Stray and roaming dogs are not a uniquely First Nations issue but, often, a lack of resources in the community can lead to serious safety concerns.
Birdtail Sioux First Nation is one community actively taking this issue on through a partnership with animal rescue Strays That Can’t Pay.
The relationship between the rescue and Birdtail began a few years ago as individual owners asked for assistance after outreach by founder Alicia Hoemsen, who has been working with First Nations since 2012
"But last month, chief and council recognized that they had a problem with stray animals," said the organization’s volunteer chairperson Rachelle Levesque.
Levesque said poor communities have higher priorities, such as education and mental health.
"For animal welfare, we can fundraise."
By enlisting Strays that Can’t Pay’s aid, the community avoided a dog cull, which means shooting dogs without apparent owners. Dog culls are not unusual in underserved remote communities. The rescue is in the process of developing a similar relationship with Sioux Valley Dakota Nation. During the course of two and a half weeks, the rescue removed a total of 35 dogs and three cats from the two communities.
The animals are vetted within 24 hours, tested for various diseases, vaccinated and treated for any other medical issues. If an animal shows aggression, it’s determined whether they are truly aggressive toward humans or aggressive due to lack of resource. Unclaimed animals are fostered or adopted.
Strays that Can’t Pay only goes into communities if it is invited by leadership or an individual.
Levesque introduced herself and the rescue at Sioux Valley last week. She brought collars and leashes, as well as free dog food. Residents immediately approached her, curious. And as she shared the goods, she also asked residents questions about their own experiences and ideas, to better understand the requirements of the community.
One woman explained two large dogs confronted a relative. Roaming dogs are a problem, especially when they pack together due to lack of resources. The danger they pose to children is especially acute.
Strays That Can’t Pay also provides spay and neuter services, as well as vaccinations.
But Birdtail is looking at taking it one step further, while Sioux Valley is paying attention to the discussions between the leadership and the rescue to work toward education and prevention rather than applying Band-Aid solutions.
"Discussions turned to ‘How can we progress and move forward? How can we prevent the problem?’" Levesque said.
On the table are: implementation of a bylaw, retrofitting a building into a pound, and training and employing a member of the community as an animal control officer.
Levesque hopes to form partnerships with the federal and provincial governments for funding opportunities.
The organization also currently responds to individual calls from Canupawakpa Dakota First Nation, Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation and Waywayseecappo First Nation.
Strays That Can’t Pay is a volunteer organization, with a core group of 10 and approximately 20 to 50 volunteers in total. Volunteers handle fundraising, dog adoption, cat adoption, foster adoption and front-line rescuers.
"People truly, truly care about their animals and being able to bring resources to them means a lot," Levesque said.
» Michele LeTourneau covers indigenous matters for The Brandon Sun under the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally funded program that supports the creation of original civic journalism.