A dog on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. Photo: Cameron
Environment | National

Native Sun News Today: Dogs go from partners to pests in tribal communities

Stray Dogs on Rez: A national disaster

By Maxine Hillary
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

Traditionally dogs had a place among tribal peoples. They helped herd, went out with hunting parties.

Before horses, they were pack animals. Dogs guarded the camp, protected the children—they were partners. Some cultures ate dogs.

Others held ceremonial burials when their canine companions passed on. All over North America, traditional stories tell of the dog’s loyalty, courage, and connection to the Spirit World. The dog was revered and honored. The most beloved warriors among the Northern Plains people were known as Dog Soldiers. So how did the partner become the pest?

Andrea Goodman is the president of the Oglala Pet Project, which operates on the Pine Ridge Reservation. She sees the dogs as part and parcel to the human issues in the community she serves, “The poverty, drugs, alcohol—families who can’t afford food. Animals are left abandoned and the strays keep producing…”

Kimberly Benning who with her husband Keith, founded the Turtle Mountain Animal Rescue in North Dakota echoes her thoughts. “Thirty five percent of people around here live below the poverty line,” she says. “They are unable to provide for their pets. And it’s also attitudes. A lot of what we see is that many folks don’t see a dog (or a cat) as a family member or pet. We see many, many dogs chained to a substandard shelter 24/7—every day with no regard to the extreme weather we have here North Dakota. These animals live their entire lives on a 6-foot chain with very little, if any love and affection.”

Glenda Davis has been the Program Director for the Navajo Nation’s Animal Control Division for a little over a year. A tribal member, she grew up on the reservation and has been working with animals there for over 40 years, first as a veterinary technician, later as the head of the Navajo Nation Veterinary and Livestock Program.

On the fourth day on her new job she responded to a disturbing call: a four-year old boy had been mauled to death by his neighbor’s dogs. It wasn’t the first incident of its kind and certainly not the last. A few months later, another Navajo man was killed by dogs while visiting a friend.

The Navajo Nation is big. Twenty-seven thousand square miles. It’s a place with a lot of open road between communities, and a lot of clustered housing close to schools, clinics, tribal offices. Davis’ program employs six animal control officers, each responsible for 4500 square miles. It has three working shelters. Still that’s not enough. 10,000 animals are euthanized each year because nobody claims them and the shelters can’t house them.

Says Davis, “We need to decrease the risk to our communities. We have to pick up animals that are running loose. If they are picked up and they have a collar or a microchip, we will hold them for 72 hours. Any animal that does not have identification will be immediately euthanized. Our shelters only hold 12 to 18 animals. When we do a community sweep, many times we pick up between 50 and 75.” Sad as the death of a healthy dog, unclaimed dogs who get picked up on her reservation fare better than those in other communities.

Stray dogs and cats are a problem on many reservations. Photos: Native Sun News Today

Looking for foster homes for dogs

As tribal animal control programs begin to develop and attitudes about animal welfare shift in Indian Country, animal welfare groups will probably always be part of the equation—as they will all over America. The Oglala Pet Project has success stories such as a recently adopted dog, Annie, who was abandoned when her owner was arrested and all of his dogs were left with no food. Somebody found her and after medical care, she was recently adopted.

Another dog, Annabelle, was found by somebody driving by. Starving, covered in mange, and with a broken leg, she was healed and recently went to a new home. The organization really needs donations for food, gas, veterinary care, but they also are looking for foster homes, particularly in the Rapid City area. They can be found at oglalapetproject.org or at 19980 BIA 2, Kyle, SD 57752 605.455.1518. If you want to see adoptable dogs and cat from the Rez and read more success stories, look for them on Facebook at facebook.com/OglalaPetProject

Turtle Mountain Animal Rescue can also use fosters, contributions and volunteers. Learn more about the animals they’ve been able to help and how you can be a part of their success through their website, turtlemountainanimalrescue.org. Find them on Facebook at facebook.com/TurtleMountainAnimalRescueNetwork

To learn more about the Navajo Nation’s Animal Control program click on their website: nndfw.org/AnimalControl.htm

Read the rest of the story on the Native Sun News Today website: Stray Dogs on Rez: A national disaster

(Contact Maxine Hillary at maxinehillary@verizon.net)

Copyright permission Native Sun News Today