DETROIT -- Detroit has abandoned homes, abandoned streets, abandoned factories.
And abandoned dogs.
But experts disagree about a widely circulated claim first published in a Bloomberg story Wednesday saying Detroit has up to 50,000 stray dogs.
The report ricocheted around the social media world, where many people cited abandoned dogs as yet another horrifying example of Detroit's demise.
Here, we examine the claims.
Claim: Detroit has as many as 50,000 stray dogs.
Source: Bloomberg story
What they said: The dogs "roam the streets and vacant homes of bankrupt Detroit, replacing residents, menacing humans who remain and overwhelming the city's ability to find them homes or peaceful deaths."
Truth: While no one disputes that Detroit has a significant number of stray dogs, animal care non-profits differ on how many are actually living in Detroit. Bloomberg attributes the 50,000 figure to Detroit animal control division director Harry Ward, who was not available for comment.
His estimate equates to one abandoned dog for every 14 Detroit residents. It's about 360 stray dogs per square mile in the city. At least one leader of an animal care non-profit doesn't believe it.
"That's not true," said Kristen Huston, Detroit team leader for southwest Detroit clinic All About Animals Rescue. "That number has been floating around for a couple of years."
Huston said the idea of "whole packs of dogs roaming the street has gotten out of control."
Daniel "Hush" Carlisle, co-founder and executive director of Detroit Dog Rescue, said he believes the 50,000 number is about right, although he's working with outside organizations to apply industry standards for a precise estimate.
"I know for a fact that there's thousands," he said. "I don't care if there's 50 or 50,000, there's definitely a problem."
Rolling Stone, which examined the issue in March 2012, said 50,000 "seems quite inflated" but maintained it's a serious issue.
The city's financial crisis has made the problem worse. Ward's department has only four animal control officers, down from 11 in 2008. Detroit had 13 animal control officers in 1994, according to a Detroit Free Press story that chronicled the issue. The story said the city had 45 animal control officers at one point.
Tom McPhee, World Animal Awareness Society chairman and executive director, is organizing the Canine Survey and Treasure Hunt through the American Strays Project to count the number of stray dogs in Detroit.
Many residents report sightings of abandoned dogs grouping together in ravaged buildings or fields.
"I've been in and out of abandoned homes in the past three years to know that these homes are basically large doghouses," Carlisle said. "And the warehouses are large doghouses. They're walking into these places, they're bedding down in them and they're mating."
Huston stressed that free-roaming dogs are often mistaken for abandoned or stray dogs. She said many dogs that appear to be abandoned actually have owners who allow them to wander. Those dogs often end up breeding with others, exacerbating the problem.
Claim: Crazed dogs are driving people out of Detroit.
Source: U.K. Daily Mail and the Washington Times
What they said: The Daily Mail's sensational headline screams, "Packs of starving stray dogs swarm Detroit as people flee the bankrupt city leaving their pets behind." The Washington Times says, "Stray dogs are literally terrorizing the city as the ratio of humans to animals continues to balance out."
Truth: The rhetoric amplifies Detroit's predatory caricature, but experts challenged the portrayal of violent dogs preying on people, saying most abandoned dogs actually avoid people.
"By nature, these dogs are domesticated," Carlisle said. "It's not like these dogs are feral. These dogs tend to be afraid of human beings because they've been abandoned. They've been kicked out and they've been abused. They don't want anything to do with people."
But some residents have reported aggressive dogs, and the U.S. Postal Service has complained that its carriers have been bitten by stray dogs.
It's not a new problem, and it's not exclusive to Detroit. In fact, after the Bloomberg story was published, Yahoo journalist Justin Hyde, a former Free Press reporter, dug up a link to a January 1997 Associated Press article reporting that Detroit took in 8,700 dogs that year, compared with 25,000 in Chicago. The story said the animals pose a "public health threat with their danger of rabies, viruses and even physical attacks."
Claim: The problem is getting worse because of poverty in Detroit.
Source: Yahoo news.
What they said: "A number of private organizations have stepped in to address the issue with plans to create a no-kill shelter to house some of the animals. But in the meantime, residents and city officials say they are at a loss for a viable solution to bring the situation under control."
Truth: Some Detroiters set their pets loose because they can't afford to care for them anymore, experts said.
"They have a hard time feeding their family, so what are their dogs going to eat?" Huston said.
That's why All About Animals Rescue is using a $50,000 grant from the Humane Society of the United States to offer animal care services, including spaying and neutering, to pet owners in three ZIP codes.
Carlisle's group, Detroit Dog Rescue, is raising funds to build a no-kill animal shelter.
"It looks better from even last year. I see less free-roaming dogs," Huston said. "It does happen. There are dogs that live in abandoned homes and abandoned buildings and things like that, but it's definitely not what they're making it sound like."
Nathan Bomey, Detroit Free Press