After two members of the Siksika Nation were attacked by dogs in 2016, the chief and council decided something needed to change.
“In one incident a child was bitten on the face,” said Alanna Collicutt with the Alberta Spay Neuter Task Force (ASNTF). “In the other incident, an adult male who was walking to his friend’s house was bit a number of times by a number of dogs.”
ASNTF has been holding clinics on the Siksika Nation, an area east of Calgary, for over a decade, so the organization was happy to partner with the community. ASNTF said they have spayed and neutered 2,418 animals on the reserve since 2009.
The nation now has new animal bylaws and its first and only animal control officer.
“It’s going great,” said Norm Running Rabbit Jr. “I have people pulling me over on the side of the road, flagging me down. It’s almost a sense of relief that they know this service exists now.”
For the first time, dogs must now be licensed. The licence is lifelong and there’s no charge as long as the animal is spayed or neutered. Pets are still allowed to roam free but that could change in the future.
“We are just trying to bring awareness and trying to make a slow progression rather than have this huge culture shock of, ‘This is now the rules,'” Running Rabbit Jr. said.
“With education, spaying and neutering, creating these healthy dog populations and managing humanely the dogs that have been identified as biting,” Collicutt said, “if you can do all of that, you can have a fairly safe community with free-roaming dogs.”
The number of dog bites was reduced by 32 per cent in 2017 compared to the year before. No charges have been laid so far but some dogs have been impounded. At this point, the focus is on education.
“Just removing dogs is not the solution and just spaying and neutering dogs is not the solution,” she added. “It has to be a comprehensive approach and it has to be culturally appropriate and it has to involve all stakeholders.”
There are now 800 licensed dogs in the nation’s database — that’s an estimated 60 per cent of the total population. A similar program is now being started on the Ermineskin Cree Nation near Edmonton.