Stray dogs in Detroit: Remembering Smitty
Smitty and Jam

That’s Smitty on the left in his smaller days. And yeah. Really.


We first met Smitty sometime around 2005. He was a scrawny, starving stray dog pup with great big feet who kept squeezing himself into our backyard between the aluminum fencepost and the cement foundation of the back porch. That space amounts to a little more than 5-6 inches tops, if that gives you any idea of just how scrawny he was.

How he did it I still can’t figure because I never actually caught him in the act, but he did it. Time after time after time. But as hungry as he was, it wasn’t the promise of food that attracted him because there wasn’t any food to be had. What kept bringing Smitty back to us was our dog Jam Session, a rescue dog my wife got for me from the Detroit Rescue Mission for my birthday five years earlier. Smitty was crazy about Jam, and was willing to risk just about anything just for the opportunity to hang around with him, and maybe even play if Jam was in the mood.

Jam tolerated Smitty like a pestering younger brother, but we could tell he liked him, as much as he tried to brush him off whenever he thought we were paying attention. So after taking the gangly pup around the neighborhood for a few days to see if anyone recognized him (nobody did  and there was no collar), and make sure he hadn’t run away, we decided to adopt.  Or perhaps I should say Smitty adopted us. Not that we could really afford it at the time, especially not once we found out exactly what we had (an Akita) and how big he was likely to get (huge). But we just couldn’t say no. My wife and I are dog folks through and through. We couldn’t help all the stray dogs in Detroit, but we could help this one.

For those who aren’t aware, Detroit has a huge stray dog problem. So much so that I don’t take Jam walking around the neighborhood because of the possibility of running into an angry stray. I still haven’t forgotten the instance several years ago when a pack of pitbulls showed up at the back gate, ready for a fight, and we had to call Animal Control AND the cops. When the cops arrived through the alley, one cop was literally on the hood of the car to avoid being attacked.

Saying that in a roundabout way of saying what we did was, well, a bit of a gamble. We took Smitty in without the slightest idea of what we were getting into. And to this day, even though Smitty is no longer with us and we didn’t have him for much longer than a year, we will never regret what we did. Even though we had to put him down. Kills me to say it even now.

Because Smitty killed the dog next door. No matter how many cement blocks I put on either side of the fence to keep Smitty from getting out, he was just too damned strong, and he always made a way. But he had gotten into the neighbor’s yard numerous times and never once threatened Lucky. Matter of fact, even though Lucky was (eventually) the far smaller dog (because he was about the same size as Smitty before Smittty’s growth spurt), it was Lucky who consistently barked angrily at Smitty and kept him cornered until I got over there to retrieve him. But then one day I guess Lucky pushed too hard, and Smitty suddenly realized how big he had become, and he destroyed Lucky. I felt so horrible for the neighbors and their loss, and thankfully – miraculously – they understood and didn’t press any charges. Which they could have done. They knew Smitty had never done anything like this, and no way in the world would I ever have tried to cover for it if I had ever seen any kind of aggressive tendencies like that.

But what I did have to do was to take him away, and I knew that now he had tasted blood he would never be quite the same. He could possibly be a threat to Jam – and was already getting more aggressive with him – plus the neighbors were worried about their kids. I’m still convinced he never would have harmed any human being unless somebody trespassed, but when it comes to kids you just don’ take those kinds of chances. And so that day did come when I had to take Smitty to be put down, and the way he trusted me up until the very end, and the look he gave me as I had to leave him there, tore me apart.

We didn’t have him long, and we tried our best to do what was right for a wonderful dog that was sometimes more than we were equipped to handle. But who was never more than we were able to love. And I’d still like to think he was better off with us than the streets of Detroit. Even for a little while.



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Writer and musician.


Elayne Sikelianos

2015-03-23 23:03:07 Reply

Awww ~ that was a powerful story, Keith Owens ~~ especially about the trusting part. i had to put my dog down about 6 years ago, as she was suffering so from kidney & liver failure, and it’s rough (ruff!). Edward James Olmos said, “Sometimes you just have to step into the ring and throw down.” Yep ~~ powerful story ~~ sniff, sniff….regards! elayne


    2015-04-03 16:35:49 Reply

    Thank you Elayne!

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