Sunday, January 11, 2015

Native American Reservations Are Seeing More Stray Dogs and More Problems

Stray dogs are becoming an increasing problem on some American Indian reservations, and easy fixes that are currently being used to control the problem, like extermination and banning specific breeds, aren’t working. Life on reservations is complex for both stray dogs and their human cohabitants, and they both need more suitable solutions.
The Problems That Stray Dogs Face on Reservations
As reported in Grand Forks Herald,  stray dogs and cats are an increasing problem on American Indian reservations, particularly in North and South Dakota reservations.
Sue Buchholz, the director of the Central Dakota Humane Society in Mandan, stressed the issues involving stray dogs in the Fort Berthold Reservation and the Standing Rock Reservation to the Grand Forks Herald. While the Humane Society does get involved in some cases, animal control is managed by the tribal game and fish officers.
Buchholz describes many of the stray dogs from reservations that she’s encountered as friendly and socialized, but some can be aggressive, especially “If they pack up.” Paul Dyer, a business owner that frequents the Dakotas, says he’s seen up to 20 dogs in a pack frolicking and breeding as they please, the way squirrels do. The Humane Society does try to offer free and low-cost spay and neuter, but some residents just aren’t interested.
It’s not just about controlling the stray population numbers. Stray animals from the reservations will also usually have a host of medical issues, including fleas, mange and intestinal parasites. Dyer told the Grand Forks Herald that he saw a dog with such a bad case of mange that it was literally nothing but skin and bones.
Unfortunately, the strays also have to watch out for human activity. Stray animals hit by cars often don’t get the medical care they need to recover and heal properly.
Stray dogs aren’t even safe from the game and fish officers. Buchholz explains that the officers have admitted to her that animal control on those reservations means shooting the stray dogs. While some officers do try to get the dogs placed, many, inside and outside of the reservation, are trigger-happy.
More Strays, More Dog Bites
One recent heartbreaking story out of the Pine Ridge Reservation from late 2014 was a true tragedy for humans and stray dogs alike. According to Dogs Bite, 8-year-old Jayla Rodriguez was happily sledding near a housing complex when a group of dogs attacked and killed her. Inspired by the little girl’s love of dogs, Jayla’s family wants to organize a nonprofit to help the reservation’s strays.
However, in response to her attack, “tribal officials hired contractors who conducted a mass roundup of unlicensed strays, many of which were euthanized.”

Other tribal residents are using Jayla’s death as an opportunity to call on tribal leaders to enforce “existing animal control ordinances.” One of the ordinances is 2003′s Braedon’s Law where “vicious” dogs, like pit bulls, rottweilers, doberman pinschers, are banned from the reservation. Another tribal law says: “Any and all stray unlicensed animals not displaying a current rabies tag that pose a threat to the health and safety of persons residing on the Pine Ridge Reservation will be destroyed immediately.”
Banning Dog Breeds Isn’t the Answer
Reservation or not, banning specific dog breeds isn’t the answer. The National Canine Research Council reports how the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) released a 2014 statement determining that breed-specific legislation is “ineffective, and can lead to a false sense of community safety as well as welfare concerns for dogs identified (often incorrectly) as belonging to specific breeds.” The statement explained that 46 percent of dogs in the United States are of mixed ancestry.
AVSAB, a national association of board-certified veterinarians who specialize in animal behavior, recommends that dogs and their owners be evaluated on a case-by-case basis versus a sweeping breed basis. The group of animal behaviorists found that dogs bite when they feel threatened. Preventing dog bites is about recognizing that every dog has his individual triggers and responding accordingly. Dog bites are also related to the degree of human socialization that the dog has been exposed to from puppyhood, and whether those experiences with humans have been positive or negative.
Dog breeds alone cannot predict the risk of aggressive behavior. One dog bite fatality study found that in 80.5 percent of the cases there were at least four potential risk factors involved. The veterinarians found that the key to preventing dog bites isn’t through easy fixes, like extermination or banning breeds. The key is to create policies rooted in “responsible dog ownership and public education.”
Human and Animal Suffering  
It’s possible that stray dogs living on the reservations we’ve mentioned have had few positive interactions with humans, but how can we realistically expect some reservations to help their stray dogs when their residents need just as much help? Like the strays, many reservations live on the periphery of American systems — legal, health, educational and economic — and the American consciousness. On some reservations, running water is a luxury, not a basic right. Poverty is second only to Haiti in the western hemisphere. American Indian children experience PTSD at the same rate as war veterans. There’s no excuse for contributing to animal suffering, but how can people who are suffering help animals, too?
There are no easy answers or solutions, but when I hear about organizations like RezQ Dogs, a volunteer organization that’s “committed to helping the unwanted and abandoned dogs from the Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy Indian reservations,” I’m hopeful that some stray dogs living on reservations will get the help that they desperately need.

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