Nakoda Emergency Services (NES) says Îyârhe Nakoda First Nation has a dog problem and it needs the community’s help to solve it.
Protective services manager Pascal Richard said his team of nine, which includes static guards and roving patrolmen on a 24/7 rotation, have responded to 43 calls involving aggressive free-roaming dogs so far this year, just in Mînî Thnî.
“There are no bylaws around dogs on the Nation, so we’re not equipped to handle dogs … we’re not trained to catch dogs and sometimes they’re injured, and that’s when most of the time our team members get bit is trying to pick up a dog that’s been injured to transport them to safety,” said Richard.
Richard said calls often involve packs of dogs attacking and sometimes killing livestock and other dogs. The packs have also posed a threat to people.
In one instance in January, protective services was called to the Morley Arena where seven or eight dogs were ganging up on one dog. The targeted canine was eventually rescued and brought to a Cochrane veterinary clinic after protective services was able to chase off its attackers, but it did not survive its injuries.
“That’s just one example,” said Richard. “Still in January, an elder was unable to get out of her vehicle because six to eight vicious dogs were circling it, also at the arena.”
February holds the record for the number of calls so far this year, with nine in a single month. Dogs involved in these events are believed to be mostly strays, said Richard. But many community members also allow their pets to roam freely and without identification, making it difficult to determine if some have owners.
Richard said they received a report of eight dogs trying to kill a cow near Bear Hill in February. Later in March, he also recalled a “bystander” who was bitten by a dog at the scene of a collision on Mînî Thnî Road.
In the latter half of 2022, protective services responded to 14 calls involving aggressive dogs, according to Richard, who called the jump to 43 calls over the next six months that followed “alarming.”
“I’m at wits’ end with this issue and that’s why a couple months ago we decided we needed to have a meeting,” he said.
Protective services and Stoney Health, supported by Stoney Tribal Administration, hosted a town hall at the Morley Gymnasium in Mînî Thnî Tuesday (June 20) afternoon with the intent of consulting community members on how to address issues with the dog population.
One of the main takeaways was the need to establish a bylaw that gives the Nation the ability to enforce rules around dog ownership.
Richard said a drafted bylaw is in front of Stoney Tribal Council, but it hasn’t been addressed by chiefs and council yet.
The bylaw is partially informed by the Town of Cochrane’s animal bylaw as well as Siksika Nation’s.
Richard was not specific in what the draft bylaw entails, but of those they consulted, it could include requirements for owners to obtain an animal licence, with stipulations around vicious animal licensing, and rules around unattended animals and animals in heat, among others.
For the bylaw to be effective, Richard said it should give an officer the ability to take problem dogs off the street and hand out fines and warnings to owners, and put stray dogs up for adoption or have them spayed/neutered to prevent population growth.
“I’m realizing a bylaw is really essential to dealing with this,” he said.
Tammy Dixon and Torin Kaquitts, who were some of the only community members in attendance for the town hall, said a few dogs tried to come after their grandson in the Mînî Thnî townsite a few weeks earlier.
Their grandson was outside and had wandered behind a house, out of view, for no more than a minute when “in no time at all, dogs started going towards him,” said Dixon.
“It was lucky the neighbour saw and ran out,” she said.
They have the same problem on their property, 20 minutes north of the townsite, where they keep horses.
Kaquitts mainly breeds paints for racing. He said he’s lost three colts over the years to dog attacks, and one mare was recently injured in an overnight attack.
“You can’t even go riding on your own property, with your own dogs, without other dogs coming out of nowhere,” said Kaquitts.
“All we can do is try to chase them off,” said Dixon.
Some of the dogs, she added, are left there to fend for themselves by people dropping them off on the reserve as an “easy way out” of pet ownership. At the same time, there are reports of people removing animals from the reserve.
Without any animal bylaws on the Nation, Richard said protective services is limited in its ability to respond to any of these events, never mind those where all they can do is chase aggressive dogs away.
But what was already an imperfect solution to aggressive dog behaviour is now also unsustainable. The number of related calls has more than tripled in a matter of months, while resources to manage remain the same.
A growing dog population is partly to blame, said Richard. The exact number of free-roaming dogs on the Nation is unknown, but there are at least five or six troublesome packs known to protective services.
Cochrane and Area Humane Society (CAHS), a partner to the Nation as one of the rescue agencies where people might drop off dogs, is also experiencing increased pressure to take in animals from the Nation, though they don’t have enough shelter space to meet demand.
“A high number of requests to come into our care is currently coming from the Nation – whether that’s strays, unowned or believed to be unowned animals, and owner surrenders,” said CAHS executive director Janine Rossler.
The humane society does not remove free-roaming cats or dogs from the Nation and always checks for identification – including a microchip, tattoo, or collar with a tag – when animals are brought in.
They also work with the Nation to provide spay/neuter assistance and other programming to support pet ownership.
Staff from the humane society, along with members of the University of Calgary’s faculty of veterinary medicine attended the town hall as invited guests.
While there were some recommendations to come out of the discussion, Rossler said she was there mainly to hear from others, and to learn how the humane society can better support the Nation, if that’s what people want.
“We want to know how we can help the community, if the community is looking to do something about this,” she said. “Whether that’s bylaws for the community, whether that’s looking for more spay/neuter options – those options are out there.”
The university is planning to work with the community again as soon as this fall to offer another spay/neuter, vaccination and animal health clinic. The clinic they hosted at Goodstoney Rodeo Centre in March saw 318 dogs and cats brought in by their owners over eight days.
Tessa Baker, postdoctoral scholar with the veterinary medicine department and lead organizer of the event, said 124 of those appointments were for spays and neuters.
“The demand was well beyond what we could manage,” said Baker. “We were really working our butts off for several days.”
Baker said there were some animals the university could not get to during the clinic, so they hope to return. Because the procedure also helps with population control, Richard is supportive of the idea, if the Nation can secure funding.
Above all, though, he stressed the need for a bylaw as a long-term solution.
“We’re extremely busy, and for us to try and catch every dog or remove every dog from a situation it shouldn’t be in, is almost impossible,” said Richard.
By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jun 30, 2023