The mauling death of a Little Grand Rapids woman has Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak and a veterinarian who has worked with First Nations calling for a dog cull on the First Nation, but a rescue group says the situation never should have reached that point.

Donnelly Rose Eaglestick

Donnelly Rose Eaglestick, 24, was mauled to death by a pack of dogs over the weekend on Little Grand Rapids First Nation in Manitoba. (Submitted)

Donnelly Rose Eaglestick, 24, was found dead Saturday morning at a construction site for the community's new water treatment plant.

"I'm really sad to hear that these things continue to happen in our communities. This is not the first time that the Canadian public has heard of a tragedy like this unfolding in our communities, where stray dogs attack a human being and take a life," said Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

"Clearly dog control, population control, a dog cull, to me, is in order in that community."

Nepinak, a former chief of Pine Creek First Nation, has seen first-hand how packs of stray and owned dogs form, live on the fringes of the community and become dangerous.

"There's packs of dogs that can live in in a clump of trees for a very long time and they can live very well, living off scraps or whatever they can find in the ditches, and this is a problem in many of our communities," he said.

"I support any type of initiative that's being raised by community members to ensure that the dog population doesn't create a risk to any man, woman or child."

Prevention work stopped, rescue says

Colleen Holloway of Manitoba Mutts, a rescue group that works with First Nations, said they were working to prevent the need for a dog cull but were stopped by Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association rules.

Manitoba Mutts, working with the community, its leadership and RCMP, had vets and volunteers ready to do a spay and neuter clinic in Little Grand Rapids, she said. However, a veterinary association rule requires them to have permission from all vets within a 250-kilometre radius and give several months' notice to set up a temporary clinic, said Holloway.

Manitoba Mutts and nine other rescue groups from across Manitoba have formed a United Rescue group to lobby the veterinary association to change their rules, she said.

"We could've gone into that community over the past couple of years and done spay and neuter clinics in combination with working with leaders in the community for other aspects to help with the awareness and control of the dog population," said Holloway.

"We can't rescue feral packs of dogs; what we have to do is stop the creation of feral packs of dogs, and this is the first step."

But the director of the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association says fly-in communities are exempt from the rules around setting up mobile spay and neuter clinics. 

"They could've gone," said Andrea Lear. 

​Holloway said she was not aware that fly-in communities are exempt from the rules, but she still hopes to see changes that make it easier for veterinarians and volunteers to set up clinics.

Another limitation is the rigidity the association has about clinic dates, which according to Holloway requires six weeks advance notice, something that cannot change. Organizing the volunteers and co-ordinating with a community require more flexibility on a clinic date, she said.

Lear said the association is aware of the concerns and has drafted changes to the rules about mobile clinics. The council is set to meet on May 25 to review and vote on the proposed changes.

Public safety is paramount but culls aren't a long-term solution, she said.

"Culls are also traumatic and dangerous in their own right in communities. Paying youth $5 a tail doesn't build up healthy relationships towards another living creature."

Pack aggression

Richard Herbert is an Ontario-trained veterinarian who's not currently practising, but who has worked with First Nations on dog issues for 15 years.

He said these communities face complex issues that may not be resolved by a spay-and-neuter strategy.

"You can go into a community and spay and neuter every dog and never touch the wild dog population, and everything is going to be the same," said Herbert, who is from Thunder Bay.

At this point, the dogs must be killed, he said.

"There has to be a cull on the dogs that have done this because they're not going to stop chasing and going after people and attacking people. That's not going to stop.

"The death is caused by pack aggression," he said. "They got excited about something, she was afraid and they went after her."

He said average packs in communities run to 10 to 30 dogs.

"They become dangerous because of a lack of food, attention, [the notion that the dog is] 'part of the family' not meshing with culture, but in the end, the dog overpopulation comes from a lack of infrastructure, one component being vet services," he said.

A pack of dogs on a remote First Nation.

There's an average of 10 to 30 animals in dog packs in communities, says Richard Herbert, an Ontario veterinarian who has worked with First Nations over the past 15 years. (Katie Powell/Save A Dog Network Canada)

Jurisdictional issues also are part of the problem, he said, as funding comes from the federal government but veterinary services are governed by the province.

Communities also need to write and enforce bylaws, educate people and ensure access to vet services, Herbert said.

Pine Creek First Nation has found ways to address the problem through partnerships and trying to take a proactive stance, Nepinak and current Chief Karen Batson said.

"At this point in our community, we're not really putting dogs down or getting rid of them in any way, but getting people to take care of their dogs, make sure to restrain their dogs, because they will start to be collected and sent out of the community if they're not looking after their dogs," Batson said.

'It's left up to each First Nation'

Band member Audrey Brass has become involved with many of the rescue agencies, and raises money to bring spay and neuter clinics to the community, Batson said. She also takes some dogs to shelters in Brandon.

A pack of dogs on a remote First Nation

A pack of dogs on a Manitoba First Nation. (Katie Powell/Save A Dog Network Canada)

Funding from the federal government or province would help many communities in Manitoba, Batson said.

"There is nothing for animal control and that type of thing. It's left up to each First Nation to deal with on their own," she said.

Pine Creek has two safety officers funded by the province, who have started to deal with animal control. Following the death in Little Grand Rapids, she and her council are drafting a bylaw about loose dogs that the safety officers can enforce.

The chief of Little Grand Rapids was not immediately available to comment on the community's bylaws or other means it uses to control the dog population.

Herbert said all parties — the province, the federal government, First Nations, rescue groups and veterinarians — should come together to address the problem before anyone else on a First Nation dies or is seriously injured from a dog attack.

Nepinak said his thoughts are with those Eaglestick, who had a five-year-old daughter, left behind.

"I think that we tend to focus on issues that are tied to the tragedy but obviously, you know, our condolences and our prayers are with the community and the family that have been impacted in such a tragic way."