Animal Control visited home of dogs in fatal mauling last year

Detroit — More than a year before three pit bulls fatally a mauled a 9-year-old girl, Animal Care and Control visited the dogs' home on the city's southwest side, the department's investigator said Wednesday.

Animal Control Officer Carl McClanahan visited the home in the 6000 block of Central on March 12, 2018, after receiving a complaint of two dogs getting loose, he told The Detroit News. The home shares an alley with the home of Emma Hernandez, who was attacked by the dogs on Monday.

At the home of Claudia Stapleton, aunt of Emma Hernandez, a photograph of Emma Hernandez is attached on a fence in a memorial in Detroit on Tuesday, August 20, 2019. Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

Animal Control had received the complaint 10 days prior to his visit, said McClanahan.

He said the delay in response occurred because he is the department's only investigator but he expects more investigators to be hired in a couple of months.

The complaint did not mention much about the dogs or their breed and did not include any information that the dogs appeared to be dangerous, McClanahan said.

"Unfortunately, a lot of people when they call in ... they're very vague," said McClanahan, an investigator for 31 years.

No one answered the door and the dogs, which had been reported as "getting loose" by a caller from the neighborhood, were not found at the home on Central Street, said McClanahan, who left a notice for the owner to contact Animal Control.

The officer did not hear back from the owner, nor the neighbors, but says he wishes he had.

"With hindsight being 20/20, I wished someone from the neighborhood had called to say it's still going so we could have had a second trip before what happened happened," McClanahan said.

Claudia Stapleton, aunt of Emma Hernandez, said she had talked to the owner of the dogs that mauled her niece to express concern that they weren't secured.

Family members of Emma say they had talked to the dogs' owner the previous week about properly containing the animals in his yard. And neighbors said they had filed police reports, which The Detroit News was unable to verify, to complain about the skinny creatures who were often found roaming freely.

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“The neighbors had filed reports before and last week, my brother talked to the owner of the dogs about his fence and the guy just told him the fence was high enough, but it was the sides where you could enter that were falling apart," said Claudia Stapleton, Emma's aunt and godmother. 

Still, Stapleton said the family does not blame the dogs in Emma's death. She said neighbors said the dogs weren't well-treated and often seemed starved.

"People that have pets need to take proper measures so they don't become (aggressive), and we need to come together as a community to watch our neighbors and be sure our environments are safe for our children," she said.

The dogs were not licensed and Animal Control is waiting for a court order to euthanize the two remaining animals, McClanahan said.

"The main aggressor was shot to death," said McClanahan, who described the animal as a male dog that weighed 60 pounds.

The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office had not made a decision Wednesday on charges against the dogs' owner, who is in custody, the office said.

Mayor Mike Duggan vowed action on Wednesday to prevent another such incident, saying in a statement that police Chief James Craig "has been in continual contact with me on the developments in the investigation."

"The prompt arrest and warrant request by the Detroit Police Department are an important reminder that dog owners will be held accountable for failure to secure dangerous animals," the mayor said. 

"It is not acceptable to have dangerous animals loose on the streets of Detroit," he said. "DPD and Animal Control are reviewing the entire issue to make certain the city will do everything possible to prevent this type of tragedy from ever occurring again.

Craig said the owner of the dogs should be held accountable.

"This should not have happened," Craig said Tuesday. "How many more times? We hear these stories about some of these pit bulls. I think of an image of postal employees who lost a limb ... here we are sitting here talking about a child and a family."

McClanahan urged people to report problem animals to Animal Control to avoid them being a possible danger to the public.

"If you see something, say something," said McClanahan.

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