Ordinance On Wind River Reservation Aims To Help Dogs And Concerned Community Members
A caramel colored dog with perky ears is getting his first bath. Owen was found at Fort Washakie dump. He's a stray dog and he's very shy. He limps on one of his paws from an old untreated injury.
Jeannie O'Brien is a volunteer and board president at Lander Pet Connection where Owen currently is. Lander Pet Connections is an animal shelter that mainly picks up stray dogs in Fremont County.
"This poor guy, little Owen. He was injured and found at the dump. And he's really sweet, he's just scared," she said.
The Wind River Reservation has a feral dog issue. Pet owners from all over Fremont County go to dumps on the Wind River Indian Reservation to leave pets without water or any place to go. O'Brien said she gets calls every week from the dump to pick up abandoned dogs, puppies, and kittens.
Ninety five percent of the dogs they take care of are from the Wind River.
"We are trying to grab them and get them to safety before they get into these dog packs," said O'Brien. "Not that they want to join. But sometimes that's what happens."
These abandoned dogs end up joining a pack and become dangerous--even hurting people. In just the last four years, there have been over 1,000 recorded dog bites on the Wind River Indian Reservation according to tribal and non-tribal health care organizations.
Caring for those bitten by feral dogs is incredibly expensive. According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to treat a child bitten by a dog with no known owner is around $28,000 and to treat an adult is $46,000. That's because it's unknown if they have rabies or not so they vaccinate just to make sure.
It's gotten so bad that community members are scared to go running or sometimes leave their houses out of fear of these dogs.
Becky Bercier at Eastern Shoshone Tribal Health has done research for the last two years on how to get the feral dog issue under control.
"It's hard to sleep at night sometimes and in my area, I live right by the Fort Washakie school, and we have a lot of the village dogs that go around and group up and attack the livestock in the middle of the night," she said.
Bercier and others on the Wind River Dog Ordinance Team want the reservation to be safer for people and animals so they drafted a dog ordinance now being considered by the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribal governments.
The Northern Arapaho had already approved the ordinance before the pandemic and now the Eastern Shoshone are holding public meetings to discuss the matter further with the community.
Bercier said that the violence is preventable, and a particularly violent encounter pushed her to get involved.
"We had an incident where a patient was attacked pretty bad and had to be life lighted. And this is where we all come together. Life matters here," she said.
The ordinance would require a permit to breed dogs, and requires owners to spay and neuter their dogs. And while community housing on the reservation already has its own rules in regards to keeping pets, this ordinance would encompass everywhere else on the reservation, excluding non-tribal towns.
It would also allow for the development of more policies and procedures through the BIA police, game and fish, and different tribal housing communities because there's almost nothing to work off of right now.
The Eastern Shoshone Tribal Health director Dave Meyers said there's a possibility the problem is going to get worse because tribal spay and neuter clinics were shut down last year.
"Because of COVID we haven't been able to reach those animals. So now that's a concern. Because you got a whole year of not having that service," Meyers said.
But the pandemic has also slowed down the process of passing the ordinance.
"We were in the process of getting to this point but that was COVID coming in and shutting everything down. Even to have these public meetings we had to go through some channels to make sure we do this safely," he said.
There are two more public information meetings through Eastern Shoshone Tribal Health to get information out to the community.
Meyers said that there is no timeline to when the ordinance will be approved because they need to include community input.
Between his first bath and now Owen lost a leg due to his injury and had to have it amputated. But he's in a loving foster home with other dogs and is looking for his forever home.