Editorial: Detroit must get rid of deadly dogs

The Detroit News

Detroit can not lay claim to being a comeback city, nor can it hope to attract large numbers of new residents to its neighborhoods, as long as children are at risk of being mauled to death by vicious dogs on its streets.

That’s what happened to Xavier Strickland last week, and it is one of the most outrageous and horrifying stories to come out of Detroit in a long time. Xavier’s death should become a rallying cry to rid the city of deadly dogs.

Xavier was snatched out of his mother’s arms and torn to pieces by three pit bulls while his mother frantically tried to protect him.

“I can’t imagine the experience of his mom — to see a perfectly healthy child mauled by dogs and be completely helpless. I just can’t imagine the horror,” said Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, executive director and health officer for the Detroit Health Department, which oversees the city’s animal control department.

Strickland’s death is an outlier, but dog attacks that don’t kill people are common. Detroit ranked 13th out of the largest 30 cities for most attacks by dogs on postal workers. Parents have frequently complained that they fear for their children’s safety as they walk to school because of the number of abandoned and unrestrained dogs.

What makes this incident more appalling is that the pit bulls that attacked Xavier previously bit his 9-year-old sister. Their mother reported the incident to police. Department spokeswoman Sgt. Cassandra Lewis said the mother didn’t offer a date or location of the attack. So there was no follow up.

Animal control recently moved to the health department after reports of abuse and other problems under the police department’s oversight, and the report of the dogs seems to have happened around the time of the transition.

The negligence in dealing with the complaint proved fatal. The mother reported vicious animals threatening her children and the city did nothing.

El-Sayed, who took over the health department recently, said the problems with animal behavior and treatment in Detroit are deeply entrenched in the city’s animal culture.

“We haven’t done any community education in the past on how to treat and raise animals,” he said. Educating residents on proper ownership and licensing requirements is something the department intends to ramp up.

Stray animals remain a problem in Detroit, increasingly so in winter months. Additionally, improper keeping, feeding and the inhumane treatment of dogs result in violent interactions between them and humans.

There is an active underground breeding culture in the city; animals are improperly sold on websites. Many are trained to fight, and of course most of those are unlicensed, making tracking them even more difficult.

Dogs, particularly aggressive breeds like pit bulls, require training and proper treatment to be part of a neighborhood.

The city must step up its licensing enforcement, and deal severely with owners who allow dogs to roam free. A more intensive effort to round-up strays is also warranted.

Children facing enough challenges in Detroit. The fangs of wild dogs should not be among them.