Everyone Loves a Dog Story: Narratives of Urban Animal Welfare Policy

Everyone Loves a Dog Story: Narratives of Urban Animal Welfare Policy Abstract Public policy related to animal issues has not been well explored in the urban politics literature. We argue that concerns related to animal welfare are increasingly pressing in many cities yet sustained attention to them appears absent from the urban policy agenda. Using the multiple streams approach, this research examines animal welfare policy in the urban context and suggests why this policy area appears not to have gained a consistent place on the public agenda. Based on a content analysis of media reporting in the Detroit metropolitan area it appears that policy entrepreneurs were unable to access the public agenda through the policy window opened by a major focusing event because of conflicting narratives about the nature of the problem, dissension among policy entrepreneurs themselves, and a lack of debate about potential policy solutions. animal welfare policy, multiple streams, policy narratives, focusing events, policy entrepreneurs Public policy related to animal issues has not been well explored in the urban politics and larger political science literatures. Yet, issues of animal welfare have long been tied to municipal politics and “animals’ presence in human society has helped shape the full range of human experiences, including matters of regulation and state power” (Wang 2012:999). We argue that concerns related to animal welfare are increasingly pressing in many cities, yet sustained attention to them appears less present on the contemporary urban public policy agenda. In U.S. cities experiencing severe economic distress such as Detroit, the case explored here—social problems related to animal welfare—must compete with human distress to gain access to the public policy agenda. To do this such issues must be framed in a coherent manner as significant social welfare problems to foster public awareness, and be backed by policy entrepreneurs ready with proposed solutions. Using the multiple streams approach, this research examines animal welfare policy in the urban context and suggests why this policy area appears not to have gained a consistent place on the public policy agenda in the contemporary era of fiscal distress. There are a variety of objective reasons why animal welfare should be on the policy agenda, including the presence of stray and feral dogs in distressed cities in the United States,1 1 Although data indicate that the number of stray and feral dogs has declined in the United States there are exceptions, specifically dense urban communities and rural areas (Clancy and Rowan 2003). formal and informal dog fighting, backyard breeding, attacks on and bites to humans and other animals, transmission of disease, and humane concerns. Overpopulation has been included as an important aspect of social problems related to animal welfare (Hamilton 2010), but the lack of consistent and comparable data makes empirical assessment of the dog population difficult2 2 Barriers to a national population baseline include the fact that there is no system to store and analyze data, extant panel surveys underrepresent transient owners and those at the lower end of the economic scale, varying methodologies for counting yield varying results, there are regional differences in pet population and care as well as urban/suburban differences (see Clancy and Rowan 2003 and Patronek and Rowan 1995 for more detail on pet population demographics). (Clancy and Rowan 2003). Models of the dynamics of the pet dog population, considering supply (birth, purchase, adoption, found as strays) and loss (lost dogs, euthanasia, relinquishment), have led some experts to suggest that pet overpopulation concerns may be overrated (Patronek and Glickman 1994; Patronek and Rowan 1995). However, in many cities fiscal stress has made it difficult for families to provide for companion animals and limits local resources to address the problem. In some communities this has resulted in dogs and cats being relinquished at local animal shelters, left in abandoned homes, or simply let loose on the streets (Reese 2015).3 3 Absent national shelter data and the use of different estimation methodologies, estimates of animals admitted to shelters vary; some research suggests that there are between 3 to 8 million while other work suggests 16.3 to 27.1 million (Nasser et al. 1992). Annual estimates of animals euthanized in shelters vary widely from 4 to 17 million (Bartlett et al. 2005) although Humane Society of the United States shelter surveys suggest that euthanasia declined between 1973 and 1994 (Zawistowski et al. 1998). Most of these data are dated, however, so the exact nature of the current situation is uncertain and, as noted, likely varies by region and city. While research modeling the U.S. dog population assumes that the number of feral or unowned dogs is “negligible” (Patronek and Glickman 1994), estimates of stray and feral dogs in the City of Detroit have ranged from 3,000 to 50,000. While the higher figure is unlikely, even the 8,000 dogs estimated in recent research would represent 1 for every 14 city residents (Reese 2015). Free-roaming animals raise some potential risks to urban residents that are clear public policy concerns. Health threats include increased exposure to bites and transmission of zoonotic diseases and parasites either directly to humans or from stray dog to owned dog to humans. Greater numbers of abandoned dogs can increase informal dog fighting as animals on the street are readily available for fighting and/or as bait dogs (Reese 2015). Visible roaming animals or the presence of dogs and cats living in abandoned buildings can create fear among residents and heighten perceptions of neighborhood decay. Over time, issues related to animals in urban areas and concerns about animal welfare have captured the public’s attention through media; incidents of animal hoarding and dog fighting rings have been covered in both local and national news (Arluke et al. 2002). Reports of dog attacks are common (Delise 2007; Raghavan 2008) as are stories about animal abuse and neglect, which are visibly portrayed in TV shows such as Animal Planet’s Animal Cops. Given that mayors ranked animal-related issues as the most common complaint to their offices in a 1974 survey and city managers currently note that animal control is the policy area they were least prepared to address when coming into their jobs (Clancy and Rowan 2003; Swindell, Hilvert, and Thoreson forthcoming), along with clear public policy implications, why have animal welfare issues not been more visible on the current urban policy agenda? This research focuses on how issues of animal welfare move onto the public policy agenda (or fail to do so) by exploring narratives portrayed in the media. The following questions are addressed: (1) How have public narratives about animal issues been framed in the media over time? (2) Have incidents related to animals served as focusing events to change these narratives? (3)Are potential policy entrepreneurs identified in the narratives? (4) Despite considerable media attention, why have issues related to animal welfare not been more prominent on the current urban public policy agenda? The article proceeds by defining the policy area of focus—animal welfare policy—differentiating it from a more basic animal control function. Multiple streams theory is then presented as a frame for understanding how emerging social problems gain access to the public policy agenda. The specific role of media narratives in this process is then discussed. The methodology section details the case of Detroit and the content analysis conducted. The analysis section uses content analysis to address the four questions noted above. The article concludes with the implications for animal welfare issues in Detroit specifically, and for emerging urban problems more generally. POLICY STREAMS AND EMERGING URBAN PUBLIC PROBLEMS Prior to presenting the theoretical framework for the analysis, the nature of animal welfare policy needs to be defined. This will be followed by a discussion of the multiple streams framework of public policy agenda setting. Animal Welfare Policy There is a dearth of research defining urban animal welfare policy. Many communities have animal ordinances and control functions. The National Animal Interest Alliance has recommended model local animal ordinances including: licensing and rabies vaccinations; leash requirements; definitions of “at-risk” and dangerous animals (typically dogs); licensing of feral cat colonies; animal control/welfare advisory boards; investigation of cruelty, abuse, and neglect cases; optimal training for animal control personnel; requirements for adequate care; and anti-tethering regulations (see NAIA n.d.). However, there is no extant research to assess how closely actual policies match optimal ordinances. And, there is a great deal more to ensuring animal welfare than even these “best practices” would suggest. There is a good bit of contention in the literature regarding a definition of “animal welfare,” and much of the somewhat dated published work focuses on the use of animals in research and food production (Brambell 1965; Stafleu, Grommers, and Vorstenbosch 1996). However, definitions of animal welfare are quite broad, for example, “A state of complete mental and physical health, where the animal is in harmony with its environment” (Hughes 1976 quoted in Fraser 1995:111). This suggests that animal welfare is achieved only if both biological fitness (Barnett and Hemsworth 1990) and an optimal mental state (Dawkins 1990) are present and an animal can fulfill its needs and wants (Curtis 1985), including cognitive and species-specific behavior needs (Stafleu et al. 1996). Thus, “one should take the question ‘when does an animal’s life go well?’ as a starting point for animal welfare” (Stafleu et al. 1996:227). The animal welfare function in U.S. cities is often seen as one of “animal control,” implying that roaming and stray animals should be removed from the streets, held temporarily in case owners come forward, and then be disposed of in some manner, either through transfer to an animal shelter or through euthanasia. This view is rooted in historical frames of urban pests whereby “the construction of animals as problems relies upon cultural understandings of nature/culture relationships” (Jerolmack 2008:72). Problem animals represent “the antithesis” of the ideal social/cultural human space and order where nature is subdued. Pigeons, for example, were early “problem animals,” with media depicting them as filthy, immoral, and a public health issue. As a result, the feeding of pigeons was outlawed, and their extermination was deemed necessary (Jerolmack 2008). Particular types or breeds of dogs have also been framed by the “pigeon effect,” with a new breed of dog becoming the representative of canine evil in each decade. In the 1960s, it was the German Shepherd; in the 1970s, the Doberman Pinscher; since then it has been the pit bull (Armstrong, Tomasello, and Hunter 2001). Providing animal welfare services requires more local government action than mere animal control dealing with problem animals. Animal welfare policies must not only protect the health and safety of the human population but also the health and safety of the city’s animals. Thus, animal welfare policy would include regulations protecting humans from dangerous animals, but also prohibitions on the mistreatment of animals, define proper training for animal control officers and other animal welfare personnel, ensure that stray and relinquished animals are cared for in a humane manner, and that adoption be emphasized over euthanasia. In short, urban animal welfare policy goes beyond the local “dog catcher” of yesterday. Multiple Streams Framework Multiple streams theory focuses on how social conditions, such as issues related to the welfare of animals, become defined as policy problems and gain access to the public agenda. According to John Kingdon’s (1995) classic formulation, three streams flow through the policy process: problems, policies, and politics. These streams run separately but can join at critical points or “policy windows,” as the result of the efforts of policy entrepreneurs. At these junctures, specific policies can be developed for future consideration by policy makers. Central to this process is the role of information, which affects the lens for viewing and understanding public problems, and helps define policy options (Deutsch 1966). Because ambiguity and uncertainty are inherent to the policy-making environment, information and narratives shape and clarify thinking about problems and policies (Feldman 1989). Kingdon (1995) referred to federal policy processes as “organized anarchies” where participants come and go, citizens and policy makers do not know what they want, and the “technology” for problem solving and policy implementation is unclear. Under such conditions, narratives, and specifically, a “dominant narrative,” are essential to recognizing and defining problems as public ones that should be addressed by government, identifying potential policy solutions, and gaining legislative approval (Roe 1994). Issues of animal welfare must vie with innumerable other problems, needs, and desires because of three assumptions underlying the multiple streams framework: there are many potential problems but only limited individual attention; legislative bodies have finite capacity to attend to problems, and tend to address the most urgent first; and, solutions and problems are developed separately and may not come together (Ruggie 1998). In these instances, roaming animals and other aspects of animal welfare, no matter the potential health, humane, and disorder implications, may not make it to the public agenda, particularly in distressed cities with limited resources. If the “problem load” is too high and there are capacity constraints prohibiting action, it becomes more difficult for any individual issue to get on the agenda and the costs related to any given policy solution may keep it from surviving in the policy stream (Wolman 1992; Zahariadis 2003). The media have a critical role in the policy process because of the centrality of information in framing the meaning of problems (Jones and Baumgartner 2005). Labels and symbols are used by policy entrepreneurs and decision makers to manipulate emotions, give meaning to problems, raise awareness, and develop consensus. Focusing events can be an important part of this process. Visible and often urgent events, widely portrayed in the media, and their attendant narratives help turn conditions into problems that need to be addressed by the public sector (Rochefort and Cobb 1994). Although extant research has applied the streams framework to national policy making, it applies to urban policy as well. Indeed, there have been calls for more research that applies multiple streams to other levels of government and different policy domains (Zahariadis 2007). Some policy areas may be more amenable than others to enhanced understanding though the streams approach. It has been suggested that such areas involve values or normative assessments, where a dominant actor in the policy process is absent, and where the issue has greater salience (Dutton 1986; Zahariadis 2007). In the case of urban animal welfare, perceptions of risk from particular dog breeds, and appropriate solutions for animal overpopulation, raise deep-seated normative reactions in citizens and policy makers alike. Debates over euthanasia versus adoption, whether pit bulls are inherently dangerous or carry an underserved stigma, whether animals should be kept in the house as family members or out in the yard as protection, and even the relative importance of human versus animal issues can be extremely heated. This research contributes to the multiple streams literature in several respects. First, it focuses on a metropolitan region whereas only 15 and 8 percent of the extant literature examines cities and regions, respectively (Jones et al. 2015). Second, it considers a policy area where basic values are still forming, there is no dominant policy actor, and new groups are still being activated and organized (Reese 2015). In short, it focuses on a policy environment characterized by ambiguity, something not well addressed by the multiple streams literature to date (Cairney and Jones 2016; Zahariadis 2014). Further, the policy area of local animal welfare has not been a focus of multiple streams work (Jones et al. 2015). Finally, the analysis includes consideration of all five major components of the multiple streams theory—politics, policy, problem, entrepreneurs, and policy windows—a trait of only one-third of the existing streams literature (Jones et al. 2015). The broader implication of this research is a consideration of what happens to emerging public problems when narratives and potential policy entrepreneurs conflict and where resources and public capacity are lacking. Narrative analysis offers an approach that models the convergence of problems, politics, and policy through the present dominant frames; the importance of narratives in moving from problem conditions to the policy agenda is discussed below. The Importance of Narratives The mass media is critical to the policy process for a variety of reasons; political communication creates a “virtuous cycle” where attention heightens civic engagement leading to a greater tendency to pay attention to the news (Norris 2000). This cycle should be strongest at the local level (Yanich 2012) where research has suggested particularly robust connections between local news content and local political outcomes (Stromberg 2004). In addition to informing the public, the media play an important role in contextualizing policy discourse by the use of frames: the categorization