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Fatal mauling in Detroit spurs questions about city’s ability to control dangerous dogs

Emma Hernandez poses, smiling, next to statue of a man in a hat
Courtesy of Esmeralda Samano


Nine-year-old Emma Hernandez should be getting ready for fourth grade. Instead, her family is planning her funeral.

On Monday, the little girl was attacked and killed by three dogs as she rode her bike near her Detroit home.

The dogs' owner has been arrested and is expected to be charged today by the Wayne County Prosecutor. The three pit bulls are expected to be euthanized.

It's not the first time a child in the city has been fatally mauled by dogs. In 2015, four pit bulls killed four-year-old Xavier Strickland, pulling him away from his mother and dragging him under a fence. Now, Emma's hideous death has again put the spotlight on the problem of dangerous dogs, careless owners, and the City of Detroit's animal control operations.

Nolan Finley of the Detroit News is calling for a sweep of the city and a crackdown on dangerous dogs and careless owners. He says children will be walking to school in Detroit in a couple of weeks, and mothers are terrified. According to Finley, the Detroit Animal Care and Control (DACC) is not a present safety force within the city.

“Animal control is still understaffed, still open only ten to three every day, and you try to call it, call the number now, and see if you get an answer. You get a busy signal. So we have this menace in our community that we’re not taking seriously,” Finley said.  

Finley is not calling for a ban on pitbulls, but says that unregistered dogs should be banned. He says it is important for the owners to show that their dogs are not a threat to the community.

Finley also says there are already ordinances in Detroit that should reduce the number of vicious dog attacks. But, the lack of enforcement keeps the rates at high of levels in Detroit.  

Theresa Sumpter is the director and founder of the Detroit Pit Crew Dog Rescue. The group picks up strays from Detroit and Highland Park. Sumpter is adamant that this is not a breed problem, but a people problem ? specifically owner negligence and a lack of enforcement from the city of Detroit. 

“It’s a lack of enforcement and a lack of response from the city. When calls do come through, and stating that these are vicious dogs, these dogs need to be removed, or something needs to be done, we are not getting the response necessary to ensure the safety of the community,” Sumpter said. 

Sumpter says the city officials responsible for vicious animals are not taking the responsibility seriously. DACC does not have a director or veterinarian on staff, according to Sumpter. The office is supposed to be open 24/7 to the police, but Sumpter says police tell her that the DACC’s doors are often closed when their services are needed. DACC is under supervision of the Detroit Health Department, which is also currently without a director after Dr. Joneigh Khaldun left the position in March to join Governor Whitmer's cabinet. 

We requested a response to Sumpter's comments from the office of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. Duggan's office sent us a statement that reads, in part: 

"Chief 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. It is not acceptable to have dangerous animals loose on the streets of Detroit. 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."

This post was written by production assistant Catherine Nouhan

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