DETROIT — Most strays are pets that roam, often in packs that form around a female in heat, Ward said. Few are true feral dogs that have had no human contact.
Ward said Detroit's three shelters, his and two nonprofits, take in 15,000 animals a year, including strays and pets that are seized or given up by owners.
They are among the victims of a historic financial and political collapse. Detroit, a former auto manufacturing powerhouse, declared the largest U.S. municipal bankruptcy on July 18 after years of decline. The city has more than $18 billion in long-term debt and had piled up an operating deficit of close to $400 million. Falling revenue forced cutbacks in police, fire-fighting - and dog control.
With an annual budget of $1.6 million, Ward has four officers to cover the 139-square-mile (360-square-kilometer) city seven days a week, 11 fewer than when he took command in 2008. He has one dog-bite investigator, down from three.
"We are really suffering from fatigue, short-staffed" and work too much overtime, he said in an interview.
The officers, who wear bulletproof vests to protect themselves from irate owners, are bringing in about half the number of animals that crews did in 2008, Ward said.
In July, the pound stopped accepting more animals for a month because the city hadn't paid a service that hauls away euthanized animals for cremation at a cost of about $20,000 a year. The freezers were packed with carcasses, and pens were full of live animals until the bill was paid.
Pit bulls and breeds mixed with them dominate Detroit's stray population because of widespread dog fighting, said Ward. Males are aggressive in mating, so they proliferate, he added.
One type of fighting pit bull has become known as far as Los Angeles as the "Highland Park red," named after a city within Detroit's borders, Ward said.