Faculty voice:

Laura Reese: Teaching Frazzleberry

Sept. 24, 2014

Laura Reese is the director of the Global Urban Studies Program and a professor of political science and editor of the Journal of Urban Affairs. Her main research and teaching areas are in urban politics and public policy, economic development and local governance and management.

Once a week I work with some very special students; right now my class is composed of Woody, Lady, Midas and Frazzleberry. Odd names? Well, these students are “shelter dogs” currently in residence at the Humane Society of Huron Valley in Ann Arbor.

They received very little training in their lives prior to coming to the shelter and exhibit behaviors that might make it harder for them to get adopted. Thus, they are in doggy Head Start and are learning the basics of sit, stay, shake, roll over and how to walk nicely on a leash.

Some, like Frazzleberry, are working on impulse control; in her case learning not to chase cars. My work at HSHV also includes fostering tiny, ill or behaviorally-challenged dogs and cats, feeding a feral cat colony, community education and counseling adopters to ensure a smooth transition from shelter to home.

While my academic research has primarily focused on issues related to governing cities, providing services and fostering economic development—I came to a point where I wanted my academic life and my volunteer life to come closer together.

During the past two years I have embarked on a number of research projects that focus on the plight of homeless animals and how municipalities and nonprofit organizations can most effectively and efficiently provide animal welfare services.

This is critically important at a time when financially strapped cities such as Detroit have growing numbers of stray and feral animals roaming the streets. Estimates of roaming dogs in Detroit vary widely but range from 8,000 to 50,000, for example. While stray dogs are common on the streets of many cities around the globe, they are a new sight in U.S. cities and represent a significant health and safety threat to humans and owned animals as well as a critical humane issue for the dogs themselves.

Currently I am working on projects that involve pricing models to help shelters determine the best adoption fees for different kinds of dogs (based on age, breed, size, health status and even color) to help as many get into homes as quickly as possible. I am also looking at the networks of nonprofit organizations that provide animal welfare services in Detroit, how perceptions of particular dog breeds such as pit bulls influence public policies and am beginning a project on animal shelter best practices in Michigan.

And, because urban stray and feral animals are a global problem, I am also looking at how other cities around the world have addressed animal welfare issues. Currently I am comparing attitudes about and perceptions of roaming dogs in Mexico City and Detroit and plan to extent this work to cities in Colombia.

Addressing issues of animal welfare can take many forms. The goal of my research is influencing public policies and shelter practices on a state and national (and ultimately global) scale so that animal welfare is ensured and resources are employed in the most effective manner possible. My work with Head Start students like Frazzleberry can be deemed a success every time I watch one of them walk out the shelter door.

Photo of Laura Reese and Odie, a shelter dog, at the HSHV Walk and Wag event this past spring by Susan Karp.