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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, chief 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.

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, leaving 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.

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.

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 bull terriers and breeds mixed with them dominate Detroit’s stray population because of widespread dog fighting, Ward said. 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.

Mail carrier Catherine Guzik told of using pepper spray on swarms of tiny, ferocious dogs in a southwest Detroit neighborhood.

“It’s like Chihuahuaville,” Guzik said as she walked her route.

Four months ago, a woman sitting on her porch on the east side was attacked by two strays that tore off her scalp, Ward said. “We got those dogs,” he said. “It’s a big difference to that lady that those dogs were gone that day.”