of ideas into meaningful relationships to convey them to an audience (Radaelli 1999). Elites and policy entrepreneurs attempt to influence the development of policy frames by building upon existing myths or stories to provide a simplified version of reality (Abolafia 2004). However, the media often provide multiple frames or narratives because policy actors view problems and policies through dissimilar lenses (Rochefort and Cobb 1994). Over time these fragmented points of view may develop into a dominant meta-narrative that resolves conflict (Roe 1994:51). Historical analyses of the rise of urban animal control from the 1800s to the early twentieth century have included discussion of the role of the media in framing public attitudes about urban dog populations although narratives were often as much about political struggle between machine and reform factions (Brady 2012). The New York Times had a role in highlighting anti-cruelty policy entrepreneurs and questioned practices at the city pound (or the “prison for dogs”) related both to euthanasia and the bounty placed on dogs. Other newspapers portrayed heroic actions of stray dogs and questioned the presumed link behind rabies and the summer months (Brady 2012). Dominant narratives were not consistently presented, however. As The Times argued that the law, not dogs, was the problem, Harper’s Bazaar suggested that the dogs taken to the pound were “mere worthless mongrels” (Brady 2012:14). Media coverage of the social problem of dogs in the city over this early period shaped and reflected larger social and intellectual changes in attitudes about the role and value of animals, a growing middle class with Victorian morality regarding the admirable qualities of dogs, a shift in attitudes about patronage to a more public-regarding ethos, and the institutionalization of nonprofit or voluntary organizations in the provision of public services (Brady 2012; Wang 2012). In short, belief systems promoting the idea that animals are valuable are a necessary precursor to shared perceptions that a particular social problem exists and is indeed solvable (Irvine 2003). Issues framing—the words, narratives, and symbols used—allows readers to identify logical perspectives to reduce ambiguities in the environment (Matthes and Kohring 2008; Roe 1994). Calling dogs “worthless mongrels” on the one hand, and the pound a prison on the other, reflects conflicting naming. Naming an issue is important as it signals that it has become a collective action problem rather than just a condition in the environment (Dutton 1986). Media narratives can be shaped by policy entrepreneurs and other elites to increase an issue’s salience (Dutton 1986). Beyond individuals, how their related organizations (such as animal shelters or rescues) “think” helps define social problems and potential solutions (Irvine 2003). Possible tactics for using narrative to enhance salience include increasing the perceived: magnitude of the issue or problem (numbers of dog packs or attacks on humans); abstractness of the issue (is the problem roaming dogs or broader animal welfare); issue simplicity (narrowing the issue to blaming a specific breed of dog); and issue immediacy (referring to a stray dog “epidemic”). Articles focusing on magnitude and immediacy in particular help shape a paradox of paranoia where the perceived threat of the social problem (dogs in this case) increases fear and a sense that the issue needs to be addressed (Irvine 2003). The multiple streams framework is informative for examining urban animal welfare policy. Within the streams framework, the role of narratives is critically important for issue definition, awareness, framing, and for consolidating support for particular policy solutions. Inability to create a dominant and consistent narrative to simplify the issue and reduce ambiguity, keep the issue salient and urgent so as to open a policy window, pose clear policy solutions, and identify entrepreneurs and connect them to policy elites may keep social problems off the urban agenda. METHODOLOGY The Detroit Case The data for this research come from the Detroit metropolitan area. Detroit was selected because it has a significant roaming animal and animal welfare problem, in large part because of its high level of economic distress, which limits both individual resources to support owned animals as well as governmental resources to address animal welfare issues (Reese 2015). The economic decline of the City of Detroit is well documented (see, for example, Binelli 2012; Eisinger 2014; Galster 2012; Reese, Sands, and Skidmore 2014). The city filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 9 in July of 2013 and emerged from the process in early 2015. The economic misfortunes for residents have resulted in relocations, leaving owned animals homeless and reducing already limited resources for animal healthcare, particularly for spay and neutering services. The roaming animal problem in particular is exacerbated by foreclosures, vacancies, and structural abandonment, leaving habitats for stray and feral animals to shelter and for illegal activities such as dog fighting to be conducted. Large areas of Detroit have become derelict and abandoned (Galster and Raleigh 2014). Roughly 80,000 (23 percent) of the city’s 349,170 housing units, 36 percent of commercial parcels, 22 percent of industrial properties, and about 20 square miles of the land area are vacant (Reese et al. 2014). A 2013 survey of animal welfare organizations serving Detroit indicated an average of 7,692 dogs and 18,000 cats roaming free in the city (the high estimates were 50,000 dogs and 150,000 cats) (Reese 2015). Respondents see animal abandonment as the most serious animal welfare problem in the community (85 percent of respondents). Other serious animal welfare issues include organized dog fighting (78 percent), outdoor tethering of dogs (71 percent), and animal abuse and neglect (70 percent). Seventy-three percent of respondents said that the greatest barrier to the success of their organizations is simply the size of the animal welfare problem in Detroit (Reese 2015). Detroit Animal Control, a city agency, reported 903 dog bites to humans in 2012 from both owned and stray dogs. The Emergency Department Syndromic Surveillance System of the Michigan Department of Community Health indicated 6,600 dog bites to Detroit residents from 2004–2013, a figure nearly four times that of cities nationwide (Holmquist and Elixhauser 2008). Content Analysis To explore the role of media narratives in getting animal welfare issues onto the public policy agenda we did an online search of the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press papers from 2000 to 2013 in Lexis-Nexis, ProQuest, and Factiva search engines. These newspapers are the only major local papers that cover Detroit and the rest of the metropolitan area. Relevant keywords (e.g., “stray animal,” “Humane Society,” “animal shelter,” “dog attack,” and so forth) were identified in the headline or lead paragraph of the articles to select those on the topics of interest. The complete articles were then read and coded for the presence of one or more keywords4 4 The list of keywords used for content analysis is available from the authors. as well as identifying codes (e.g., headline text, section of paper, page, and date of search) and the focus and nature the narrative. One author initially coded the articles, but detailed summaries were also entered into the data set. The second author then read the summaries and in a few cases revised the codes. Focus of the narrative included, for example, specific groups or organizations mentioned; topic such as dog fighting, dog bites, potential changes to local ordinances, adoption events; issues in the city versus the suburbs; and particular breeds of dogs (generally pit bulls). Nature of the narrative included: whether the article was generally positive or critical of the individual, group, or organization of focus; how it portrayed pit bulls for example (as victims of abuse or as threats to the community); whether pit bulls were emphasized in dog attack articles, and so on. The nature of the narrative (i.e., positive or negative) was not coded quantitatively or by keyword, in part because individual articles sometimes had mixed narratives; nature of the narratives is described qualitatively in the discussion that follows. These codes and narratives were then analyzed to understand how the public policy discourse has been shaped and changed over time, in particular, to assess dominant themes in the meta-narrative. For example, articles identified by the code words stray or feral animals were then read to determine the nature of the animal referred to and the tone of the narrative, whether the discussion focused on the danger of roaming animals to humans or on the welfare of the animal or both. In total, the overall search returned 787 hits of the 29 relevant keywords identified in 672 different articles. These articles occurred primarily in the Metro news section, covering issues of the metropolitan Detroit region with the largest number in Section A. NARRATIVE ANALYSIS OF NEWSPAPER COVERAGE The analysis of media narratives proceeds as follows. First, general trends in coverage of animal welfare issues over time are presented. This is followed by discussion of a specific focusing event that should have served to open a policy window through which animal welfare issues could have moved onto the public policy agenda. To be more specific, Roger Cobb and Charles Elder (1972) distinguished between the systemic (issues being discussed in society) and institutional (issues being discussed in a particular institution) agendas. The latter is what is specifically referenced in this article as the public policy agenda. The rest of the discussion of media narratives is organized around Kingdon’s three streams: problem, policy, and politics. Narratives by stream are explored followed by arguments about the failure of the streams to converge, even in the presence of an apparent focusing event. Overall Trends The first question driving the research is to explore how issues of animal welfare have been framed in Detroit’s media over time. Figures 1 and 2 and Table 1 present data related to this question. Generally, media reports are most likely to focus on the following themes: Humane Society (most commonly referring to the Michigan Humane Society [MHS]), pit bulls, animal shelters, euthanasia, dog bites, dog fighting, animal control (most commonly referring to Detroit Animal Control, DAC), stray and feral dogs, and animal welfare groups (see Table 1). Even for these keywords, there is a good bit of volatility in the levels of attention from year to year (Figure 1).5 5 Some keywords have been combined in Figure 1 for ease of presentation: all mentions of public policy solutions to the animal welfare problem have been combined, as have Humane Society and animal shelters. Euthanasia, the case of a specific dog “Ace,” and pit bulls show a spike in mentions in 2011, Detroit Animal Control evidences a spike in 2013, and reports of dog bites/attacks spike in 2007.6 6 Pit bull also spikes in 2007. Mentions of animal rescue groups reach highs in 2005 and 2013 while the Humane Society/animal shelters make frequent appearances. The rest of the keywords have relatively consistent and low mentions over time. Figure 1. View largeDownload slide Use of Keywords Over Time Figure 1. View largeDownload slide Use of Keywords Over Time Figure 2. View largeDownload slide Most Common Keywords Over Time Figure 2. View largeDownload slide Most Common Keywords Over Time Table 1. Total Keywords Appearing Total Animal issues  Pit bull 160  Dog bite/attack 36  Dog fighting 35  Stray/feral animal 32 Groups  Humane Society 250  Animal Control 29  Animal shelter 158  Other animal welfare groups 32 Policies and legislation  Euthanize/euthanization/euthanasia 41  Breed specific legislation 5  Animal foster 2  Trap neuter and return 1  Animal chaining 0  Animal capture / retrieval 0  Pet microchip 0  Mandatory spay/neuter 0 Total Animal issues  Pit bull 160  Dog bite/attack 36  Dog fighting 35  Stray/feral animal 32 Groups  Humane Society 250  Animal Control 29  Animal shelter 158  Other animal welfare groups 32 Policies and legislation  Euthanize/euthanization/euthanasia 41  Breed specific legislation 5  Animal foster 2  Trap neuter and return 1  Animal chaining 0  Animal capture / retrieval 0  Pet microchip 0  Mandatory spay/neuter 0 Table 1. Total Keywords Appearing Total Animal issues  Pit bull 160  Dog bite/attack 36  Dog fighting 35  Stray/feral animal 32 Groups  Humane Society 250  Animal Control 29  Animal shelter 158  Other animal welfare groups 32 Policies and legislation  Euthanize/euthanization/euthanasia 41  Breed specific legislation 5  Animal foster 2  Trap neuter and return 1  Animal chaining 0  Animal capture / retrieval 0  Pet microchip 0  Mandatory spay/neuter 0 Total Animal issues  Pit bull 160  Dog bite/attack 36  Dog fighting 35  Stray/feral animal 32 Groups  Humane Society 250  Animal Control 29  Animal shelter 158  Other animal welfare groups 32 Policies and legislation  Euthanize/euthanization/euthanasia 41  Breed specific legislation 5  Animal foster 2  Trap neuter and return 1  Animal chaining 0  Animal capture / retrieval 0  Pet microchip 0  Mandatory spay/neuter 0 Figure 2 shows the most frequently appearing keywords—pit bulls, Humane Society, animal shelters, euthanasia—over time. Reporting on euthanasia does not begin until 2003 and remains generally low except for 2011. As noted, mentions of animal shelters (exclusive of Detroit Animal Control) remain high over time, particularly after 2004. Pit bulls are mentioned with increasing frequency starting in 2005 but less so in 2012 and 2013. A recent study on reporting of dogs in the media suggests that stories about dogs are more likely than other news to spread through national outlets, proving the old adage that “everyone loves a dog story” (Atkinson, Deam, and Uscinski 2014). Matthew Atkinson, Maria Deam, and Joseph Uscinski (2014) argued that this is because entertainment or soft news reports featuring dogs sell more papers. However, this does not appear to be the case with reporting on animals in the Detroit newspapers. Figure 3 shows the percentage of stories that represent hard news about dogs over time. Here hard news stories included dog fighting, animal cruelty, dog attacks/bites, breed specific legislation (BSL), and bans on the killing of wolves. Soft news stories included mentions of adoption events, service dogs returning from war, obituaries requesting donations for animal welfare charities, plays about dogs, adoptions of particular dogs, and even reporting on the President’s new puppy. While hard news stories about animals have always been common in Detroit, they represent the majority of reports after 2006. Figure 3. View largeDownload slide Hard vs. Soft News Stories Figure 3. View largeDownload slide Hard vs. Soft News Stories Focusing Event This project was designed around a specific focusing event in order to assess whether it would stabilize and heighten media focus on issues related to animal welfare. In November 2011, an emaciated pit bull-type dog was found outside of an Ace Hardware store in Detroit. A concerned citizen called City of Detroit Animal Control (DAC). The dog, known as “Ace,” quickly became a media cause célèbre and pleas to “Save Ace” and offers of adoption from individuals and rescue groups flooded in. Yet, Ace was euthanized within the state-mandated holding period for stray dogs, in violation of a court injunction ordering a hold on euthanasia of pit bulls at DAC, even in the face of publicity that spread around the world (see, for example, Detroit News 2011). The incident pitted a host of nonprofit rescue groups and licensed animal shelters against the city bureaucracy. Media coverage highlighted not only the plight of stray and feral dogs in Detroit but also policies and practices at DAC, the city’s licensed animal shelter. DAC’s policy was to euthanize pit bull-type dogs in all cases where an owner could not be found.7 7 New DAC management was put in place at the end of 2015 and pit bulls are now being transferred to other shelters and rescues. The Ace incident had the hallmarks of a classic focusing event, in that policy windows are “opened by compelling problems or events in the political stream” (Zahariadis 2007:74). The compelling event (Ace) was accompanied by two of three critical changes in the local political stream in Detroit: a changed/heightened local mood regarding the plight of roaming animals in the city, and Ace in particular, and development of pressure groups related to the issue. The third element of change in the political stream described by Kingdon (1995), administrative or legislative turnover, was not present. There was a very quick escalation to high public salience, with citizens becoming aware of Ace’s plight during a two-week period, with multiple news stories, editorials, and letters to the editor, as well as an active online social media campaign. And, while the Ace event primarily focused on pit bulls in the city (both in terms of saving them and fear of them) and DAC policies regarding euthanasia, other central policy narratives were intricately tied to the event. First, because of the perceived “breed” of Ace, breed specific ordinances or legislation (i.e., whether pit bull ownership should be prohibited) was also part of the focusing event. Second, the fact that Ace was a pit bull-type dog, the type most commonly perceived to be bred, trained, and used for dog fighting, also emphasized the issues of both organized and informal dog fighting in the metropolitan area (Delise 2007; Kalof and Taylor 2007). In short, the focusing event highlighted a number of critical animal welfare issues in the city: roaming dogs, pit bull-type dogs, DAC policy, and