Finley: City's response to deadly dog attack too tepid

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

It's been a week since three pit bulls pulled 9-year-old Emma Hernandez off her bicycle in a southwest Detroit alley and mauled her to death. It is one week away from the first day of school, when thousands of children will fill the city's sidewalks.

And still no action plan has emerged from Mayor Mike Duggan on how the city intends to assure those school kids don't fall victim to the same fate as Emma.

At the home of Claudia Stapleton, aunt of Emma Hernandez, stuffed animals, candles, balloons and photographs of Emma Hernandez are set in a memorial in Detroit on Aug. 20.

The mayor issued a statement last week about the deadly dog attack, saying, "It is not acceptable to have dangerous animals loose on the streets of Detroit" and noting that arrest of the owner of the animals should send a message to Detroiters about securing their pets. 

"The death of Emma Hernandez is a tragedy that is being felt deeply by everyone in our community," Duggan said. "All Detroiters have Emma's family in our hearts and in our prayers. The 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."

He also noted that Detroit  Police 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."

But what?

The mayor's response does not adequately reflect the outrage those inside the city and out feel about Emma's brutal death, nor does it convey the urgency necessary to reassure parents that the city truly is doing "everything possible" to keep their children safe from vicious dogs.

Nothing tangible has been done over the past week to demonstrate the city views ridding itself of dangerous dogs as a top priority.

Emma Hernandez dressed as a graduate.

Duggan should have gone to the neighborhood and visibly expressed his intolerance for this threat to the children of his city, and described with some passion what he intends to do. 

The horror of Emma's death merited immediate action to beef up the Animal Control and Care division. Animal Control has just nine officers, and takes calls only between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

By comparison, Duggan has six "storyteller" positions on his office payroll to tell the good news of Detroit. If those resources were redirected to Animal Control, perhaps Detroit wouldn't have to work so hard to come up with happy stories to counter the negative reality. It's a matter of priorities, and what taxpayers expect for the money they send to City Hall.

When I asked the mayor's office about the next steps, I was assured action will be taken.

In answers attributed to Jean Ingersoll, acting director of the Health Department, I was told service improvements are coming in the next month or so, including raising the number of officers to 20 and expanding the hours to seven days a week. Two more trucks "soon" will be on the streets full time.

The city says that between 2016 and 2018, it increased by 70 percent the number of stray dogs picked up, and last year removed 4,700 strays. It also doubled the number of tickets issued for violating city ordinances governing the care and housing of animals.

Ultimately, the remarks attributed to Ingersoll state, responsibility for securing dogs rests with the owners.

Fair enough. But in the past three years, two children have been eaten alive by pit bulls in Detroit. The response from City Hall needs to be meatier, louder and angrier. 

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