On June 17, a 10-year-old girl on Detroit’s east side was mauled by a pit bull while playing in the back yard of the home where the dog lived. She suffered horrific injuries. One can only imagine the fear and terror she felt as this happened and the scars, physically and emotionally, she will carry with her for the rest of her life.

The dog, known to be aggressive, was kept locked in an upstairs room when people came by the home. A door was inadvertently left open allowing the dog to escape and maul this poor, innocent child. This same dog attacked a utility worker in a previous incident.

Knowing this dog’s aggressive temperament, it was the owner’s responsibility to be vigilant and maintain strict control of the animal. This tragedy could have been prevented.

But why was a dangerous dog in someone’s home to begin with? Why would anyone keep an animal that poses a threat to their family? A 2015 Harris poll found that the majority of pet owners consider pets their family members. While encouraging, there are still many who don’t.

Instead, some dogs are used as a form of home defense, selected for their aggressive temperament, left alone in a yard, not socialized, chained and unloved. Their worlds consist of a short circle, the length of whatever chain they are tied to, and they will defend that world violently.

As a result, these animals have no idea how to interact with humans. Last Saturday’s horrific incident was a much more likely outcome than the dog deterring criminal activity. We have to move past the idea that a dog, or any family pet, is anything other than a companion. There is no reason to own a dog if its role in life is any different.

Having dogs with inherent and unpredictable aggression, especially if we know about it, has a compounding effect on all of us. Aggressive animals clearly impact the public safety of our neighborhoods, support stereotypes about Detroit, and counteract the positive work of animal welfare advocates throughout the state.

This is not a pit bull issue. It is not a Detroit issue. It is not a poverty issue. It is a negligence issue on the part of the owner and a lack of understanding and compassion for the animals with whom we share our communities.

We must, collectively, raise the inherent value of pets beyond merely serving a purpose and then easily disregarded or replaced. We must connect to our pets or, frankly, make the decision not to have them. It is so incredibly important. If we can elevate the value of companion animals, personally and in our communities, and ensure that dogs are treated with compassion and care, we will see these horrifying incidents disappear.

– Matthew Pepper, President and CEO