potential policy solutions and policy entrepreneurs. Figure 4 clearly shows the presence of the potential focusing event in the media. Spikes in mentions of euthanasia practices, stories about Ace, and Detroit Animal Control all occurred in 2011; mentions of animal control increased even more in 2013. Indeed, looking back at Figure 1 it is clear that a variety of other animal-related stories also peaked at this time, including mentions of pit bull-type dogs in general. The Ace story appeared to have no impact on mentions of stray dogs, dog bites and attacks, or policies to address animal welfare issues. Further, media attention on most aspects of animal welfare was not sustained after the Ace incident, suggesting that it did not act as a focusing event to push animal welfare onto the public policy agenda, i.e., city council and the mayor’s office did not make any changes to local animal control ordinances nor did they require changes at Detroit Animal Control—a new director or demands for procedural changes, for example. After 2011, only animal shelters, rescue groups, and Detroit Animal Control remained a focus of media reporting. In short, Ace’s highly publicized euthanasia did not produce lasting policy change in the city, as a focusing event demands; it is an example of a failed focusing event perhaps because other key factors were not in place. In part, this failure may be related to the fact that Ace’s was not a “beautiful case” in that although it had a victim, visible and disturbing views of suffering, and an identifiable perpetrator in the form of DAC, a happy ending ideally with a healthy and happy animal in “after” photos is necessary to receive extensive media coverage (Arluke 2006). Successful animal cruelty media cases typically involve smaller dogs, and thus by definition not pit bulls, and are more effective when grieving owners or happy adopters are also present (Arluke 2006). The following sections discuss other reasons this focusing event failed to move animal welfare issues on to the public agenda using the lens of Kingdon’s (1995) three streams. Figure 4. View largeDownload slide Content Related to Focusing Event Figure 4. View largeDownload slide Content Related to Focusing Event Themes Based on Kingdon’s (1995) theory, three streams must be joined for emerging issues to get on the public policy agenda; problems, policies, and politics. The multiple narratives related to the nature of the social problem as presented in the news media are discussed below followed by reporting on potential policy solutions (or lack thereof) and by reporting of the advocacy groups and other individuals who might act as potential policy entrepreneurs. Problem Stream The problem stream has been narrowly defined by different groups and interests often raising conflicting narratives about what aspect of the animal issue is the “problem.” These fragmented and conflicting narratives have kept a single coherent problem from being presented to the public. One narrative in the immediate wake of the Ace incident was the plight of stray dogs in the city and high euthanasia rates at DAC and the MHS Detroit Center for Animal Care.8 8 MHS Detroit Center is a licensed shelter operated by a nonprofit entity rather than by the city itself. Given that these shelters are among the 11 worst in the state, accounting for more the 40 percent of the cats and dogs euthanized annually, this narrative is not without merit. As noted, the debate specifically related to Ace spiked in 2011, primarily over the course of two weeks (November 9-26), but immediately fell from the media spotlight; media reporting of euthanasia rates at Detroit shelters has been ongoing, however. A secondary narrative surrounds pit bull-type dogs, specifically wherein they are blamed for the extent of dog attacks on humans and other animals; thus the attacks and a specific type of dog represent the “problem” stream. A third narrative surrounds dog fighting in the city and its suburbs, defining the animal welfare problem as an issue of criminality. Narrative 1: Ace, Detroit Shelters, and Euthanasia The narrative directly surrounding the Ace incident was exclusively supportive of the plight of the dog. The coverage expressed criticism of Detroit Animal Control’s mandatory euthanasia policy and subsequent actions; highlighted public demonstrations and candlelight vigils to save Ace and to protest DAC policies and procedures; indicated the creation of nonprofit groups to save Ace and other animals; and included reporting of many offers of homes for Ace from individuals and rescue groups. Reporting also included factual accounts related to the court injunction on pit bull euthanasia while Ace was in DAC custody; stories about Detroit Animal Control during this period were exclusively negative. The narrative on Ace, the MHS, and DAC is intricately tied to euthanasia policies and rates. DAC is a state-licensed animal shelter and acts as the city-operated “pound.” Animals coming into DAC custody either via animal control officers or through citizen relinquishment are supposed to stay at this shelter for the state-mandated stray holding period, are then evaluated, and some (those deemed “adoptable”) are released to MHS in Detroit for adoption.9 9 As of December 2015, animals started being released to a number of other shelters and rescues. Although mandated to report intake and disposition numbers to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), DAC neglected to report them up until 2012. Numbers from that period show an intake of 1,145 dogs of which 844 (74 percent) were euthanized. The 2013 annual shelter report indicated that DAC euthanized 97 percent of the animals in its custody. Reporting on euthanasia predates the Ace event and includes several types of stories. Early reports talked about injured horses and ducks that were euthanized and individual dogs that were saved from this fate by adoptions at the last second. The method for euthanasia is mentioned over time, mostly in opposition to the use of gas as opposed to lethal injection. Finally, many stories have addressed the high kill rates at MHS shelters across Michigan generally and in the Detroit shelter specifically. Again, this narrative was well represented before the Ace incident and continues on after it. No stories that are part of this narrative are supportive of euthanasia. In short, this narrative defines the organizations meant to address animal welfare—MHS and DAC—as the “problem.” Narrative 2: Blaming the Pit Bull Ironically, given the widespread narrative sympathetic of Ace, there is a parallel narrative identifying pit bull-type dogs as the primary animal-related “problem.” Dog attacks on humans and animals are a prominent theme of the narrative discourse contributing to a largely negative public perception of pit bulls. This “breed” is much more likely to receive coverage and attention, suggesting that the public views pit bulls as a “problem” that needs addressing through legislative and other efforts (Cohen and Richardson 2002; Delise 2007; Twining, Arluke, and Patronek 2000). Pit bull-type dogs are often portrayed as the aggressor in policy narratives in metropolitan Detroit. Many stray and owned dogs were attacked by other dogs throughout the time frame reviewed. On occasion, other large dog breeds are identified as being responsible for attacks, but generally this narrative emphasizes the pit bull “breed” as particularly dangerous and unpredictable. Table 2 reviews the scope of attention paid to dog attacks on humans and other animals. The coverage suggests a pattern of “blaming the pit bull” over time, as far fewer attacks by other breeds make the news. Indeed, similar findings have been reported in studies of media in other areas (Cohen and Richardson 2002). Victim ages range widely, but fatal attacks were reported most often among the very young (four attacks on infants under one year), elderly (two attacks on adults over 65), or animals (five fatal attacks on dogs and one horse). Table 2. Dog Attacks in Detroit and the Suburbs Detroit Child Adult Police Dog Total Fatal  Pit bull 1 1 2  Other 1 1 Non-fatal  Pit bull 7 1 1 9  Other 1 1 Threatened 0 Suburbs Child Adult Police Dog Total Fatal  Pit bull 1 2 3  Other 2 2 Non-fatal  Pit bull 3 3  Other 2 2 4 Threatened  Pit bull 2 3 5 Detroit Child Adult Police Dog Total Fatal  Pit bull 1 1 2  Other 1 1 Non-fatal  Pit bull 7 1 1 9  Other 1 1 Threatened 0 Suburbs Child Adult Police Dog Total Fatal  Pit bull 1 2 3  Other 2 2 Non-fatal  Pit bull 3 3  Other 2 2 4 Threatened  Pit bull 2 3 5 Table 2. Dog Attacks in Detroit and the Suburbs Detroit Child Adult Police Dog Total Fatal  Pit bull 1 1 2  Other 1 1 Non-fatal  Pit bull 7 1 1 9  Other 1 1 Threatened 0 Suburbs Child Adult Police Dog Total Fatal  Pit bull 1 2 3  Other 2 2 Non-fatal  Pit bull 3 3  Other 2 2 4 Threatened  Pit bull 2 3 5 Detroit Child Adult Police Dog Total Fatal  Pit bull 1 1 2  Other 1 1 Non-fatal  Pit bull 7 1 1 9  Other 1 1 Threatened 0 Suburbs Child Adult Police Dog Total Fatal  Pit bull 1 2 3  Other 2 2 Non-fatal  Pit bull 3 3  Other 2 2 4 Threatened  Pit bull 2 3 5 Aside from these descriptive indicators, the data in Table 2 show some other interesting patterns. First, children in Detroit and adults in the suburbs are the most frequently reported victims of attacks. A variety of reasons for this could be considered: children in Detroit are more likely to be attacked due to a greater number of roaming dogs or have less adult supervision outside or around dogs. Overall, reported attacks are higher in the suburbs. Again, this could be because there actually are more attacks in the suburbs or because they are more unexpected and hence newsworthy there. Indeed, the fact that no dog “threats” are reported for the city bears this last supposition out. Finally, reports of pit bull attacks are more common than for other dogs in Detroit but the balance is more even in the suburbs; indeed, non-fatal attack reporting more frequently mentions other types of dogs. Finally, other dogs are more frequently reported as the victims of dog attacks in the suburbs, again perhaps because it is more likely to be news there and/or because the victims are more likely to be owned dogs. This narrative highlights dog attacks as the primary animal-related problem in Detroit and its suburbs and pit bull type dogs as the primary source of the reported problem, particularly in the city itself. Narrative 3: Dog Fighting Another aspect of the problem stream stems from attention paid to dog fighting in metropolitan Detroit. From 2000 to 2013, dog fighting incidents were investigated and prosecuted in Detroit and nearby communities (see Table 3). This also makes clear that dog fighting is not being portrayed as a Detroit problem specifically. Figure 5 demonstrates how dog fighting was covered more heavily in certain years, particularly 2007, and seems to fall and rise around this and two smaller peaks, 2001 and 2012. Related to the theme of pit bulls as the “problem,” these stories identify the involvement of dogs perceived to be of this type. Table 3. Dog Fighting Ring Investigations in Metropolitan Detroit, 2000–2013 Year City Dog Type 2000 Canton Twp Pit bull 2001 Pontiac Pit bull 2003 Detroit Pit bull 2007 Detroit Pit bull Inkster Pit bull 2008 Detroit Pit bull 2009 Detroit Pit bull 2011 Raisinville Twp Pit bull Year City Dog Type 2000 Canton Twp Pit bull 2001 Pontiac Pit bull 2003 Detroit Pit bull 2007 Detroit Pit bull Inkster Pit bull 2008 Detroit Pit bull 2009 Detroit Pit bull 2011 Raisinville Twp Pit bull Table 3. Dog Fighting Ring Investigations in Metropolitan Detroit, 2000–2013 Year City Dog Type 2000 Canton Twp Pit bull 2001 Pontiac Pit bull 2003 Detroit Pit bull 2007 Detroit Pit bull Inkster Pit bull 2008 Detroit Pit bull 2009 Detroit Pit bull 2011 Raisinville Twp Pit bull Year City Dog Type 2000 Canton Twp Pit bull 2001 Pontiac Pit bull 2003 Detroit Pit bull 2007 Detroit Pit bull Inkster Pit bull 2008 Detroit Pit bull 2009 Detroit Pit bull 2011 Raisinville Twp Pit bull Figure 5. View largeDownload slide Issue Attention Cycle of Dog Fighting Figure 5. View largeDownload slide Issue Attention Cycle of Dog Fighting Policy Stream As a whole, potential policy solutions to address the animal welfare problem have not been a large part of the media narrative. A caveat is in order here; exploring the policy stream in more depth would require a different methodology than was employed here in the content analysis such as interviews with those specifically involved in the policy area. As noted in Figure 1, discussion of policies is very low and almost flat over time. Figure 6 shows the frequency of mentions of various types of policy solutions to the animal welfare problem in Detroit. As noted, mentions of euthanasia as a means of addressing the issue are frequent and almost always refer negatively to animal shelter policy, particularly related to DAC and the MHS. In this regard there is a consistent narrative that such policies are an inappropriate and undesirable policy solution. Figure 6. View largeDownload slide Mentions of Policies Figure 6. View largeDownload slide Mentions of Policies The next most frequently mentioned policy is BSL. Banning or otherwise regulating the ownership of particular breeds of dogs is a relatively common policy response to the issue of roaming dogs and fear of dog attacks. Currently, most BSL relates specifically to pit bull-type dogs or “dangerous breeds,” which are commonly understood to include pit bulls but may also include Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and Dobermans (Armstrong et al. 2001). Several cities debated but chose not to enact BSL (see Table 4). Even within the BSL narrative there is a spectrum of policy options represented, ranging from registration of animals proven to be vicious to regulations placed on pit bull owners (fencing and insurance requirements, for example) to outright bans on owning pit bulls. A pit bull ban came the closest to meeting the five criteria for policy survival posited by multiple streams theory (Jones et al. 2015) in that segments of the community supported such a ban (it had value acceptability among some) and it was administratively feasible to create such a policy. However, a ban was not technically feasible, resources were inadequate to implement it, and a network of interest groups was strongly against it; most local and state attempts at BSL have been met with demonstrations by breed advocates.10 10 See Make Michigan Next’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/MakeMichiganNext; retrieved March 27, 2017) or the Mi-Paca website (https://www.mi-paca.org/mmn; retrieved March 27, 2017). Table 4. Mentions of BSL Debated, but Not Enacted Year City Breed(s) Description 2008 Southfield Pit bull Ownership regulations 2009 Warren Pit bull Ownership ban/regulations 2009 Eastpointe Dangerous breeds Ownership regulations 2011 Sterling Hts Dangerous breeds Ownership regulations 2011 State of MI Pit bull; bull terriers Ownership ban/regulations 2013 Detroit Pit bull Puppy ownership ban/adult dog sterilization mandate Enacted Legislation Year City Breed(s) Description 2009 Farmington Hills Dangerous animals Obedience training; signage; enclosure; personal injury liability insurance 1990 Waterford Twp Pit bull Ownership ban 1993 Grosse Pte Woods Vicious animals Ownership ban 2008 Wyandotte Vicious animals Registration with city 2009 Westland Pit bull Leashing mandate (if attacked person/animal) 2012 Mt. Clemens Dangerous breeds Leashing mandate (changed from only pit bulls) 2013 Royal Oak All dog breeds Licensing/leashing enforcement Debated, but Not Enacted Year City Breed(s) Description 2008 Southfield Pit bull Ownership regulations 2009 Warren Pit bull Ownership ban/regulations 2009 Eastpointe Dangerous breeds Ownership regulations 2011 Sterling Hts Dangerous breeds Ownership regulations 2011 State of MI Pit bull; bull terriers Ownership ban/regulations 2013 Detroit Pit bull Puppy ownership ban/adult dog sterilization mandate Enacted Legislation Year City Breed(s) Description 2009 Farmington Hills Dangerous animals Obedience training; signage; enclosure; personal injury liability insurance 1990 Waterford Twp Pit bull Ownership ban 1993 Grosse Pte Woods Vicious animals Ownership ban 2008 Wyandotte Vicious animals Registration with city 2009 Westland Pit bull Leashing mandate (if attacked person/animal) 2012 Mt. Clemens Dangerous breeds Leashing mandate (changed from only pit bulls) 2013 Royal Oak All dog breeds Licensing/leashing enforcement Table 4. Mentions of BSL Debated, but Not Enacted Year City Breed(s) Description 2008 Southfield Pit bull Ownership regulations 2009 Warren Pit bull Ownership ban/regulations 2009 Eastpointe Dangerous breeds Ownership regulations 2011 Sterling Hts Dangerous breeds Ownership regulations 2011 State of MI Pit bull; bull terriers Ownership ban/regulations 2013 Detroit Pit bull Puppy ownership ban/adult dog sterilization mandate Enacted Legislation Year City Breed(s) Description 2009 Farmington Hills Dangerous animals Obedience training; signage; enclosure; personal injury liability insurance 1990 Waterford Twp Pit bull Ownership ban 1993 Grosse Pte Woods Vicious animals Ownership ban 2008 Wyandotte Vicious animals Registration with city 2009 Westland Pit bull Leashing mandate (if attacked person/animal) 2012 Mt. Clemens Dangerous breeds Leashing mandate (changed from only pit bulls) 2013 Royal Oak All dog breeds Licensing/leashing enforcement Debated, but Not Enacted Year City Breed(s) Description 2008 Southfield Pit bull Ownership regulations 2009 Warren Pit bull Ownership ban/regulations 2009 Eastpointe Dangerous breeds Ownership regulations 2011 Sterling Hts Dangerous breeds Ownership regulations 2011 State of MI Pit bull; bull terriers Ownership ban/regulations 2013 Detroit Pit bull Puppy ownership ban/adult dog sterilization mandate Enacted Legislation Year City Breed(s) Description 