The stories are tragic and the statistics are alarming when it comes to animal abuse.
Whether it’s organized cruelty, such as dogfighting operations, neglect, or housing more animals than one can possibly take care of, animal abuse is a common problem nationwide. According to a story on worldanimalfoundation.org, 50 million animals have died due to torture since 1990, one animal suffers abuse every 60 seconds and more than 10 million animals die each year in the United States from abuse alone. While those statistics are awful, organizations across the country are coming up with solutions.
In Michigan, animal abuse cases have exploded. According to some of the only Michigan-specific crime stats the Solutionaries team could find, animal cruelty incidents leapt from 123 in 2016 to 607 in 2021. All of that is clearly playing out in Detroit.
“We see horrific, horrific things. We just got two dogs that were burned with scalding water. We see gunshots, we see choking with extension cords,” said Kristina Renaldi, with Detroit Dog Rescue.
“A lot of the time it’s guessing how different scenario’s played out for dogs. But what we do see are clearly the marks on their skin, that tell a certain story,” said Juniper Fleming, with Rebel Dogs Detroit.
Myron Golden, an abuse investigator with Michigan Humane is usually the first one to come into contact with some of worst animal cruelty cases the city has to offer.
“We do get the cases where the dog we pick up is already deceased,” Golden said. “Situations and cruelty cases, we get dogs that are so far gone, that that can’t be treated. We pick up dogs that have been hit by cars, shot, stabbed, burned in conditions where they’re no longer treatable.”
The problem is that these incidents keep happening. In just the last few months there’s been stories about a dog buried alive, and several others nearly beaten to death, some simply because of a domestic abuse situation. Detroit Dog Rescue is one of the organizations hoping to stop it all.
“Our city has much resilience, and we’ve seen so much growth in the past few years. But we have to remember that it wasn’t that long ago that we were talking about bankruptcy. We were talking about foreclosure,” Renaldi said. “So when you have all those things, it’s kind of like the perfect storm for animal abuse, anger, rage, all of things -- drug abuse -- all of things lead to animal abuse.”
Sometimes it can be too much. But at least Michigan Humane has the authority to do something about from a legal perspective.
“We prosecute. We write warrants. We go to court and people go to jail,” Golden said.
But still, for some reason, the last few years have been outrageous in terms of the cases.
“Over the the last decade at Detroit Dog Rescue, we have seen some of the worst of the worst when it comes to animal abuse,” Renaldi said.
Renaldi said the abuse can lead to so many other negative factors playing out even in human behavior.
“A lot of the time, unfortunately, that leads to child abuse, domestic abuse, where you find animal abuse that is only the tip of the iceberg. We’ve gone on cases with Detroit police, where the animal abuse has actually led to evidence of human trafficking -- all of those things,” Renaldi said.
But why does it continue to happen specifically in the city of Detroit? A lot of the time it’s not even intentional.
“Sometimes when we arrive on an outreach call, a neighbor doesn’t properly know how to secure their dog, doesn’t know how to properly feed their dog, so if we can provide the resources, we’re happy to do so,” Renaldi said.
That seems to be a common theme with many groups trying their best to make sure owners know what’s wrong and what’s right.
“I think that a lot of time especially in cases, like an embedded collar, I don’t think its someone necessarily who’s going out and trying to cause harm to an animal, but it’s a case of someone not being educated,” Fleming said.
Rebel Dogs Detroit is a group that’s been working to spread awareness on he matter. Fleming is the executive director always asking owners on the verge of being neglectful if there’s anything her organization can do to help.
“Would you be interested in learning about resources that give out free crates so you can bring your dog inside on cold days, or free igloos so at least your dog has a warm house on a cold day? Or, would you be interested in me purchasing a collar, or have you heard of free spaying and neutering? Those are the kind of resources that are out there in Detroit,” Juniper said.
The group has been working to place stray dogs for years.
“Somehow, these animals, after the abuse or after the neglect, have made it onto the streets, and we’re not fully sure how that happens. We’re not sure if people let them go because they can’t or want to do anything,” Juniper said.
They also help to find fosters and eventual forever homes for the canines. But for the ones they can’t find homes find sanctuary in no-kill shelter on Detroit’s west side. They know they can’t save every dog, but still they try. But one solution they suggest, can be followed by everyone.
“If you see someone, either your neighbor or friend or family member who is neglecting either on purpose or by accident, starting a dialogue with them, being in communication, starting with the first question of, like, what might you need for support?” Juniper said.
Juniper insisted that, “It can be overwhelming if you start thinking about how pervasive the issue really is, but seeing it as one conversation at a time and doing what you can to address your immediate community can a really great way to have an active impact.”
Another major issue is dogfighting, which, in a way, is one of the problems with the solution. These rings are so underground that sometimes they can fly way under the radar and right under a neighbor’s nose. Every year, hundreds of pit bulls are seized in dogfighting rings. The sad is part is that sometimes the people responsible don’t see anything wrong.
“We’ve got videos of children at dogfights, like children 3-4 years old, and they’re just watching dogfights, so their entire life, they don’t see the issue in it. Then, they grow up, now they’re the adult, and that’s what’s their cousins, uncles and fathers, and the older gentlemen around did. So they naturally fill the void and step in their shoes,” Golden said.
One solution is listing and tracking animal abusers. In the state of Michigan, a new animal abuse registry is being created to help keep track of those accused of dogfighting and those who are cruel to animals. Juniper said it’s a great start, but there needs to be more done.
“My first thought is that there should be a limit of, you’re not allowed to own a dog, or, you’re not allowed to own a pet, or whatever,” Juniper said. “Because, otherwise, what really is the point? Like, OK, I know my neighbor has an animal abuse charge, but what can I do about it?”
The bottom line is if you see something, say something, as it make a difference in the dog’s life down the line.
“We pick up dogs to the point they’re so emaciated and lethargic to the point where they can’t even walk anymore. And then, on the other end, we bring animals in in those conditions, and then you see them going up for adoption 3-4 months later, and they’re fat and happy,” Golden said. “So it’s hard when you see it up front, but it’s very rewarding on the other end.”
Even though they’re making a difference, the law and the rescue groups can’t do it alone.
“I think what keeps me going and the Detroit Dog Rescue team going is that there are agencies like Detroit Police, Detroit Fire, that are working so hard to rectify some of these situations, and together we have made progress in the last decade that I’ve been doing this and that is what keeps me going,” Renaldi said.
Remember that our pets are our family -- all they want to do is make you happy at the end of the day. Why not give them just a little bit more when they give you their all? If you see something, say something. Keep an eye on your neighbor’s dog. Most of all, treat your own dog with respect.
This article is part of “Solutionaries,” our continuing commitment to solutions journalism, highlighting the creative people in communities working to make the world a better place, one solution at a time. Find out what you can do to help at SolutionariesNetwork.com.