Two deaths in ten days
COARSEGOLD, California; FORT WASHAKIE, Wyoming; PINE RIDGE, South Dakota––Two fatal dog attacks and one nearly fatal attack within 10 days in November 2014 underscored a marked surge in dog attacks in “Indian country,” and the inefficacy of the methods currently used by Native American tribes and humane societies to try to prevent them.
Native American media loosely define “Indian country” as all of the land encompassed by reservations in the U.S., designated First Nations territory in Canada, including Nunavut, and anywhere else that is predominantly Native American in ethnicity, culture, land ownership, and governance.
The first victim in the 10-day series of dog attacks was Chukchansi tribe member Karen Shultz, 63, mauled on November 9, 2014 by six pit bulls near Coarsegold, California, on the Chukchansi Picayune Indian Reservation.
Three days later Eastern Shoshone Tribe member Deanne Lynn ‘Tyvones’ Coando, a 40-year-old mother of seven, was fatally mauled by officially unidentified dogs near Fort Washakie in the two-million-acre Wind River Indian Reservation of Wyoming.
“She was rushed to Riverton Hospital with serious injuries, hypothermia and a severe loss of blood after fellow tribe members heard her screams. Despite medics’ best efforts, she shortly died,” reported Sophie Jane Evans of Associated Press.
Six days later that, on November 18, 2014, Jayla Rodriguez, 8, was fatally mauled by dogs while sledding near her home just south of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Deputy police chief John Mousseau told media that the Pine Ridge Reservation has legislation excluding pit bulls, Rottweilers, and Dobermans. “Any time we come across a dog like that, law enforcement will take and destroy the dog,” Mousseau told Steve Young of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
Yet among the free-roaming dogs photographed near the scene of the fatal attack by Chris Huber of the Rapid City Journal was at least one pit bull.
16 Native Americans killed by dogs since 2006
About 1.8 million Canadians and 5.2 million residents of the U.S. claim Native American ancestry: 2% of the combined population of both nations. But “Indian country” residents suffer nearly 5% of the fatal and disfiguring dog attacks inflicted in the U.S. and Canada, meaning that “Indian country” residents are attacked at nearly 2.5 times the rate of other Americans and Canadians.
Further, the numbers of fatal and disfiguring attacks occurring in “Indian country” have more than doubled over the past eight years, even though the available data indicates that only one disfiguring dog attack in six occurring in “Indian country” is documented.
Eleven Native American children and five adults are known to have been killed by dogs since 2006. At least 11 other Native Americans suffered disfiguring injuries, many of them life-threatening, but since the ratio of disfigurements to fatalities elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada is more than six-to-one, probably another 50 or more Native Americans suffered disfiguring injuries that are not in any dog attack data base.
Historically, most “Indian country” dog attack fatalities & disfigurements involved sled dogs left to run at large, or chained in dog yards, and toddlers who ran out among them. Mostly such attacks have occurred in the Far North.
Eight of the 16 “Indian country” dog attack fatalities since 2006 have followed the traditional pattern, maintaining the average of about one per year that researchers have seen since circa 1960.
But another eight fatalities did not follow the pattern. More than half of the post-2012 fatal and disfiguring dog attacks in “Indian country” have occurred south of the snowbelt, meaning the portion of North America that has snow on the ground for weeks or months each winter.
Many of these attacks involved dogs other than breeds used to pull sleds and their mixes with free-roaming pets or scavenging mongrels.
More pit bulls than huskies involved in fatalities
Among the 75-plus dogs involved in fatal and disfiguring attacks in “Indian country” since 2006 have been 13 huskies and husky mixes, at least 33 dogs of unknown breed or mix––and 22 pit bulls plus three Rottweilers, breeds rarely seen either in the Far North or among reservation dog populations until recent years.
Even more indicative of the change in pattern among “Indian country” dog attacks, 18 pit bulls and a Rottweiler have been involved in fatal and disfiguring maulings just since 2012.
Historically, free-roaming dogs patrolling the perimeters of Native American villages helped to protect the humans from bears, pumas, and human enemies. The occasional human fatality or disfigurement was offset by the value of the dogs in protecting the communities. Now, however, the dogs themselves tend to be the greatest animal threats to community well-being.
Pickup & horse trailer
After the death of Jayla Rodrigues, reported Seth Tupper of the Rapid City Journal, “A crew hired by the Oglala Sioux Housing Authority drove a pickup and ramshackle horse trailer through town, stopping to pick up stray dogs. Three rescuers from LightShine Canine tagged along with permission, taking possession of dogs deemed fit for rescue and sending them along to shelters for adoption. The remaining dogs were killed and dumped at a tribal landfill.”
The Oglala Sioux response was relatively restrained. Remote, scattered, and often deeply impoverished Native American communities rarely have the concentrations of human population and local tax base to support either veterinary clinics or institutional animal control agencies. Dog population control is therefore often restricted to killing puppies at birth, especially females, and shooting older dogs who become problematic.
Since neither option appeals much to people whose cultures have historically held dogs in high regard, relatively little dog population control is done on most reservations until an attack –– more often on livestock than on humans –– makes a response necessary.
Culling plus s/n
“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. 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 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. 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 tend to be overwhelming.
Navajo Nation wildlife law enforcement and animal control manager Kevin Gleason told Dan Schwartz of the Farmington Daily Times that his six animal control officers impounded 6,270 dogs from the 27,000-acre reservation, including portions of Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, in just the first six months of 2014. The agency had responded to nearly 200 bite complaints, Gleason said, but added “I think there are a lot that are not reported.”
The Navajo Nation collected and killed 33 dogs per 1,000 residents in 2011, more than three times as many per 1,000 humans as the U.S. national average, but––largely because of spay/neuter outreach programs––this was down markedly from the 136 dogs per 1,000 Navajo Nation residents who were collected and killed in 2003.
Meanwhile, the Navajo Nation has had two fatal dog attacks since 2010: Larry Armstrong, 55, in 2010, and Tomas Jay Henio, 8, in 2012. Both were mauled by free-roaming packs of unknown composition. A third Navajo Nation victim, Josiah Teller, of Upper Fruitland, reportedly survived a May 2014 pit bull attack that nicked the carotid artery in his neck when a 10-year-old girl used both hands to to pry the dog’s jaws open.
“What will it take for the Navajo Nation to begin protecting its residents from loose, violent dogs?” asked Teller’s mother, Wanona Theberge.
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, directed by SpayFirst founder Ruth Steinberger, 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 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 24 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?
(See also Make high volume spay/neuter programs in Indian country a priority, by Ruth Steinberger.)