2009 Farmington Hills Dangerous animals Obedience training; signage; enclosure; personal injury liability insurance 1990 Waterford Twp Pit bull Ownership ban 1993 Grosse Pte Woods Vicious animals Ownership ban 2008 Wyandotte Vicious animals Registration with city 2009 Westland Pit bull Leashing mandate (if attacked person/animal) 2012 Mt. Clemens Dangerous breeds Leashing mandate (changed from only pit bulls) 2013 Royal Oak All dog breeds Licensing/leashing enforcement There are no mentions of other common solutions to animal welfare problems such as ordinances forbidding chaining of animals in backyards, trap neuter and return programs,11 11 Typically, feral cats are trapped, spay/neutered, and given vaccines, and then returned to their original location, and ideally are then fed and maintained by caretakers. Some cities in Europe and Asia have begun to experiment with TNR for, dogs (SPCA, Hong Kong 2017; Mountain 2012). efforts to retrieve roaming animals, pet microchip requirements, mandatory licensing, or spay and neuter requirements. There is a single mention of a nonprofit’s effort to encourage foster homes for animals. Perhaps because of conflict over the problem narrative, it is difficult to gain media attention for potential solutions much less define a coherent policy narrative that groups can rally around and decision makers could address. Politics Stream As applied at the national level, the politics stream includes mood (general public values), party ideology, and positions of relevant interests, including advocacy groups and other individual actors. These are not fully applicable here. Conducting surveys of local mood was beyond the scope of the project and Detroit holds nonpartisan elections. Thus, the content analysis for the politics stream focuses on relevant actors and interest groups. While not synonymous with the politics stream, such actors could potentially take on the role of policy entrepreneurs. There are some notable interests that emerge in media coverage of animal welfare issues in the Detroit metropolitan area. These include individual lawmakers, visible individuals who have organized rescue nonprofits, and a broad network of nonprofit organizations. First, there are local and state lawmakers who have fought to strengthen BSL. For example, State Representative Timothy Bledsoe (D-Grosse Pointe) worked to ban pit bull ownership statewide in 2011, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Locally, city council members in suburbs like Wyandotte and Allen Park were motivated by attacks on constituents to draft BSL. These individuals do not seem to be working as part of a larger social network like that of many pit bull advocates. There are several narratives surrounding animal rescue groups/organizations. First, there are numerous mentions of the Michigan Humane Society as opposed to other nonprofit animal rescue groups which are, with the exception of one story, negative. Most stories relate to their high kill rates (although the positive coverage indicated that MHS planned to try to address this). Reporting on the other nonprofits prior to the Ace incident describes positive events such as fundraising and the need to alleviate overcrowding at DAC. During 2011, most mentions of nonprofit groups related to their efforts and offers to save Ace. Post-Ace fundraising stories are still present but for the first time stories also include services provided by such groups: advice about pet care, vaccination clinics, and the like. Figure 7 summarizes the specific groups mentioned in reports over time. Here the emphasis on DAC and MHS is clear (with content mostly negative) as is the spike in mentions of other groups during 2011. Figure 7. View largeDownload slide Mentions of Groups Figure 7. View largeDownload slide Mentions of Groups It should be noted that many nonprofit rescues operate in the city; based on a 2013 survey of the population of such groups, some are much more active in animal rescue than the groups noted here (Reese 2015). This raises an important point about the fragmented problem narrative in the city. Groups such as Dog Aide, C.H.A.I.N.E.D., and All About Animals Rescue are extremely active in providing services and in policy advocacy (in the case of Dog Aide) and have a strong social media presence and “street creds” (Reese 2015). The meager newspaper coverage of these and other groups suggests that they are not utilizing traditional print media to circulate their message or to address the public. However, Detroit Dog Rescue (DDR) founder Hush (Daniel Carlisle) is much more active in seeking media attention and thus is more likely to appear in traditional media outlets, making DDR the most commonly referenced group after the Humane Society and Detroit Animal Control. IMPLICATIONS OF FINDINGS Before the findings are discussed, several caveats should be considered regarding the methodology employed here. First, the research did not code or analyze stories in televised news nor in social media. Animal rescue groups, in particular, use social media intensively to stay in touch with volunteers, for crowd-sourced fundraising, to network animals needing foster care or available for adoption, for example (Reese and Ye 2016). It is possible that greater attention was paid to animal welfare issues than the analysis of print media here would suggest. Social media, including both Facebook and Twitter, should be a rich source of data for future research. It is also possible that behind-the-scenes attention to animal welfare issues was taking place but was not reported in the print media. Thus, there potentially were discussions between interest groups and city council about solutions to animal welfare concerns in the city generally and regarding the role of DAC in particular that did not gain media attention. Similarly, content analysis of the type used here does not necessarily pick up overlapping narratives between seemingly unrelated topics. An example of this would include connections between the constructions of pit bulls and the traits of owners. As noted by Harlan Weaver (2013), “debates about so-called dangerous dogs and dogs perceived to be in danger provide apt case studies for thinking through the intersections of race, species, gender, breed, and nation because they reflect social conflicts about identities” (p. 691). As society begins to define “good” and “bad” dogs it is also implicitly (and many times explicitly) defining “good” and “bad” owners. Media studies conducted in Great Britain highlight links between dog fighting, anti-social behavior, masculine violence, drug cultures, violent crime, and particular types of dog owners, as well as dog violence to human violence (Kim and Freccero 2013; Molloy 2011). Finally, as noted previously, content analysis is not able to fully explore the politics stream in terms of measuring local mood. It appears that there are several reasons why the potential focusing event of Ace was not sufficient to bring the three streams of problem, policy, and politics together to keep animal welfare issues in front of the public eye and move them onto the public policy agenda. First, no dominant narrative was presented regarding the nature of the problem. Indeed, three separate problems were identified: the practices (euthanasia and policies limiting pit bull adoption in particular) of the primary organizations tasked with addressing issues of animal welfare (DAC and MHS), pit bulls both owned and roaming, and criminality related to dog fighting. In the case of pit bulls specifically, two parallel and opposing narratives were present: concern over their treatment by DAC as well as accusations that they are inherently dangerous and should be banned. It has been suggested that the development of victims and villains is a necessary part of the contextualization of social problems (Irvine 2003). The fact that pit bulls are portrayed as both fragments the narrative and serves as a barrier to the coherent definition of a social problem. Given these conflicting narratives, it is all too easy to fall back on existing myths to provide a simplified version of reality (i.e., that all pit bulls are to be feared), thus “unlinking” the larger social problem by recasting the dog as the problem (Irvine 2003). This paradox of popularization causes social problems to be framed in ways that create popular support (pit bulls are vicious) but ignores other aspects of the problem (that behaviors of owners such as dog fighting and chaining in yards are at the root of the issue) (Irvine 2003). More recent ambiguity and uncertainty over the number of roaming dogs in the city, along with a very public feud between two visible animal advocates, has not helped to clarify narratives about the nature of the problem and has hampered the development of a consistent dominant problem narrative. Much has been written and broadcast in the media about the number of roaming dogs in Detroit (see, for example, Binelli 2012 and Reese 2014). Indeed, the count of dogs has engendered a great deal of animosity within the animal welfare community, including a relatively open feud between two individuals with long-standing interpersonal issues. Hush, the rap musician who founded DDR, claimed, in a 2012 interview in Rolling Stone, that there might be as many as 50,000 roaming dogs in the city. The World Animal Awareness Society, founded by Tom McPhee, responded by conducting dog counts in 2013 and 2014, suggesting that the number is much lower (around 3,000).12 12 McPhee’s counts, however, were one shot operations during daylight hours and did not include abandoned buildings. Given that many of the dogs are now truly “wild” this is likely to have resulted in an underestimate. The issue of the count of dogs has fed a simmering dispute between Hush and McPhee. A quote from the open social media war between these individuals illustrates the barriers to achieving a consistent problem narrative. What does it matter? Fifty or 50,000 homeless dogs, the message is clear, Detroit has a homeless dog problem. So, when a group decided to count dogs, I had no comment. The count wasn’t meant to rescue, cure, or rehabilitate the problem; it was simply there to challenge DDR and my message to the world (Hush, Facebook, September 15, 2014). For the streams to come together a dominant problem narrative (absent in this case) must be coupled with the “technology” for problem solving in the form of potential policy solutions and the resources needed to implement those solutions. There was almost no media narrative about potential solutions other than BSL. While methods exist for addressing many animal welfare issues, these have not been presented for public debate in Detroit. Resource constraints and “problem overload” are significant barriers to the development of viable policies. Given the city’s bankruptcy, it should be obvious that there is a lack of resources to address human—much less animal—suffering (Reese et al. 2014). During the period of this study (2000–2013), various new issues, often requiring significant investment of resources, did reach the public policy agenda, including the M1 Rail System (a circulating streetcar), the reinstatement of the Detroit Gran Prix, and, after a protracted process, decisions on a new bridge to Windsor. Aside from infrastructure, major policy change was evident in the shift from an at-large to a district-based city council system and an extensive program to demolish derelict and abandoned structures in Detroit’s neighborhoods. Thus, resource constraints did not prohibit all issues and policies from reaching and being considered on the public policy agenda, but appear to have been a more significant barrier when it came to animal issues. These resource barriers might be overcome through a greater role of the nonprofit sector to offset limitations of MHS and particularly DAC. However, conflict within the political stream limits the expansion and coordination of nonprofit capacity. Conflict among potential policy entrepreneurs means that there is no coherent and persistent effort to get the issue before public decision makers let alone to achieve consensus around a specific policy agenda. Many potential entrepreneurs and groups are so focused on providing necessary animal services that they have little time or resources to devote to political advocacy (Reese 2015). To return to a question posed at the beginning of the article, “what happens to emerging public problems when narratives and potential policy entrepreneurs conflict and where resources and public capacity are severely lacking”—the answer is nothing happens. While the bulk of animal rescue services in the city appear to be provided by networks of nonprofit organizations, such networks are small and unstable and few organizations are focused on policy advocacy (Reese and Ye 2016). Hence policy entrepreneurs with a coherent voice and policy agenda are lacking. Three salient narratives were explored here: concerns related to the Detroit shelters, including the Ace incident; blame on pit bulls as the “dangerous” breed; and the problem of dog fighting. Of these, only dog fighting has gained and lost attention repeatedly in the media over time. Issues rise and fall without clear direction—including the momentary importance of the Ace incident—but the lack of a focused entrepreneurial presence means the attention remains only temporary. Various policy solutions are offered—breed specific legislation, mandatory euthanasia policies—but these do not maintain any sort of focus over time. Without the concerted efforts of policy entrepreneurs, these issues will not support long-term policy change for the City of Detroit. It is also possible that in an environment of severe fiscal distress and problem overload, concerns about animal welfare are superseded by concerns about human welfare. Indeed, over the course of the history of animal issues in the United States runs a counter-narrative that suggests that it is frivolous or even immoral to be too concerned about animals particularly in the face of human suffering (Arluke 2006). Animal control officers try not to appear too aggressive about cases in court for fear that they will be dismissed as crusaders by judges (Arluke 2004). Clearly Detroit has a surfeit of problems, yet the connections between public safety and health and roaming animals, the potential for dog bites and transmission of disease, and criminality related to dog fighting all suggest that there are many elements of the animal welfare story that would help it move onto the public agenda if framed in an effective and consistent manner. The framing of “beautiful” cruelty cases allows the “amorphous animal community to step out of its isolation” and express “central values, long-term dreams, and heart-felt sentiments,” and shape connections for the public between animal and human welfare. Thus, the Ace story reveals as much about the human condition as it does about animals and posits that acts of neglect and violence against animals will ultimately be directed at humans (Arluke 2006:168). In other words, severe financial distress plays out in disorder in both the human and animal communities. Still, the financial decline of Detroit occurring during the time frame of this case very likely had a significant role in preventing some, but not all, social issues from getting on the public policy agenda. For example, while the human resource budget of DAC remained relatively stable while the city was under an emergency financial manager, the shelter had essentially no operating budget. In such a situation the only viable way of addressing new social problems such as animal welfare would be for the resources of the voluntary and nonprofit sector to be leveraged, but conflicting narratives and a history of distrust between the rescue community and DAC prohibited this. However, current events suggest that moving out of bankruptcy may allow the city to focus more attention on new problems; DAC received a new director in December of 2015, increasing the potential for public/nonprofit cooperation. Other scholars have noted the potential role of the media as policy entrepreneurs. It could be argued that editorial decisions at the two Detroit newspapers contributed to the failure to shape a dominant narrative, thereby exploiting the apparent policy window opened by the Ace incident. Reporting of policy solutions such as spay/neuter programs, mandatory licensing, limitations on chaining dogs, and poorly fenced yards that allow dogs to roam tend not to be as sensational as dog attacks or high euthanasia rates at the local shelter that can play on emotions and thus sell papers. Positive cooperation among rescue groups may not be as newsworthy as visible feuds among high profile individuals. The need for sensationalism may override salience in the reporting of urban problems.13 13 We appreciate the thoughts of one of the reviewers on this point. In summary, analysis of all five elements of the multiple streams framework illustrates why the emerging issue of animal welfare has failed to get on the urban public policy agenda in Detroit and likely in other cities with many problems and few resources. 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A. 2014 . “Animal Welfare in Detroit: A View from the Trenches.” The Huffington Post , April 15. Retrieved April 6, 2017 (www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-reese/animal-welfare-in-detroit_b_4783762.html). Reese Laura. A. 2015 . “The Dog Days of Detroit: Urban Stray and Feral Animals.” City & Community 14 2 : 167 - 82 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Reese Laura A. , Sands Gary , Skidmore Mark . 2014 . “Memo from Motown: Is Austerity Here to Stay?” Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 7 1 : 99 - 118 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Reese Laura A. , Ye Minting . 2016 . “Filling the Gap: Networks of Animal Welfare Service Provision.” American Review of Public Administration . Retrieved October 7, 2016 (DOI: 10.1177/0275074015623377). Rochefort David A. , Cobb Roger G. . 1994 . The Politics of Problem Definition: Shaping the Policy Agenda . Lawrence : University Press of Kansas . Roe Emery . 1994 . Narrative Policy Analysis: Theory and Practice . 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Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of Social Problems. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Social Problems Oxford University Press

