thank you for sharing this information and for challenging incorrect information about our city.

  2. mary says:

    This reminds me of all of the articles about there being no grocery stores in Detroit. The major chains may have abandoned the city, but there are many fine independent grocers who continue to serve Detroit’s neighborhoods. Fine example is Metro Foodland, celebrating 27 years of business on Detroit’s Northwest side in the heart of the Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood.

  3. K Ruhl says:

    I’m from Grosse Pointe and I often take Mack Ave. through Detroit. I’ve seen few wild dogs but that’s in a years time. I know they do come from Detroit to Grosse Pointe sometimes and get picked up by police and dropped off at Dr. Hertzog (DVM) who is one of the few vets who will take these dogs if captured. I think these numbers are highly inflated but I also do not have any further point of reference.

  4. Rich McGregor says:

    Stray dogs are a valid economic indicator. When times get bad, Fido takes a oneway trip to the other side of town

  5. Lee Mueller says:

    As a forester in one of the City’s nonprofits, I am consistently walking the streets to manage our various projects, which are found in all types of neighborhoods. I believe this number is vastly inflated. Essentially, this estimate is claiming there is one stray dog for every 14 residents. One dog (stray or otherwise) for every 14 residents is far more believable.

    To a large degree, it depends on “what is a stray dog?” At what point does an animal which is allowed to roam or receives minimal care considered “Stray”? To some degree there are a lot of animals which do not receive adequate standards of care, but they may not lack a home or an owner.

    There are some neighborhoods where I feel this number could approach accuracy. If this organization is extrapolating their estimate on their experience in these neighborhoods, I can see how they would arrive at such a large number. However, more stable neighborhoods will not even begin to approach this estimate (woodbridge, rosedale park, palmer woods, sherwood forest, indian village, etc.). I feel once these other neighborhoods are taken to account, the number would reduce substantially.

    Is 50k or 2.5-3 per block realistic? Based on my experience, I doubt it. Is there a problem in some neighborhoods? Absolutely.

  6. Lee Mueller says:

    FYI, I am employed by the Greening of Detroit. I am also hoping a few other on-the-ground co-workers can report on their experience.

  7. Hush says:

    There over 700,000 residents in the city. Do you see them everyday? With over 70,000 abandoned structures to hide from humans, please consider these animals are birthing 2 litters a year. Although this number has been thrown around (myself included), to challenge it wouldn’t be sensible since there is no way to conduct a census of these homeless dogs. To state that you never see strays in Detroit would be an absolute lie, but to go further and say this number makes our city look bad would be unfair to these dogs who 1.) Have no voice, and 2.) weren’t given a choice when they were abandoned by their owners. Don’t under estimate something unless you have personally conducted your own investigation, but good luck getting the dogs to standstill when you start counting.

  8. I can only speak from my experience in working with the dog rescue world in Detroit while writing this. I am one of five employees with Detroit Dog Rescue who bust our tails daily (as many other rescue groups do) to serve these dogs. As Hush previously stated, there is absolutely no way of knowing an exact number. Detroit Dog Rescue did not come up with this number, but does use it because it is the only hard number we have been given. For instance, if you view the video [], you will hear mention of this number followed by a level of uncertainty of its accuracy.

    What we do know is this. Whether there are 30,000 or 70,000 stray/neglected/feral/fought/abused/etc. dogs, the number is still astronomical and unacceptable. Will there ever be a ‘census’ of these dogs? As wonderful as it would be, I can’t fathom how that would happen. There are days when we are hitting the streets and think ‘where the hell are the dogs?’ and then there are days when we find multiple strays with litters of puppies, a pack roaming freely, snag a fought dog out of a drug raid and have it all happen within mere houses of each other. In times like those we’re left thinking there are 500k dogs running loose!

    There are far more stray dogs in Detroit than what all of the hard-working rescues and shelters combined can handle at this point. Innocent, adoptable dogs are being euthanized, dogs are being hit by cars and left for dead on the side of the road, dogs are starving to death … and no one is to blame but us … the people. Bottom line, the number 50k means nothing when you see even one dog in dire need. However, if you have ever put yourself in our shoes, entering abandoned houses and buildings, following and caring for packs of dogs, actually interacting with community members, getting phone calls/texts/emails/facebook messages all day long, including at 3am, you may not think that number is so far off.

    If you ever have any questions regarding our words to the public, please feel free to contact us at We would love to educate on our experiences from our 1 year in existence. I, personally, just ask that you attempt to educate yourselves prior to being accusatory. What good does that do? We are all just out here trying to help these dogs and better Detroit.

  9. David Rudolph says:


    I wish you would have called me. Anyway, the homeless dog problem is real. Detroit Dog Rescue, me and others associated with the organization are Detroiters – meaning we live, work and care about the city and residents. The Rolling Stone piece was in no way an attempt to bash Detroit. Rather shed some light on the real problem Detroit faces with domesticated dogs being left behind as more families are leaving the city or losing their homes. I would like to invite you spend some time with DDR to see first hand – as we did Rolling Stone, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, Associated Press and soon 60 Minutes. The true is the true!

    PS Tell Kurt M., I said hello.

    David E. Rudolph
    Senior Partner
    D. Ericson & Associates Public Relations

  10. Louis says:

    Thanks for your comments. Our purpose is not to denigrate the mission or work of Detroit’s animal rescue groups or to trivialize the seriousness of Detroit’s stray dog problem. Instead, we’re interested in investigating the origin of commonly cited statistics about Detroit, particularly when they’re used by the local or national media to portray Detroit in an exceptionally harsh light. For example, we’ve criticized claims that Detroit has no grocery stores and that nearly half of Detroiters are illiterate.

    As Sarah Cox at Curbed Detroit pointed out, the latter part of Rolling Stone’s article about DDR is mostly even-handed about characterizing Detroit’s dog problem. However, the article gives an estimate of the number of strays in Detroit without citing its source, and that figure makes its way into the story’s sensational headline (“City of Strays: Detroit’s Epidemic of 50,000 Abandoned Dogs”) and subhead: “As the city failed and its people fled, the animals took over” (emphasis mine).