Seeking a better solution for reservations than culling
Part III of a three-part series.
“The solution,” to dog attacks on Native American reservations, “is to cull the dog population, and provide spay/neuter services to native communities at the same time,” then-Winnipeg Humane Society executive director Vicki Burns opined to Brookes Merritt of the Edmonton Sun in November 2006.
Burns was at the time lobbying the Manitoba government to fund mobile spay/neuter clinics on reservations, to reduce the frequency of culling dogs by rifle.
Sergeant Preston shot dogs?
Her effort followed fatal dog attacks at the Hollow Water First Nation and Saysi First Nation of Manitoba and North Tallcree First Nation of Alberta, and coincided with a year-long investigation by a Canadian House of Commons committee of longstanding Inuit allegations that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police massacred sled dogs between 1950 and 1970 to force the Inuit off their land, into tribal reserves.
Published on November 29, 2006, the House of Commons report “found that police officers did kill as many as 20,000 sled dogs, but for health and safety reasons,” summarized Bob Weber of Canadian Press.
Rejected by the Makivik and Qikiktani Inuit Associations, the House of Commons findings nonetheless stimulated cooperation among public agencies and nonprofit organizations to extend spay/neuter services on a visiting basis to the Far North.
Similar projects had already been conducted for more than 15 years on U.S. reservations, directed by pioneers of high-volume mobile spay/neuter including Jeff Young of Planned Pethood Plus in Colorado, who started circa 1990; Sean Hawkins, who took spay/neuter teams to numerous Southwestern reservations between 1993 and 2008 under the umbrellas of the Fund for Animals, Spay/Neuter Assistance Program, and Saving Animals; and Jean Atthowe of the Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force, who began in 1996.
But as SpayFirst founder Ruth Steinberger pointed out in a November 24, 2014 commentary for ANIMALS 24-7 entitled Make high-volume spay/neuter programs in Indian country a priority, teams visiting remote areas only once per year, if that often, typically “provide too few spays and neuters to impact the number of unwanted dogs,” no matter how hard they work.
Few regular caretakers
Not every dog can be caught in a week or two weeks. Not everyone who keeps or feeds a dog can arrange transportation to a visiting clinic within a relatively short time frame. And often relatively few of the dogs on reservation or First Nations land have regular caretakers to assume responsibility for catching and transporting them.
Where tribal governments are able to maintain city-type animal control services, the numbers they have to handle––as on the Navajo Nation––tend to be overwhelming.
Steinberger believes, however, that she and her veterinary collaborators are close to achieving a game-changing breakthrough.
Calcium chloride on the Rosebud Reservation
“In years past,” dog population control at the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota “consisted of rounding up strays and shooting them,” wrote Melinda Beck on November 28, 2014 for the Wall Street Journal Life & Culture section. “Now, visiting veterinarians hold free spay-and-neuter clinics several times a year, surgically sterilizing as many as 70 dogs a day and moving many of them off the reservation for adoption. Lately,” Beck observed, “the vets have been using a faster, cheaper method of neutering the male dogs: a quick injection of calcium chloride, a common industrial chemical, into the testicles, which renders them sterile. The dogs get a light sedative, but there is no need for general anesthesia or incisions. They can be up and running again in minutes. The cost: about $1 per dog.”
The Rosebud program is funded in part by Marian’s Dream, a Maine-based charity headed by Esther Mechler, who earlier in her five-decade humane career founded Spay/USA, among many other organizations.
“This is a huge game-changer in areas of chronic poverty,” Steinberger told ANIMALS 24-7.
Steinberger is also directing reservation-based trials of two other non-surgical contraceptive products: Gonacon, a product for female animals developed by USDA Wildlife Services, and megestrol acetate, a product showing promise for sterilizing female cats.
Testicular injections of calcium chloride to sterilize male dogs have been tested in India, Italy, and Nepal, encouraged since 2011 by Elaine Lissner, director of the San Francisco-based Parsemus Foundation. All published scientific reports so far have indicated that calcium chloride is the most effective and safest chemosterilant for male dogs found yet, as well as by far the least expensive.
The Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs continues to promote Zeuterin, the U.S. variant of the product originally marketed in 2003 as Neutersol, and sold in Latin America as Esterisol. But Zeuterin has been out of production since October 2015, and an ACC&D position paper on calcium chloride acknowledges that “While no direct comparison has been performed, the available evidence suggests that calcium chloride sterilization of male dogs may reduce testosterone concentrations more than Esterisol and Zeuterin; this is a feature of interest to those who desire a greater testosterone reduction.”
Because calcium chloride is already in common use for other pharmaceutical purposes, and therefore cannot be patented, and because it is so cheap as to offer little possibility of making a profit from selling it, Lissner and Steinberger do not anticipate commercial interest in advancing it.
But calcium chloride is inexpensive and available for other pharmaceutical uses worldwide.
Deslorelin tested in Alberta
Several other approaches to non-surgical contraception have been tested in “Indian country.”
Judith Samson-French, DVM in June 2013 presented to the ACC&D annual conference in Portland, Oregon her findings about the use of a hormone analog called Deslorelin to control the dog populations on the Tsuu T’ina and Siksika First Nations reserves in the southern Alberta foothills. Deslorelin, long used in zoo animals, is modeled on a natural hormone that turns reproductive processes on and off in the brains of both male and female animals.
Samson-French and Calgary Zoo senior animal health technologist Lori Rogers began their work on the First Nations reserves in 2009. Among the drawbacks to Deslorelin is that administration requires careful timing, since it can sometimes stimulate dogs to produce a litter before the contraceptive effect begins. Also, because it is administered as an implant, it is not permanent. To achieve lifelong contraception, each dog must be recaptured every couple of years for reimplantation.
The Arizona company SenesTech in 2006 field-tested a product called ChemSpay was field-tested in 2006 at the Navajo Nation. Funded by ACC&D, this experiment was unsuccessful. Based on the industrial chemical 4-vinylcyclohexene diepoxide, a carcinogen with other known damaging effects on the human reproductive system, ChemSpay would in any event have been extremely difficult to register for use in dogs and cats.
What will it take?
Meanwhile, residents of at least 30 reservations and First Nations have had occasion since 2006 to ask the same question asked by Josiah Teller’s mother: what will it take for their community governments, and the humane organizations assisting them, to begin effectively and pro-actively protecting residents from loose violent dogs, who through the infusion of pit bull and Rottweiler bloodlines appear to be exponentially more dangerous today than ever before?
This is concludes a three-part series. See also: 12-pit bull attack on toddler spotlights soaring risk on reservations and Pit bull proliferation hits “Indian country”: fatal dog attacks triple.