Everyone Loves a Dog Story: Narratives of Urban Animal Welfare Policy

Social Problems , Volume 65 (3) – Aug 1, 2018

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Abstract

Abstract Public policy related to animal issues has not been well explored in the urban politics literature. We argue that concerns related to animal welfare are increasingly pressing in many cities yet sustained attention to them appears absent from the urban policy agenda. Using the multiple streams approach, this research examines animal welfare policy in the urban context and suggests why this policy area appears not to have gained a consistent place on the public agenda. Based on a content analysis of media reporting in the Detroit metropolitan area it appears that policy entrepreneurs were unable to access the public agenda through the policy window opened by a major focusing event because of conflicting narratives about the nature of the problem, dissension among policy entrepreneurs themselves, and a lack of debate about potential policy solutions. animal welfare policy, multiple streams, policy narratives, focusing events, policy entrepreneurs Public policy related to animal issues has not been well explored in the urban politics and larger political science literatures. Yet, issues of animal welfare have long been tied to municipal politics and “animals’ presence in human society has helped shape the full range of human experiences, including matters of regulation and state power” (Wang 2012:999). We argue that concerns related to animal welfare are increasingly pressing in many cities, yet sustained attention to them appears less present on the contemporary urban public policy agenda. In U.S. cities experiencing severe economic distress such as Detroit, the case explored here—social problems related to animal welfare—must compete with human distress to gain access to the public policy agenda. To do this such issues must be framed in a coherent manner as significant social welfare problems to foster public awareness, and be backed by policy entrepreneurs ready with proposed solutions. Using the multiple streams approach, this research examines animal welfare policy in the urban context and suggests why this policy area appears not to have gained a consistent place on the public policy agenda in the contemporary era of fiscal distress. There are a variety of objective reasons why animal welfare should be on the policy agenda, including the presence of stray and feral dogs in distressed cities in the United States,1 1 Although data indicate that the number of stray and feral dogs has declined in the United States there are exceptions, specifically dense urban communities and rural areas (Clancy and Rowan 2003). formal and informal dog fighting, backyard breeding, attacks on and bites to humans and other animals, transmission of disease, and humane concerns. Overpopulation has been included as an important aspect of social problems related to animal welfare (Hamilton 2010), but the lack of consistent and comparable data makes empirical assessment of the dog population difficult2 2 Barriers to a national population baseline include the fact that there is no system to store and analyze data, extant panel surveys underrepresent transient owners and those at the lower end of the economic scale, varying methodologies for counting yield varying results, there are regional differences in pet population and care as well as urban/suburban differences (see Clancy and Rowan 2003 and Patronek and Rowan 1995 for more detail on pet population demographics). (Clancy and Rowan 2003). Models of the dynamics of the pet dog population, considering supply (birth, purchase, adoption, found as strays) and loss (lost dogs, euthanasia, relinquishment), have led some experts to suggest that pet overpopulation concerns may be overrated (Patronek and Glickman 1994; Patronek and Rowan 1995). However, in many cities fiscal stress has made it difficult for families to provide for companion animals and limits local resources to address the problem. In some communities this has resulted in dogs and cats being relinquished at local animal shelters, left in abandoned homes, or simply let loose on the streets (Reese 2015).3 3 Absent national shelter data and the use of different estimation methodologies, estimates of animals admitted to shelters vary; some research suggests that there are between 3 to 8 million while other work suggests 16.3 to 27.1 million (Nasser et al. 1992). Annual estimates of animals euthanized in shelters vary widely from 4 to 17 million (Bartlett et al. 2005) although Humane Society of the United States shelter surveys suggest that euthanasia declined between 1973 and 1994 (Zawistowski et al. 1998). Most of these data are dated, however, so the exact nature of the current situation is uncertain and, as noted, likely varies by region and city. While research modeling the U.S. dog population assumes that the number of feral or unowned dogs is “negligible” (Patronek and Glickman 1994), estimates of stray and feral dogs in the City of Detroit have ranged from 3,000 to 50,000. While the higher figure is unlikely, even the 8,000 dogs estimated in recent research would represent 1 for every 14 city residents (Reese 2015). Free-roaming animals raise some potential risks to urban residents that are clear public policy concerns. Health threats include increased exposure to bites and transmission of zoonotic diseases and parasites either directly to humans or from stray dog to owned dog to humans. Greater numbers of abandoned dogs can increase informal dog fighting as animals on the street are readily available for fighting and/or as bait dogs (Reese 2015). Visible roaming animals or the presence of dogs and cats living in abandoned buildings can create fear among residents and heighten perceptions of neighborhood decay. Over time, issues related to animals in urban areas and concerns about animal welfare have captured the public’s attention through media; incidents of animal hoarding and dog fighting rings have been covered in both local and national news (Arluke et al. 2002). Reports of dog attacks are common (Delise 2007; Raghavan 2008) as are stories about animal abuse and neglect, which are visibly portrayed in TV shows such as Animal Planet’s Animal Cops. Given that mayors ranked animal-related issues as the most common complaint to their offices in a 1974 survey and city managers currently note that animal control is the policy area they were least prepared to address when coming into their jobs (Clancy and Rowan 2003; Swindell, Hilvert, and Thoreson forthcoming), along with clear public policy implications, why have animal welfare issues not been more visible on the current urban policy agenda? This research focuses on how issues of animal welfare move onto the public policy agenda (or fail to do so) by exploring narratives portrayed in the media. The following questions are addressed: (1) How have public narratives about animal issues been framed in the media over time? (2) Have incidents related to animals served as focusing events to change these narratives? (3)Are potential policy entrepreneurs identified in the narratives? (4) Despite considerable media attention, why have issues related to animal welfare not been more prominent on the current urban public policy agenda? The article proceeds by defining the policy area of focus—animal welfare policy—differentiating it from a more basic animal control function. Multiple streams theory is then presented as a frame for understanding how emerging social problems gain access to the public policy agenda. The specific role of media narratives in this process is then discussed. The methodology section details the case of Detroit and the content analysis conducted. The analysis section uses content analysis to address the four questions noted above. The article concludes with the implications for animal welfare issues in Detroit specifically, and for emerging urban problems more generally. POLICY STREAMS AND EMERGING URBAN PUBLIC PROBLEMS Prior to presenting the theoretical framework for the analysis, the nature of animal welfare policy needs to be defined. This will be followed by a discussion of the multiple streams framework of public policy agenda setting. Animal Welfare Policy There is a dearth of research defining urban animal welfare policy. Many communities have animal ordinances and control functions. The National Animal Interest Alliance has recommended model local animal ordinances including: licensing and rabies vaccinations; leash requirements; definitions of “at-risk” and dangerous animals (typically dogs); licensing of feral cat colonies; animal control/welfare advisory boards; investigation of cruelty, abuse, and neglect cases; optimal training for animal control personnel; requirements for adequate care; and anti-tethering regulations (see NAIA n.d.). However, there is no extant research to assess how closely actual policies match optimal ordinances. And, there is a great deal more to ensuring animal welfare than even these “best practices” would suggest. There is a good bit of contention in the literature regarding a definition of “animal welfare,” and much of the somewhat dated published work focuses on the use of animals in research and food production (Brambell 1965; Stafleu, Grommers, and Vorstenbosch 1996). However, definitions of animal welfare are quite broad, for example, “A state of complete mental and physical health, where the animal is in harmony with its environment” (Hughes 1976 quoted in Fraser 1995:111). This suggests that animal welfare is achieved only if both biological fitness (Barnett and Hemsworth 1990) and an optimal mental state (Dawkins 1990) are present and an animal can fulfill its needs and wants (Curtis 1985), including cognitive and species-specific behavior needs (Stafleu et al. 1996). Thus, “one should take the question ‘when does an animal’s life go well?’ as a starting point for animal welfare” (Stafleu et al. 1996:227). The animal welfare function in U.S. cities is often seen as one of “animal control,” implying that roaming and stray animals should be removed from the streets, held temporarily in case owners come forward, and then be disposed of in some manner, either through transfer to an animal shelter or through euthanasia. This view is rooted in historical frames of urban pests whereby “the construction of animals as problems relies upon cultural understandings of nature/culture relationships” (Jerolmack 2008:72). Problem animals represent “the antithesis” of the ideal social/cultural human space and order where nature is subdued. Pigeons, for example, were early “problem animals,” with media depicting them as filthy, immoral, and a public health issue. As a result, the feeding of pigeons was outlawed, and their extermination was deemed necessary (Jerolmack 2008). Particular types or breeds of dogs have also been framed by the “pigeon effect,” with a new breed of dog becoming the representative of canine evil in each decade. In the 1960s, it was the German Shepherd; in the 1970s, the Doberman Pinscher; since then it has been the pit bull (Armstrong, Tomasello, and Hunter 2001). Providing animal welfare services requires more local government action than mere animal control dealing with problem animals. Animal welfare policies must not only protect the health and safety of the human population but also the health and safety of the city’s animals. Thus, animal welfare policy would include regulations protecting humans from dangerous animals, but also prohibitions on the mistreatment of animals, define proper training for animal control officers and other animal welfare personnel, ensure that stray and relinquished animals are cared for in a humane manner, and that adoption be emphasized over euthanasia. In short, urban animal welfare policy goes beyond the local “dog catcher” of yesterday. Multiple Streams Framework Multiple streams theory focuses on how social conditions, such as issues related to the welfare of animals, become defined as policy problems and gain access to the public agenda. According to John Kingdon’s (1995) classic formulation, three streams flow through the policy process: problems, policies, and politics. These streams run separately but can join at critical points or “policy windows,” as the result of the efforts of policy entrepreneurs. At these junctures, specific policies can be developed for future consideration by policy makers. Central to this process is the role of information, which affects the lens for viewing and understanding public problems, and helps define policy options (Deutsch 1966). Because ambiguity and uncertainty are inherent to the policy-making environment, information and narratives shape and clarify thinking about problems and policies (Feldman 1989). Kingdon (1995) referred to federal policy processes as “organized anarchies” where participants come and go, citizens and policy makers do not know what they want, and the “technology” for problem solving and policy implementation is unclear. Under such conditions, narratives, and specifically, a “dominant narrative,” are essential to recognizing and defining problems as public ones that should be addressed by government, identifying potential policy solutions, and gaining legislative approval (Roe 1994). Issues of animal welfare must vie with innumerable other problems, needs, and desires because of three assumptions underlying the multiple streams framework: there are many potential problems but only limited individual attention; legislative bodies have finite capacity to attend to problems, and tend to address the most urgent first; and, solutions and problems are developed separately and may not come together (Ruggie 1998). In these instances, roaming animals and other aspects of animal welfare, no matter the potential health, humane, and disorder implications, may not make it to the public agenda, particularly in distressed cities with limited resources. If the “problem load” is too high and there are capacity constraints prohibiting action, it becomes more difficult for any individual issue to get on the agenda and the costs related to any given policy solution may keep it from surviving in the policy stream (Wolman 1992; Zahariadis 2003). The media have a critical role in the policy process because of the centrality of information in framing the meaning of problems (Jones and Baumgartner 2005). Labels and symbols are used by policy entrepreneurs and decision makers to manipulate emotions, give meaning to problems, raise awareness, and develop consensus. Focusing events can be an important part of this process. Visible and often urgent events, widely portrayed in the media, and their attendant narratives help turn conditions into problems that need to be addressed by the public sector (Rochefort and Cobb 1994). Although extant research has applied the streams framework to national policy making, it applies to urban policy as well. Indeed, there have been calls for more research that applies multiple streams to other levels of government and different policy domains (Zahariadis 2007). Some policy areas may be more amenable than others to enhanced understanding though the streams approach. It has been suggested that such areas involve values or normative assessments, where a dominant actor in the policy process is absent, and where the issue has greater salience (Dutton 1986; Zahariadis 2007). In the case of urban animal welfare, perceptions of risk from particular dog breeds, and appropriate solutions for animal overpopulation, raise deep-seated normative reactions in citizens and policy makers alike. Debates over euthanasia versus adoption, whether pit bulls are inherently dangerous or carry an underserved stigma, whether animals should be kept in the house as family members or out in the yard as protection, and even the relative importance of human versus animal issues can be extremely heated. This research contributes to the multiple streams literature in several respects. First, it focuses on a metropolitan region whereas only 15 and 8 percent of the extant literature examines cities and regions, respectively (Jones et al. 2015). Second, it considers a policy area where basic values are still forming, there is no dominant policy actor, and new groups are still being activated and organized (Reese 2015). In short, it focuses on a policy environment characterized by ambiguity, something not well addressed by the multiple streams literature to date (Cairney and Jones 2016; Zahariadis 2014). Further, the policy area of local animal welfare has not been a focus of multiple streams work (Jones et al. 2015). Finally, the analysis includes consideration of all five major components of the multiple streams theory—politics, policy, problem, entrepreneurs, and policy windows—a trait of only one-third of the existing streams literature (Jones et al. 2015). The broader implication of this research is a consideration of what happens to emerging public problems when narratives and potential policy entrepreneurs conflict and where resources and public capacity are lacking. Narrative analysis offers an approach that models the convergence of problems, politics, and policy through the present dominant frames; the importance of narratives in moving from problem conditions to the policy agenda is discussed below. The Importance of Narratives