“Are you scared?”

For the last half hour, I’ve been in a room in an unmarked building on the east side of Detroit. I’m about to hit the streets with Detroit Dog Rescue (DDR), and three of its members have been preparing me for what I might see. I know Detroit has a stray dog problem–that’s why I’m here, on assignment for Dogs Unleashed Magazine, to highlight the issue and raise some awareness and support from our West Michigan readers. I know Detroit has an economic problem–the initial bankruptcy filing had hit the news just days before my visit. What I don’t know is what you get when you combine the two–an abundance of unclaimed dogs and a subset of the population who are desperate for money and status. From what I’m hearing, it’s a bad combination.

Dogs used as live bait in fighting circles, then abandoned to the streets to either heal or die. Litters of puppies bred one after another, then sold for as little as $20. Food laced with gunpowder or heroin to make the dogs edgy, unstable and intimidating as hell. Dogs chained or locked inside for weeks at a time, left to protect some illegal stash or property.

puppy chained to porch railing, Detroit, grumpy pups pet photography

This puppy is left chained to a porch railing for days. The owner has threatened anyone who tries to intervene or feed the puppy. A blue bowl next to the puppy is empty–no food or water. The young dog cowers when we approach.

This is what Detroit Dog Rescue faces on a daily basis. As Dante Dasaro, director of creative marketing for DDR, explains, it’s not that the city of Detroit is lawless–it’s just that there is a lack of respect for the law. In recent years, there also has been a lack of education on how to care for and protect animals. And there simply aren’t enough resources. Families lose their homes or move and can’t afford to take the pet. Packs of abandoned and feral dogs roam the streets, and the city doesn’t have enough animal control officers to keep up with them. Postal workers are bitten, stray dogs are shot at, and who is going to pay for all that neutering and spaying when the city can’t even get its traffic lights running more than a week after a minor storm?

Detroit Dog Rescue works to make a difference, one dog at a time. Their ultimate goal is to create a no-kill animal shelter that will move Detroit’s dogs off the streets and into new and loving homes, and also serve as a community outreach and education center. In the meantime, DDR staff patrol the streets, keeping an eye out for hurt or abandoned dogs. They bring dog food and treats to people who struggle to adequately feed their pets. They run a network of fosters to help animals get adopted. And they promote education and volunteerism to help break the cycle of cruelty and endless breeding.

Detroit Dog Rescue, men and dog on front porch, grumpy pups pet photography

Detroit Dog Rescue brings food and treats to people who might otherwise struggle to feed their pets.

As we leave to go out on patrol, I notice a giant, rusted chain bolted to the cement block wall. It is a memorial to the dog who was found dead at the end of it. A photo of the dog and Hush, the hip-hop artist and co-founder of Detroit Dog Rescue, is mounted next to the chain. Dasaro explains that the chain was found laying straight out, with the carcass at the end of it–showing how the dog had strained to escape until its very last moment. It’s just one of many chains they have found that could be hanging on the wall.

So am I scared? I answer no, not yet, but I’m fully prepared for that to change.

Detroit Dog Rescue, man gives hand in front of crumbling house, grumpy pups pet photography

Rodney Stewart of Detroit Dog Rescue offers me a hand over the porch roof that has collapsed in front of this Detroit home.

Detroit Dog Rescue, inside an abandoned Detroit house, grumpy pups pet photography

Inside the house, there are piles of trash and evidence of looting (abandoned houses are stripped for metal and hardware that can be reused or resold). Piles of dog food used to be left here as a kind but misguided attempt to help the stray dogs. Instead, the scent drew dogs from all over, creating fights that kept the young family next door unable to go outside for fear of attacks.

Detroit Dog Rescue, Dante Dasaro waits outside abandoned house in Detroit, grumpy pups pet photography

Standing on the collapsed porch roof, Dante Dasaro of Detroit Dog Rescue waits outside the house, on the lookout for stray dogs in the area.

Abandoned Detroit house, grumpy pups pet photography

At the next house, Rodney goes in first and then yells for me to go in the front door. I yell back that I have no idea where the front door is. Left untended, Detroit’s abandoned homes are quickly reclaimed by nature. They make ideal hideouts for stray dogs and human squatters.

flooded basement in Detroit, grumpy pups pet photography

The basement of this house has been flooded with clean, fresh city water for more than three years. The city water board hasn’t shut off the home’s water supply, and someone probably stripped the pipes for cash. Dogs know this house as a great place to get fresh water and to go for a quick dip to cool off their feet.

Detroit Dog Rescue, man checks behind closed doors for stray dogs, grumpy pups pet photography

Rodney Stewart checks behind all the closed doors in this abandoned house. Something as simple as a door blowing shut in a breeze can be a death trap to dogs roaming Detroit’s abandoned buildings.

Abandoned school on a Detroit street, grumpy pups pet photography

A typical scene driving through Detroit streets.

Dante Dasaro of Detroit Dog Rescue hugs Dante, a rescue named after him. grumpy pups pet photography

Dante Dasaro of DDR hugs Dante, a dog who was rescued and named after him (see the September/October issue of Dogs Unleashed Magazine for more details on Dante—the dog. I’ll also be doing a separate blog post on Dante, who should be healed and up for adoption soon.)

How to Help

If you’d like to help the dogs of Detroit, visit www.detroitdogrescue.com to get involved.

  • Donate: DDR is a 501(c)3, so your monetary donations are tax-deductible. Funds are needed for normal operations as well as building Detroit’s first no-kill shelter in Detroit.
  • Share: Let people know what is happening right here in Michigan. Help DDR spread its story by sharing videos from its Facebook page and Web site with friends, animal lovers, shelters and news organizations.
  • Foster: Help move dogs out of Detroit so they have a better chance at adoption. If you are a foster or a shelter/rescue interested in partnering with DDR, contact info@detroitdogrescue.com.
  • Shop: DDR has a full range of jackets, t-shirts, car stickers, dog gear and more. Portions of the proceeds go to support DDR’s no-kill dog shelter fund.
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Springer spaniels in a field of Michigan wildflowers

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