DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – An animal welfare group says Detroit has fewer than 3,000 stray dogs, a figure far below the widely publicized estimate of 50,000.

Tom McPhee, executive director of the World Animal Awareness Society, told WWJ’s Marie Osborne they came up with the latest estimate, based on a preliminary analysis of a three-year scientific study.

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“Detroit does not have 50,000 stray dogs running around,” he said. “There are in fact less than 3,000 loose dogs that are on the streets on any given day.”

McPhee said of the stray dog population, only a handful are actually wild dogs while the majority likely started off as someone’s pet. He said the biggest contributor to the problem is Detroit’s devastated economy.

“The community as a whole in the city of Detroit are not good guardians of their pets,” he said. “People are literally leaving their dwellings and leaving their stuff and their animals behind.”

McPhee said volunteers surveyed 23 of 42 regions in the city and found problems such as dogs being dumped, not fed, tethered outside and abandoned.

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Detroit’s stray dog population gained national attention last year after Dan “Hush” Carlisle, who started the Detroit Dog Rescue, said the city was home to 50,000 strays.

“The problem is, with 70,000 abandoned buildings and warehouses and residential homes — these are large dog houses. That’s all they are,” Carlisle told WWJ in August.

McPhee said the reason why his group’s number of strays is so much lower than the number Carlisle quoted is because the society actually performed a study instead of just throwing out an estimate.

“If Detroit Dog Rescue believes there are more than the amount of dogs on the street that we have actually gone through the process of determining through scientific analysis, then they should prove it,” he said.

Calls for comment to the Detroit Dog Rescue were not immediately returned.

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