The mass media is critical to the policy process for a variety of reasons; political communication creates a “virtuous cycle” where attention heightens civic engagement leading to a greater tendency to pay attention to the news (Norris 2000). This cycle should be strongest at the local level (Yanich 2012) where research has suggested particularly robust connections between local news content and local political outcomes (Stromberg 2004). In addition to informing the public, the media play an important role in contextualizing policy discourse by the use of frames: the categorization of ideas into meaningful relationships to convey them to an audience (Radaelli 1999). Elites and policy entrepreneurs attempt to influence the development of policy frames by building upon existing myths or stories to provide a simplified version of reality (Abolafia 2004). However, the media often provide multiple frames or narratives because policy actors view problems and policies through dissimilar lenses (Rochefort and Cobb 1994). Over time these fragmented points of view may develop into a dominant meta-narrative that resolves conflict (Roe 1994:51). Historical analyses of the rise of urban animal control from the 1800s to the early twentieth century have included discussion of the role of the media in framing public attitudes about urban dog populations although narratives were often as much about political struggle between machine and reform factions (Brady 2012). The New York Times had a role in highlighting anti-cruelty policy entrepreneurs and questioned practices at the city pound (or the “prison for dogs”) related both to euthanasia and the bounty placed on dogs. Other newspapers portrayed heroic actions of stray dogs and questioned the presumed link behind rabies and the summer months (Brady 2012). Dominant narratives were not consistently presented, however. As The Times argued that the law, not dogs, was the problem, Harper’s Bazaar suggested that the dogs taken to the pound were “mere worthless mongrels” (Brady 2012:14). Media coverage of the social problem of dogs in the city over this early period shaped and reflected larger social and intellectual changes in attitudes about the role and value of animals, a growing middle class with Victorian morality regarding the admirable qualities of dogs, a shift in attitudes about patronage to a more public-regarding ethos, and the institutionalization of nonprofit or voluntary organizations in the provision of public services (Brady 2012; Wang 2012). In short, belief systems promoting the idea that animals are valuable are a necessary precursor to shared perceptions that a particular social problem exists and is indeed solvable (Irvine 2003). Issues framing—the words, narratives, and symbols used—allows readers to identify logical perspectives to reduce ambiguities in the environment (Matthes and Kohring 2008; Roe 1994). Calling dogs “worthless mongrels” on the one hand, and the pound a prison on the other, reflects conflicting naming. Naming an issue is important as it signals that it has become a collective action problem rather than just a condition in the environment (Dutton 1986). Media narratives can be shaped by policy entrepreneurs and other elites to increase an issue’s salience (Dutton 1986). Beyond individuals, how their related organizations (such as animal shelters or rescues) “think” helps define social problems and potential solutions (Irvine 2003). Possible tactics for using narrative to enhance salience include increasing the perceived: magnitude of the issue or problem (numbers of dog packs or attacks on humans); abstractness of the issue (is the problem roaming dogs or broader animal welfare); issue simplicity (narrowing the issue to blaming a specific breed of dog); and issue immediacy (referring to a stray dog “epidemic”). Articles focusing on magnitude and immediacy in particular help shape a paradox of paranoia where the perceived threat of the social problem (dogs in this case) increases fear and a sense that the issue needs to be addressed (Irvine 2003). The multiple streams framework is informative for examining urban animal welfare policy. Within the streams framework, the role of narratives is critically important for issue definition, awareness, framing, and for consolidating support for particular policy solutions. Inability to create a dominant and consistent narrative to simplify the issue and reduce ambiguity, keep the issue salient and urgent so as to open a policy window, pose clear policy solutions, and identify entrepreneurs and connect them to policy elites may keep social problems off the urban agenda. METHODOLOGY The Detroit Case The data for this research come from the Detroit metropolitan area. Detroit was selected because it has a significant roaming animal and animal welfare problem, in large part because of its high level of economic distress, which limits both individual resources to support owned animals as well as governmental resources to address animal welfare issues (Reese 2015). The economic decline of the City of Detroit is well documented (see, for example, Binelli 2012; Eisinger 2014; Galster 2012; Reese, Sands, and Skidmore 2014). The city filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 9 in July of 2013 and emerged from the process in early 2015. The economic misfortunes for residents have resulted in relocations, leaving owned animals homeless and reducing already limited resources for animal healthcare, particularly for spay and neutering services. The roaming animal problem in particular is exacerbated by foreclosures, vacancies, and structural abandonment, leaving habitats for stray and feral animals to shelter and for illegal activities such as dog fighting to be conducted. Large areas of Detroit have become derelict and abandoned (Galster and Raleigh 2014). Roughly 80,000 (23 percent) of the city’s 349,170 housing units, 36 percent of commercial parcels, 22 percent of industrial properties, and about 20 square miles of the land area are vacant (Reese et al. 2014). A 2013 survey of animal welfare organizations serving Detroit indicated an average of 7,692 dogs and 18,000 cats roaming free in the city (the high estimates were 50,000 dogs and 150,000 cats) (Reese 2015). Respondents see animal abandonment as the most serious animal welfare problem in the community (85 percent of respondents). Other serious animal welfare issues include organized dog fighting (78 percent), outdoor tethering of dogs (71 percent), and animal abuse and neglect (70 percent). Seventy-three percent of respondents said that the greatest barrier to the success of their organizations is simply the size of the animal welfare problem in Detroit (Reese 2015). Detroit Animal Control, a city agency, reported 903 dog bites to humans in 2012 from both owned and stray dogs. The Emergency Department Syndromic Surveillance System of the Michigan Department of Community Health indicated 6,600 dog bites to Detroit residents from 2004–2013, a figure nearly four times that of cities nationwide (Holmquist and Elixhauser 2008). Content Analysis To explore the role of media narratives in getting animal welfare issues onto the public policy agenda we did an online search of the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press papers from 2000 to 2013 in Lexis-Nexis, ProQuest, and Factiva search engines. These newspapers are the only major local papers that cover Detroit and the rest of the metropolitan area. Relevant keywords (e.g., “stray animal,” “Humane Society,” “animal shelter,” “dog attack,” and so forth) were identified in the headline or lead paragraph of the articles to select those on the topics of interest. The complete articles were then read and coded for the presence of one or more keywords4 4 The list of keywords used for content analysis is available from the authors. as well as identifying codes (e.g., headline text, section of paper, page, and date of search) and the focus and nature the narrative. One author initially coded the articles, but detailed summaries were also entered into the data set. The second author then read the summaries and in a few cases revised the codes. Focus of the narrative included, for example, specific groups or organizations mentioned; topic such as dog fighting, dog bites, potential changes to local ordinances, adoption events; issues in the city versus the suburbs; and particular breeds of dogs (generally pit bulls). Nature of the narrative included: whether the article was generally positive or critical of the individual, group, or organization of focus; how it portrayed pit bulls for example (as victims of abuse or as threats to the community); whether pit bulls were emphasized in dog attack articles, and so on. The nature of the narrative (i.e., positive or negative) was not coded quantitatively or by keyword, in part because individual articles sometimes had mixed narratives; nature of the narratives is described qualitatively in the discussion that follows. These codes and narratives were then analyzed to understand how the public policy discourse has been shaped and changed over time, in particular, to assess dominant themes in the meta-narrative. For example, articles identified by the code words stray or feral animals were then read to determine the nature of the animal referred to and the tone of the narrative, whether the discussion focused on the danger of roaming animals to humans or on the welfare of the animal or both. In total, the overall search returned 787 hits of the 29 relevant keywords identified in 672 different articles. These articles occurred primarily in the Metro news section, covering issues of the metropolitan Detroit region with the largest number in Section A. NARRATIVE ANALYSIS OF NEWSPAPER COVERAGE The analysis of media narratives proceeds as follows. First, general trends in coverage of animal welfare issues over time are presented. This is followed by discussion of a specific focusing event that should have served to open a policy window through which animal welfare issues could have moved onto the public policy agenda. To be more specific, Roger Cobb and Charles Elder (1972) distinguished between the systemic (issues being discussed in society) and institutional (issues being discussed in a particular institution) agendas. The latter is what is specifically referenced in this article as the public policy agenda. The rest of the discussion of media narratives is organized around Kingdon’s three streams: problem, policy, and politics. Narratives by stream are explored followed by arguments about the failure of the streams to converge, even in the presence of an apparent focusing event. Overall Trends The first question driving the research is to explore how issues of animal welfare have been framed in Detroit’s media over time. Figures 1 and 2 and Table 1 present data related to this question. Generally, media reports are most likely to focus on the following themes: Humane Society (most commonly referring to the Michigan Humane Society [MHS]), pit bulls, animal shelters, euthanasia, dog bites, dog fighting, animal control (most commonly referring to Detroit Animal Control, DAC), stray and feral dogs, and animal welfare groups (see Table 1). Even for these keywords, there is a good bit of volatility in the levels of attention from year to year (Figure 1).5 5 Some keywords have been combined in Figure 1 for ease of presentation: all mentions of public policy solutions to the animal welfare problem have been combined, as have Humane Society and animal shelters. Euthanasia, the case of a specific dog “Ace,” and pit bulls show a spike in mentions in 2011, Detroit Animal Control evidences a spike in 2013, and reports of dog bites/attacks spike in 2007.6 6 Pit bull also spikes in 2007. Mentions of animal rescue groups reach highs in 2005 and 2013 while the Humane Society/animal shelters make frequent appearances. The rest of the keywords have relatively consistent and low mentions over time. Figure 1. View largeDownload slide Use of Keywords Over Time Figure 1. View largeDownload slide Use of Keywords Over Time Figure 2. View largeDownload slide Most Common Keywords Over Time Figure 2. View largeDownload slide Most Common Keywords Over Time Table 1. Total Keywords Appearing Total Animal issues  Pit bull 160  Dog bite/attack 36  Dog fighting 35  Stray/feral animal 32 Groups  Humane Society 250  Animal Control 29  Animal shelter 158  Other animal welfare groups 32 Policies and legislation  Euthanize/euthanization/euthanasia 41  Breed specific legislation 5  Animal foster 2  Trap neuter and return 1  Animal chaining 0  Animal capture / retrieval 0  Pet microchip 0  Mandatory spay/neuter 0 Total Animal issues  Pit bull 160  Dog bite/attack 36  Dog fighting 35  Stray/feral animal 32 Groups  Humane Society 250  Animal Control 29  Animal shelter 158  Other animal welfare groups 32 Policies and legislation  Euthanize/euthanization/euthanasia 41  Breed specific legislation 5  Animal foster 2  Trap neuter and return 1  Animal chaining 0  Animal capture / retrieval 0  Pet microchip 0  Mandatory spay/neuter 0 Table 1. Total Keywords Appearing Total Animal issues  Pit bull 160  Dog bite/attack 36  Dog fighting 35  Stray/feral animal 32 Groups  Humane Society 250  Animal Control 29  Animal shelter 158  Other animal welfare groups 32 Policies and legislation  Euthanize/euthanization/euthanasia 41  Breed specific legislation 5  Animal foster 2  Trap neuter and return 1  Animal chaining 0  Animal capture / retrieval 0  Pet microchip 0  Mandatory spay/neuter 0 Total Animal issues  Pit bull 160  Dog bite/attack 36  Dog fighting 35  Stray/feral animal 32 Groups  Humane Society 250  Animal Control 29  Animal shelter 158  Other animal welfare groups 32 Policies and legislation  Euthanize/euthanization/euthanasia 41  Breed specific legislation 5  Animal foster 2  Trap neuter and return 1  Animal chaining 0  Animal capture / retrieval 0  Pet microchip 0  Mandatory spay/neuter 0 Figure 2 shows the most frequently appearing keywords—pit bulls, Humane Society, animal shelters, euthanasia—over time. Reporting on euthanasia does not begin until 2003 and remains generally low except for 2011. As noted, mentions of animal shelters (exclusive of Detroit Animal Control) remain high over time, particularly after 2004. Pit bulls are mentioned with increasing frequency starting in 2005 but less so in 2012 and 2013. A recent study on reporting of dogs in the media suggests that stories about dogs are more likely than other news to spread through national outlets, proving the old adage that “everyone loves a dog story” (Atkinson, Deam, and Uscinski 2014). Matthew Atkinson, Maria Deam, and Joseph Uscinski (2014) argued that this is because entertainment or soft news reports featuring dogs sell more papers. However, this does not appear to be the case with reporting on animals in the Detroit newspapers. Figure 3 shows the percentage of stories that represent hard news about dogs over time. Here hard news stories included dog fighting, animal cruelty, dog attacks/bites, breed specific legislation (BSL), and bans on the killing of wolves. Soft news stories included mentions of adoption events, service dogs returning from war, obituaries requesting donations for animal welfare charities, plays about dogs, adoptions of particular dogs, and even reporting on the President’s new puppy. While hard news stories about animals have always been common in Detroit, they represent the majority of reports after 2006. Figure 3. View largeDownload slide Hard vs. Soft News Stories Figure 3. View largeDownload slide Hard vs. Soft News Stories Focusing Event This project was designed around a specific focusing event in order to assess whether it would stabilize and heighten media focus on issues related to animal welfare. In November 2011, an emaciated pit bull-type dog was found outside of an Ace Hardware store in Detroit. A concerned citizen called City of Detroit Animal Control (DAC). The dog, known as “Ace,” quickly became a media cause célèbre and pleas to “Save Ace” and offers of adoption from individuals and rescue groups flooded in. Yet, Ace was euthanized within the state-mandated holding period for stray dogs, in violation of a court injunction ordering a hold on euthanasia of pit bulls at DAC, even in the face of publicity that spread around the world (see, for example, Detroit News 2011). The incident pitted a host of nonprofit rescue groups and licensed animal shelters against the city bureaucracy. Media coverage highlighted not only the plight of stray and feral dogs in Detroit but also policies and practices at DAC, the city’s licensed animal shelter. DAC’s policy was to euthanize pit bull-type dogs in all cases where an owner could not be found.7 7 New DAC management was put in place at the end of 2015 and pit bulls are now being transferred to other shelters and rescues. The Ace incident had the hallmarks of a classic focusing event, in that policy windows are “opened by compelling problems or events in the political stream” (Zahariadis 2007:74). The compelling event (Ace) was accompanied by two of three critical changes in the local political stream in Detroit: a changed/heightened local mood regarding the plight of roaming animals in the city, and Ace in particular, and development of pressure groups related to the issue. The third element of change in the political stream described by Kingdon (1995), administrative or legislative turnover, was not present. There was a very quick escalation to high public salience, with citizens becoming aware of Ace’s plight during a two-week period, with multiple news stories, editorials, and letters to the editor, as well as an active online social media campaign. And, while the Ace event primarily focused on pit bulls in the city (both in terms of saving them and fear of them) and DAC policies regarding euthanasia, other central policy narratives were intricately tied to the event. First, because