Going to the dogs
On some reserves, they’re on the verge of taking over. They roam in packs, hunting indiscriminately and reproducing quickly and heedlessly. They threaten the safety of young and old alike and even challenge social order.
Dogs have become almost like a new class of citizens in many First Nations communities across Canada. On a daily basis, they’re largely ignored, and if they’re acknowledged, they’re the butt of jokes. That is, until they prove how deadly they can be, as we sadly saw in a northern Saskatchewan community last week.
A wild pack of rez dogs ripped apart helpless 10-year-old Keith Iron. They were so hungry and relentless he didn’t stand a chance. It’s a tragedy that’s struck a nerve across the country, and with his family calling for some kind of control, it’s up to communities and governments to finally take rez dogs way more seriously.
As with any tragedy in an isolated Aboriginal community, the media rushed in to flip the switch on the spotlight. Although Keith’s not the first child to die at the teeth of hungry rez dogs (dogs have killed at least five kids on reserves in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba since 2006), much of the rest of the country is oblivious to this menace. In one article, Keith’s aunt put it very succinctly:
“Something has to be done about these animals because kids go out every day, and they are afraid,” Ms. Ballantyne said. “It’s not safe for them to go out. It is the same all across the north. Reserves need help with these animals. The dogs are overpopulated and not fed anything at all.”
The same thing happened in my community in the late 1980s. It was so bad parents were scared to let their kids out on the roads unattended. The last straw was a pack of dogs biting a couple of kids just riding their bikes to school. It ultimately resulted in stereotypical “dog days.” An edict came down from chief and council proclaiming that any unleashed dogs found roaming community roads would be rounded up and shot. It’s an appalling concept for anyone not from the rez, but a last resort for communities in fear.
It’s an extreme measure for an extreme problem that can be curbed with more of an investment in prevention. First Nations need to partner with provincial and federal officials to hire vets to get up to these communities for spay and neuter clinics. Humane societies in many major cities offer discounts to low-income families for pet control. It can’t be too logistically difficult to offer the same incentives to reserves. Mass clinics in northern and isolated communities could be a cost-effective way to keep dog numbers down. In the end, it’s a pretty economical solution to ensure people walking the rez roads are safe.
Also, a little T.L.C. goes a long way.