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Stray dog problems on First Nations could be reduced by bands passing laws

Josh Littlechild, the Tribal Law Officer of Ermineskin Cree Nation, outlined the steps the reserve took two years ago at the National Animal Welfare Conference on Monday.

Ermineskin Cree Nation passed law 2 years ago that requires registrations and owners to meet standard of care

Josh Littlechild, the Tribal Law Officer of Ermineskin Cree Nation says just because their dogs are free-roaming, doesn't mean they are not cared for. In this file photo, two dogs play in the snow in front of the house on the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, 80 kilometres west of Calgary. (Mike Ridewood/Canadian Press)

An Alberta First Nation that brought in laws to deal with packs of feral dogs says the strategy could be used on other reserves across the country that are struggling with their canine population.

Josh Littlechild, the Tribal Law Officer of Ermineskin Cree Nation south of Edmonton, outlined the steps the reserve took two years ago at the National Animal Welfare Conference on Monday.

"We were having a few issues where dogs were getting aggressive toward our members," Littlechild said.

Now, the reserve requires registrations and owners to meet a standard of animal care.

"We also have a dangerous dog provision," he said. "It kind of addresses the whole gamut and the needs of dogs in our nation."

Loose dog, fatal consequences

Dogs running loose are common on reserves, particularly in northern areas.

Their presence can be fatal.

Last May, Donnelly Rose Eaglestick of Little Grand Rapids First Nation in Manitoba, was found dead after an animal attack at a construction site. Her body was surrounded by dozens of dogs.

In 2007, a five-year-old child was killed by a dog on Cumberland House First Nation north of Saskatoon.

Josh Littlechild, the Tribal Law Officer of Ermineskin Cree Nation, said there isn't an easy answer for all First Nations, but other chiefs seem to be open to the idea of passing animal welfare laws. (Dave Will/CBC)

Leah Arcand, who teaches at Thunderchild First Nation northwest of North Battleford, Sask., said she currently cares for 14 dogs. Two of them are hers permanently and the others she is fostering and finding new homes.

She said animal welfare organizations are helpful in many instances.

"Like all animals, there are a lot of stray dogs guaranteed in every First Nations community that need your help. Just by donating food or getting the dogs spayed or neutered certainly helps a lot," she told delegates.

"I know at Thunderchild for sure there are some wild, stray dogs who become very aggressive because they don't have the care that they need or the food that they need."

'They're seen as strays'

Littlechild said there isn't an easy answer for every First Nation but has shared his story with other chiefs who are open to the idea.

"For First Nations, I think it would be a great approach to employ a law in each band's constitution that addresses the need for animal welfare and dog welfare in particular," he said.

Littlechild encouraged animal groups to reach out to the leadership in each reserve before venturing onto traditional property and to not come with preconceived notions. Free-roaming dogs doesn't necessarily mean their dogs are not cared for, he said.

"In Canadian society all the dogs are boxed up in fences and tied up. When they come out to visit our communities they see a free-roaming population and it's automatically presumed that they're strays, when in actuality they do belong to a family or families," Littlechild said. 

"That's part of the reason why our law was so important. We were finding a lot of rez dogs were ending up on homes off the reserve being scooped up because they're seen as strays."

With files from Dave Will

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