of the perceived “breed” of Ace, breed specific ordinances or legislation (i.e., whether pit bull ownership should be prohibited) was also part of the focusing event. Second, the fact that Ace was a pit bull-type dog, the type most commonly perceived to be bred, trained, and used for dog fighting, also emphasized the issues of both organized and informal dog fighting in the metropolitan area (Delise 2007; Kalof and Taylor 2007). In short, the focusing event highlighted a number of critical animal welfare issues in the city: roaming dogs, pit bull-type dogs, DAC policy, and potential policy solutions and policy entrepreneurs. Figure 4 clearly shows the presence of the potential focusing event in the media. Spikes in mentions of euthanasia practices, stories about Ace, and Detroit Animal Control all occurred in 2011; mentions of animal control increased even more in 2013. Indeed, looking back at Figure 1 it is clear that a variety of other animal-related stories also peaked at this time, including mentions of pit bull-type dogs in general. The Ace story appeared to have no impact on mentions of stray dogs, dog bites and attacks, or policies to address animal welfare issues. Further, media attention on most aspects of animal welfare was not sustained after the Ace incident, suggesting that it did not act as a focusing event to push animal welfare onto the public policy agenda, i.e., city council and the mayor’s office did not make any changes to local animal control ordinances nor did they require changes at Detroit Animal Control—a new director or demands for procedural changes, for example. After 2011, only animal shelters, rescue groups, and Detroit Animal Control remained a focus of media reporting. In short, Ace’s highly publicized euthanasia did not produce lasting policy change in the city, as a focusing event demands; it is an example of a failed focusing event perhaps because other key factors were not in place. In part, this failure may be related to the fact that Ace’s was not a “beautiful case” in that although it had a victim, visible and disturbing views of suffering, and an identifiable perpetrator in the form of DAC, a happy ending ideally with a healthy and happy animal in “after” photos is necessary to receive extensive media coverage (Arluke 2006). Successful animal cruelty media cases typically involve smaller dogs, and thus by definition not pit bulls, and are more effective when grieving owners or happy adopters are also present (Arluke 2006). The following sections discuss other reasons this focusing event failed to move animal welfare issues on to the public agenda using the lens of Kingdon’s (1995) three streams. Figure 4. View largeDownload slide Content Related to Focusing Event Figure 4. View largeDownload slide Content Related to Focusing Event Themes Based on Kingdon’s (1995) theory, three streams must be joined for emerging issues to get on the public policy agenda; problems, policies, and politics. The multiple narratives related to the nature of the social problem as presented in the news media are discussed below followed by reporting on potential policy solutions (or lack thereof) and by reporting of the advocacy groups and other individuals who might act as potential policy entrepreneurs. Problem Stream The problem stream has been narrowly defined by different groups and interests often raising conflicting narratives about what aspect of the animal issue is the “problem.” These fragmented and conflicting narratives have kept a single coherent problem from being presented to the public. One narrative in the immediate wake of the Ace incident was the plight of stray dogs in the city and high euthanasia rates at DAC and the MHS Detroit Center for Animal Care.8 8 MHS Detroit Center is a licensed shelter operated by a nonprofit entity rather than by the city itself. Given that these shelters are among the 11 worst in the state, accounting for more the 40 percent of the cats and dogs euthanized annually, this narrative is not without merit. As noted, the debate specifically related to Ace spiked in 2011, primarily over the course of two weeks (November 9-26), but immediately fell from the media spotlight; media reporting of euthanasia rates at Detroit shelters has been ongoing, however. A secondary narrative surrounds pit bull-type dogs, specifically wherein they are blamed for the extent of dog attacks on humans and other animals; thus the attacks and a specific type of dog represent the “problem” stream. A third narrative surrounds dog fighting in the city and its suburbs, defining the animal welfare problem as an issue of criminality. Narrative 1: Ace, Detroit Shelters, and Euthanasia The narrative directly surrounding the Ace incident was exclusively supportive of the plight of the dog. The coverage expressed criticism of Detroit Animal Control’s mandatory euthanasia policy and subsequent actions; highlighted public demonstrations and candlelight vigils to save Ace and to protest DAC policies and procedures; indicated the creation of nonprofit groups to save Ace and other animals; and included reporting of many offers of homes for Ace from individuals and rescue groups. Reporting also included factual accounts related to the court injunction on pit bull euthanasia while Ace was in DAC custody; stories about Detroit Animal Control during this period were exclusively negative. The narrative on Ace, the MHS, and DAC is intricately tied to euthanasia policies and rates. DAC is a state-licensed animal shelter and acts as the city-operated “pound.” Animals coming into DAC custody either via animal control officers or through citizen relinquishment are supposed to stay at this shelter for the state-mandated stray holding period, are then evaluated, and some (those deemed “adoptable”) are released to MHS in Detroit for adoption.9 9 As of December 2015, animals started being released to a number of other shelters and rescues. Although mandated to report intake and disposition numbers to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), DAC neglected to report them up until 2012. Numbers from that period show an intake of 1,145 dogs of which 844 (74 percent) were euthanized. The 2013 annual shelter report indicated that DAC euthanized 97 percent of the animals in its custody. Reporting on euthanasia predates the Ace event and includes several types of stories. Early reports talked about injured horses and ducks that were euthanized and individual dogs that were saved from this fate by adoptions at the last second. The method for euthanasia is mentioned over time, mostly in opposition to the use of gas as opposed to lethal injection. Finally, many stories have addressed the high kill rates at MHS shelters across Michigan generally and in the Detroit shelter specifically. Again, this narrative was well represented before the Ace incident and continues on after it. No stories that are part of this narrative are supportive of euthanasia. In short, this narrative defines the organizations meant to address animal welfare—MHS and DAC—as the “problem.” Narrative 2: Blaming the Pit Bull Ironically, given the widespread narrative sympathetic of Ace, there is a parallel narrative identifying pit bull-type dogs as the primary animal-related “problem.” Dog attacks on humans and animals are a prominent theme of the narrative discourse contributing to a largely negative public perception of pit bulls. This “breed” is much more likely to receive coverage and attention, suggesting that the public views pit bulls as a “problem” that needs addressing through legislative and other efforts (Cohen and Richardson 2002; Delise 2007; Twining, Arluke, and Patronek 2000). Pit bull-type dogs are often portrayed as the aggressor in policy narratives in metropolitan Detroit. Many stray and owned dogs were attacked by other dogs throughout the time frame reviewed. On occasion, other large dog breeds are identified as being responsible for attacks, but generally this narrative emphasizes the pit bull “breed” as particularly dangerous and unpredictable. Table 2 reviews the scope of attention paid to dog attacks on humans and other animals. The coverage suggests a pattern of “blaming the pit bull” over time, as far fewer attacks by other breeds make the news. Indeed, similar findings have been reported in studies of media in other areas (Cohen and Richardson 2002). Victim ages range widely, but fatal attacks were reported most often among the very young (four attacks on infants under one year), elderly (two attacks on adults over 65), or animals (five fatal attacks on dogs and one horse). Table 2. Dog Attacks in Detroit and the Suburbs Detroit Child Adult Police Dog Total Fatal  Pit bull 1 1 2  Other 1 1 Non-fatal  Pit bull 7 1 1 9  Other 1 1 Threatened 0 Suburbs Child Adult Police Dog Total Fatal  Pit bull 1 2 3  Other 2 2 Non-fatal  Pit bull 3 3  Other 2 2 4 Threatened  Pit bull 2 3 5 Detroit Child Adult Police Dog Total Fatal  Pit bull 1 1 2  Other 1 1 Non-fatal  Pit bull 7 1 1 9  Other 1 1 Threatened 0 Suburbs Child Adult Police Dog Total Fatal  Pit bull 1 2 3  Other 2 2 Non-fatal  Pit bull 3 3  Other 2 2 4 Threatened  Pit bull 2 3 5 Table 2. Dog Attacks in Detroit and the Suburbs Detroit Child Adult Police Dog Total Fatal  Pit bull 1 1 2  Other 1 1 Non-fatal  Pit bull 7 1 1 9  Other 1 1 Threatened 0 Suburbs Child Adult Police Dog Total Fatal  Pit bull 1 2 3  Other 2 2 Non-fatal  Pit bull 3 3  Other 2 2 4 Threatened  Pit bull 2 3 5 Detroit Child Adult Police Dog Total Fatal  Pit bull 1 1 2  Other 1 1 Non-fatal  Pit bull 7 1 1 9  Other 1 1 Threatened 0 Suburbs Child Adult Police Dog Total Fatal  Pit bull 1 2 3  Other 2 2 Non-fatal  Pit bull 3 3  Other 2 2 4 Threatened  Pit bull 2 3 5 Aside from these descriptive indicators, the data in Table 2 show some other interesting patterns. First, children in Detroit and adults in the suburbs are the most frequently reported victims of attacks. A variety of reasons for this could be considered: children in Detroit are more likely to be attacked due to a greater number of roaming dogs or have less adult supervision outside or around dogs. Overall, reported attacks are higher in the suburbs. Again, this could be because there actually are more attacks in the suburbs or because they are more unexpected and hence newsworthy there. Indeed, the fact that no dog “threats” are reported for the city bears this last supposition out. Finally, reports of pit bull attacks are more common than for other dogs in Detroit but the balance is more even in the suburbs; indeed, non-fatal attack reporting more frequently mentions other types of dogs. Finally, other dogs are more frequently reported as the victims of dog attacks in the suburbs, again perhaps because it is more likely to be news there and/or because the victims are more likely to be owned dogs. This narrative highlights dog attacks as the primary animal-related problem in Detroit and its suburbs and pit bull type dogs as the primary source of the reported problem, particularly in the city itself. Narrative 3: Dog Fighting Another aspect of the problem stream stems from attention paid to dog fighting in metropolitan Detroit. From 2000 to 2013, dog fighting incidents were investigated and prosecuted in Detroit and nearby communities (see Table 3). This also makes clear that dog fighting is not being portrayed as a Detroit problem specifically. Figure 5 demonstrates how dog fighting was covered more heavily in certain years, particularly 2007, and seems to fall and rise around this and two smaller peaks, 2001 and 2012. Related to the theme of pit bulls as the “problem,” these stories identify the involvement of dogs perceived to be of this type. Table 3. Dog Fighting Ring Investigations in Metropolitan Detroit, 2000–2013 Year City Dog Type 2000 Canton Twp Pit bull 2001 Pontiac Pit bull 2003 Detroit Pit bull 2007 Detroit Pit bull Inkster Pit bull 2008 Detroit Pit bull 2009 Detroit Pit bull 2011 Raisinville Twp Pit bull Year City Dog Type 2000 Canton Twp Pit bull 2001 Pontiac Pit bull 2003 Detroit Pit bull 2007 Detroit Pit bull Inkster Pit bull 2008 Detroit Pit bull 2009 Detroit Pit bull 2011 Raisinville Twp Pit bull Table 3. Dog Fighting Ring Investigations in Metropolitan Detroit, 2000–2013 Year City Dog Type 2000 Canton Twp Pit bull 2001 Pontiac Pit bull 2003 Detroit Pit bull 2007 Detroit Pit bull Inkster Pit bull 2008 Detroit Pit bull 2009 Detroit Pit bull 2011 Raisinville Twp Pit bull Year City Dog Type 2000 Canton Twp Pit bull 2001 Pontiac Pit bull 2003 Detroit Pit bull 2007 Detroit Pit bull Inkster Pit bull 2008 Detroit Pit bull 2009 Detroit Pit bull 2011 Raisinville Twp Pit bull Figure 5. View largeDownload slide Issue Attention Cycle of Dog Fighting Figure 5. View largeDownload slide Issue Attention Cycle of Dog Fighting Policy Stream As a whole, potential policy solutions to address the animal welfare problem have not been a large part of the media narrative. A caveat is in order here; exploring the policy stream in more depth would require a different methodology than was employed here in the content analysis such as interviews with those specifically involved in the policy area. As noted in Figure 1, discussion of policies is very low and almost flat over time. Figure 6 shows the frequency of mentions of various types of policy solutions to the animal welfare problem in Detroit. As noted, mentions of euthanasia as a means of addressing the issue are frequent and almost always refer negatively to animal shelter policy, particularly related to DAC and the MHS. In this regard there is a consistent narrative that such policies are an inappropriate and undesirable policy solution. Figure 6. View largeDownload slide Mentions of Policies Figure 6. View largeDownload slide Mentions of Policies The next most frequently mentioned policy is BSL. Banning or otherwise regulating the ownership of particular breeds of dogs is a relatively common policy response to the issue of roaming dogs and fear of dog attacks. Currently, most BSL relates specifically to pit bull-type dogs or “dangerous breeds,” which are commonly understood to include pit bulls but may also include Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and Dobermans (Armstrong et al. 2001). Several cities debated but chose not to enact BSL (see Table 4). Even within the BSL narrative there is a spectrum of policy options represented, ranging from registration of animals proven to be vicious to regulations placed on pit bull owners (fencing and insurance requirements, for example) to outright bans on owning pit bulls. A pit bull ban came the closest to meeting the five criteria for policy survival posited by multiple streams theory (Jones et al. 2015) in that segments of the community supported such a ban (it had value acceptability among some) and it was administratively feasible to create such a policy. However, a ban was not technically feasible, resources were inadequate to implement it, and a network of interest groups was strongly against it; most local and state attempts at BSL have been met with demonstrations by breed advocates.10 10 See Make Michigan Next’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/MakeMichiganNext; retrieved March 27, 2017) or the Mi-Paca website (https://www.mi-paca.org/mmn; retrieved March 27, 2017). Table 4. Mentions of BSL Debated, but Not Enacted Year City Breed(s) Description 2008 Southfield Pit bull Ownership regulations 2009 Warren Pit bull Ownership ban/regulations 2009 Eastpointe Dangerous breeds Ownership regulations 2011 Sterling Hts Dangerous breeds Ownership regulations 2011 State of MI Pit bull; bull terriers Ownership ban/regulations 2013 Detroit Pit bull Puppy ownership ban/adult dog sterilization mandate Enacted Legislation Year City Breed(s) Description 2009 Farmington Hills Dangerous animals Obedience training; signage; enclosure; personal injury liability insurance 1990 Waterford Twp Pit bull Ownership ban 1993 Grosse Pte Woods Vicious animals Ownership ban 2008 Wyandotte Vicious animals Registration with city 2009 Westland Pit bull Leashing mandate (if attacked person/animal) 2012 Mt. Clemens Dangerous breeds Leashing mandate (changed from only pit bulls) 2013 Royal Oak All dog breeds Licensing/leashing enforcement Debated, but Not Enacted Year City Breed(s) Description 2008 Southfield Pit bull Ownership regulations 2009 Warren Pit bull Ownership ban/regulations 2009 Eastpointe Dangerous breeds Ownership regulations 2011 Sterling Hts Dangerous breeds Ownership regulations 2011 State of MI Pit bull; bull terriers Ownership ban/regulations 2013 Detroit Pit bull Puppy ownership ban/adult dog sterilization mandate Enacted Legislation Year City Breed(s) Description 2009 Farmington Hills Dangerous animals Obedience training; signage; enclosure; personal injury liability insurance 1990 Waterford Twp Pit bull Ownership ban 1993 Grosse Pte Woods Vicious animals Ownership ban 2008 Wyandotte Vicious animals Registration with city 2009 Westland Pit bull Leashing mandate (if attacked person/animal) 2012 Mt. Clemens Dangerous breeds Leashing mandate (changed from only pit bulls) 2013 Royal Oak All dog breeds Licensing/leashing enforcement Table 4. Mentions of BSL Debated, but Not Enacted Year City Breed(s) Description 2008 Southfield Pit bull Ownership regulations 2009 Warren Pit bull Ownership ban/regulations 2009 Eastpointe Dangerous breeds Ownership regulations 2011 Sterling Hts Dangerous breeds Ownership regulations 2011 State of MI Pit bull; bull terriers Ownership ban/regulations 2013 Detroit Pit bull Puppy ownership ban/adult dog sterilization mandate Enacted Legislation Year City Breed(s) Description 2009 Farmington Hills Dangerous animals Obedience training; signage; enclosure; personal injury liability insurance 1990 Waterford Twp Pit bull Ownership ban 1993 Grosse Pte Woods Vicious animals Ownership ban 2008 Wyandotte Vicious animals Registration with city 2009 Westland Pit bull Leashing mandate (if attacked person/animal) 2012 