DETROIT — Thousands of stray dogs roam the streets and vacant homes of bankrupt Detroit, menacing humans who remain and overwhelming the city's ability to find them homes - or peaceful deaths.
As poverty roils the Motor City, many dogs have been left to fend for themselves, abandoned by owners who are financially stressed or unaware of proper care. Strays have killed pets, bitten mail carriers and clogged the animal shelter, where more than 70 percent are euthanized. Up to 50,000 of them roam the city, said Harry Ward, head of animal control.
"With these large open expanses with vacant homes, it's as if you designed a situation that causes dog problems," Ward said.
Up to 20 dogs have been found making dens in boarded-up homes in the community of about 700,000 that once pulsed with 1.8 million people. One officer in the Police Department's skeletal animal-control unit recalled a pack splashing in a basement that flooded when thieves ripped out water pipes.
"The dogs were having a pool party," said Lapez Moore, 30. "We went in and fished them out."
The number of strays signals a humanitarian crisis, said Amanda Arrington of the Humane Society of the United States. She heads a program that donated $50,000 each to organizations in Detroit and nine other U.S cities to get pets vaccinated, fed, spayed and neutered.
When she visited in October, "it was almost post-apocalyptic, where there are no businesses, nothing except people in houses and dogs running around," Arrington said.
"The suffering of animals goes hand in hand with the suffering of people," she said. Pet owners move leave behind their dogs, hoping neighbors will care for them, she said. Those dogs take to the streets and reproduce.
Compounding that are the estimated 70,000 vacant buildings that provide shelter for dogs, or where some are chained without care to ward off thieves, Ward said.