Mt. Clemens Dangerous breeds Leashing mandate (changed from only pit bulls) 2013 Royal Oak All dog breeds Licensing/leashing enforcement Debated, but Not Enacted Year City Breed(s) Description 2008 Southfield Pit bull Ownership regulations 2009 Warren Pit bull Ownership ban/regulations 2009 Eastpointe Dangerous breeds Ownership regulations 2011 Sterling Hts Dangerous breeds Ownership regulations 2011 State of MI Pit bull; bull terriers Ownership ban/regulations 2013 Detroit Pit bull Puppy ownership ban/adult dog sterilization mandate Enacted Legislation Year City Breed(s) Description 2009 Farmington Hills Dangerous animals Obedience training; signage; enclosure; personal injury liability insurance 1990 Waterford Twp Pit bull Ownership ban 1993 Grosse Pte Woods Vicious animals Ownership ban 2008 Wyandotte Vicious animals Registration with city 2009 Westland Pit bull Leashing mandate (if attacked person/animal) 2012 Mt. Clemens Dangerous breeds Leashing mandate (changed from only pit bulls) 2013 Royal Oak All dog breeds Licensing/leashing enforcement There are no mentions of other common solutions to animal welfare problems such as ordinances forbidding chaining of animals in backyards, trap neuter and return programs,11 11 Typically, feral cats are trapped, spay/neutered, and given vaccines, and then returned to their original location, and ideally are then fed and maintained by caretakers. Some cities in Europe and Asia have begun to experiment with TNR for, dogs (SPCA, Hong Kong 2017; Mountain 2012). efforts to retrieve roaming animals, pet microchip requirements, mandatory licensing, or spay and neuter requirements. There is a single mention of a nonprofit’s effort to encourage foster homes for animals. Perhaps because of conflict over the problem narrative, it is difficult to gain media attention for potential solutions much less define a coherent policy narrative that groups can rally around and decision makers could address. Politics Stream As applied at the national level, the politics stream includes mood (general public values), party ideology, and positions of relevant interests, including advocacy groups and other individual actors. These are not fully applicable here. Conducting surveys of local mood was beyond the scope of the project and Detroit holds nonpartisan elections. Thus, the content analysis for the politics stream focuses on relevant actors and interest groups. While not synonymous with the politics stream, such actors could potentially take on the role of policy entrepreneurs. There are some notable interests that emerge in media coverage of animal welfare issues in the Detroit metropolitan area. These include individual lawmakers, visible individuals who have organized rescue nonprofits, and a broad network of nonprofit organizations. First, there are local and state lawmakers who have fought to strengthen BSL. For example, State Representative Timothy Bledsoe (D-Grosse Pointe) worked to ban pit bull ownership statewide in 2011, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Locally, city council members in suburbs like Wyandotte and Allen Park were motivated by attacks on constituents to draft BSL. These individuals do not seem to be working as part of a larger social network like that of many pit bull advocates. There are several narratives surrounding animal rescue groups/organizations. First, there are numerous mentions of the Michigan Humane Society as opposed to other nonprofit animal rescue groups which are, with the exception of one story, negative. Most stories relate to their high kill rates (although the positive coverage indicated that MHS planned to try to address this). Reporting on the other nonprofits prior to the Ace incident describes positive events such as fundraising and the need to alleviate overcrowding at DAC. During 2011, most mentions of nonprofit groups related to their efforts and offers to save Ace. Post-Ace fundraising stories are still present but for the first time stories also include services provided by such groups: advice about pet care, vaccination clinics, and the like. Figure 7 summarizes the specific groups mentioned in reports over time. Here the emphasis on DAC and MHS is clear (with content mostly negative) as is the spike in mentions of other groups during 2011. Figure 7. View largeDownload slide Mentions of Groups Figure 7. View largeDownload slide Mentions of Groups It should be noted that many nonprofit rescues operate in the city; based on a 2013 survey of the population of such groups, some are much more active in animal rescue than the groups noted here (Reese 2015). This raises an important point about the fragmented problem narrative in the city. Groups such as Dog Aide, C.H.A.I.N.E.D., and All About Animals Rescue are extremely active in providing services and in policy advocacy (in the case of Dog Aide) and have a strong social media presence and “street creds” (Reese 2015). The meager newspaper coverage of these and other groups suggests that they are not utilizing traditional print media to circulate their message or to address the public. However, Detroit Dog Rescue (DDR) founder Hush (Daniel Carlisle) is much more active in seeking media attention and thus is more likely to appear in traditional media outlets, making DDR the most commonly referenced group after the Humane Society and Detroit Animal Control. IMPLICATIONS OF FINDINGS Before the findings are discussed, several caveats should be considered regarding the methodology employed here. First, the research did not code or analyze stories in televised news nor in social media. Animal rescue groups, in particular, use social media intensively to stay in touch with volunteers, for crowd-sourced fundraising, to network animals needing foster care or available for adoption, for example (Reese and Ye 2016). It is possible that greater attention was paid to animal welfare issues than the analysis of print media here would suggest. Social media, including both Facebook and Twitter, should be a rich source of data for future research. It is also possible that behind-the-scenes attention to animal welfare issues was taking place but was not reported in the print media. Thus, there potentially were discussions between interest groups and city council about solutions to animal welfare concerns in the city generally and regarding the role of DAC in particular that did not gain media attention. Similarly, content analysis of the type used here does not necessarily pick up overlapping narratives between seemingly unrelated topics. An example of this would include connections between the constructions of pit bulls and the traits of owners. As noted by Harlan Weaver (2013), “debates about so-called dangerous dogs and dogs perceived to be in danger provide apt case studies for thinking through the intersections of race, species, gender, breed, and nation because they reflect social conflicts about identities” (p. 691). As society begins to define “good” and “bad” dogs it is also implicitly (and many times explicitly) defining “good” and “bad” owners. Media studies conducted in Great Britain highlight links between dog fighting, anti-social behavior, masculine violence, drug cultures, violent crime, and particular types of dog owners, as well as dog violence to human violence (Kim and Freccero 2013; Molloy 2011). Finally, as noted previously, content analysis is not able to fully explore the politics stream in terms of measuring local mood. It appears that there are several reasons why the potential focusing event of Ace was not sufficient to bring the three streams of problem, policy, and politics together to keep animal welfare issues in front of the public eye and move them onto the public policy agenda. First, no dominant narrative was presented regarding the nature of the problem. Indeed, three separate problems were identified: the practices (euthanasia and policies limiting pit bull adoption in particular) of the primary organizations tasked with addressing issues of animal welfare (DAC and MHS), pit bulls both owned and roaming, and criminality related to dog fighting. In the case of pit bulls specifically, two parallel and opposing narratives were present: concern over their treatment by DAC as well as accusations that they are inherently dangerous and should be banned. It has been suggested that the development of victims and villains is a necessary part of the contextualization of social problems (Irvine 2003). The fact that pit bulls are portrayed as both fragments the narrative and serves as a barrier to the coherent definition of a social problem. Given these conflicting narratives, it is all too easy to fall back on existing myths to provide a simplified version of reality (i.e., that all pit bulls are to be feared), thus “unlinking” the larger social problem by recasting the dog as the problem (Irvine 2003). This paradox of popularization causes social problems to be framed in ways that create popular support (pit bulls are vicious) but ignores other aspects of the problem (that behaviors of owners such as dog fighting and chaining in yards are at the root of the issue) (Irvine 2003). More recent ambiguity and uncertainty over the number of roaming dogs in the city, along with a very public feud between two visible animal advocates, has not helped to clarify narratives about the nature of the problem and has hampered the development of a consistent dominant problem narrative. Much has been written and broadcast in the media about the number of roaming dogs in Detroit (see, for example, Binelli 2012 and Reese 2014). Indeed, the count of dogs has engendered a great deal of animosity within the animal welfare community, including a relatively open feud between two individuals with long-standing interpersonal issues. Hush, the rap musician who founded DDR, claimed, in a 2012 interview in Rolling Stone, that there might be as many as 50,000 roaming dogs in the city. The World Animal Awareness Society, founded by Tom McPhee, responded by conducting dog counts in 2013 and 2014, suggesting that the number is much lower (around 3,000).12 12 McPhee’s counts, however, were one shot operations during daylight hours and did not include abandoned buildings. Given that many of the dogs are now truly “wild” this is likely to have resulted in an underestimate. The issue of the count of dogs has fed a simmering dispute between Hush and McPhee. A quote from the open social media war between these individuals illustrates the barriers to achieving a consistent problem narrative. What does it matter? Fifty or 50,000 homeless dogs, the message is clear, Detroit has a homeless dog problem. So, when a group decided to count dogs, I had no comment. The count wasn’t meant to rescue, cure, or rehabilitate the problem; it was simply there to challenge DDR and my message to the world (Hush, Facebook, September 15, 2014). For the streams to come together a dominant problem narrative (absent in this case) must be coupled with the “technology” for problem solving in the form of potential policy solutions and the resources needed to implement those solutions. There was almost no media narrative about potential solutions other than BSL. While methods exist for addressing many animal welfare issues, these have not been presented for public debate in Detroit. Resource constraints and “problem overload” are significant barriers to the development of viable policies. Given the city’s bankruptcy, it should be obvious that there is a lack of resources to address human—much less animal—suffering (Reese et al. 2014). During the period of this study (2000–2013), various new issues, often requiring significant investment of resources, did reach the public policy agenda, including the M1 Rail System (a circulating streetcar), the reinstatement of the Detroit Gran Prix, and, after a protracted process, decisions on a new bridge to Windsor. Aside from infrastructure, major policy change was evident in the shift from an at-large to a district-based city council system and an extensive program to demolish derelict and abandoned structures in Detroit’s neighborhoods. Thus, resource constraints did not prohibit all issues and policies from reaching and being considered on the public policy agenda, but appear to have been a more significant barrier when it came to animal issues. These resource barriers might be overcome through a greater role of the nonprofit sector to offset limitations of MHS and particularly DAC. However, conflict within the political stream limits the expansion and coordination of nonprofit capacity. Conflict among potential policy entrepreneurs means that there is no coherent and persistent effort to get the issue before public decision makers let alone to achieve consensus around a specific policy agenda. Many potential entrepreneurs and groups are so focused on providing necessary animal services that they have little time or resources to devote to political advocacy (Reese 2015). To return to a question posed at the beginning of the article, “what happens to emerging public problems when narratives and potential policy entrepreneurs conflict and where resources and public capacity are severely lacking”—the answer is nothing happens. While the bulk of animal rescue services in the city appear to be provided by networks of nonprofit organizations, such networks are small and unstable and few organizations are focused on policy advocacy (Reese and Ye 2016). Hence policy entrepreneurs with a coherent voice and policy agenda are lacking. Three salient narratives were explored here: concerns related to the Detroit shelters, including the Ace incident; blame on pit bulls as the “dangerous” breed; and the problem of dog fighting. Of these, only dog fighting has gained and lost attention repeatedly in the media over time. Issues rise and fall without clear direction—including the momentary importance of the Ace incident—but the lack of a focused entrepreneurial presence means the attention remains only temporary. Various policy solutions are offered—breed specific legislation, mandatory euthanasia policies—but these do not maintain any sort of focus over time. Without the concerted efforts of policy entrepreneurs, these issues will not support long-term policy change for the City of Detroit. It is also possible that in an environment of severe fiscal distress and problem overload, concerns about animal welfare are superseded by concerns about human welfare. Indeed, over the course of the history of animal issues in the United States runs a counter-narrative that suggests that it is frivolous or even immoral to be too concerned about animals particularly in the face of human suffering (Arluke 2006). Animal control officers try not to appear too aggressive about cases in court for fear that they will be dismissed as crusaders by judges (Arluke 2004). Clearly Detroit has a surfeit of problems, yet the connections between public safety and health and roaming animals, the potential for dog bites and transmission of disease, and criminality related to dog fighting all suggest that there are many elements of the animal welfare story that would help it move onto the public agenda if framed in an effective and consistent manner. The framing of “beautiful” cruelty cases allows the “amorphous animal community to step out of its isolation” and express “central values, long-term dreams, and heart-felt sentiments,” and shape connections for the public between animal and human welfare. Thus, the Ace story reveals as much about the human condition as it does about animals and posits that acts of neglect and violence against animals will ultimately be directed at humans (Arluke 2006:168). In other words, severe financial distress plays out in disorder in both the human and animal communities. Still, the financial decline of Detroit occurring during the time frame of this case very likely had a significant role in preventing some, but not all, social issues from getting on the public policy agenda. For example, while the human resource budget of DAC remained relatively stable while the city was under an emergency financial manager, the shelter had essentially no operating budget. In such a situation the only viable way of addressing new social problems such as animal welfare would be for the resources of the voluntary and nonprofit sector to be leveraged, but conflicting narratives and a history of distrust between the rescue community and DAC prohibited this. However, current events suggest that moving out of bankruptcy may allow the city to focus more attention on new problems; DAC received a new director in December of 2015, increasing the potential for public/nonprofit cooperation. Other scholars have noted the potential role of the media as policy entrepreneurs. It could be argued that editorial decisions at the two Detroit newspapers contributed to the failure to shape a dominant narrative, thereby exploiting the apparent policy window opened by the Ace incident. Reporting of policy solutions such as spay/neuter programs, mandatory licensing, limitations on chaining dogs, and poorly fenced yards that allow dogs to roam tend not to be as sensational as dog attacks or high euthanasia rates at the local shelter that can play on emotions and thus sell papers. Positive cooperation among rescue groups may not be as newsworthy as visible feuds among high profile individuals. The need for sensationalism may override salience in the reporting of urban problems.13 13 We appreciate the thoughts of one of the reviewers on this point. In summary, analysis of all five elements of the multiple streams framework illustrates why the emerging issue of animal welfare has failed to get on the urban public policy agenda in Detroit and likely in other cities with many problems and few resources. 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Social ProblemsOxford University Press

Published: Aug 1, 2018

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