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Most Indigenous people know dogs were living within their nation pre-European contact. However, today those dogs are gone and replaced with dogs that are foreign to this land. Today’s dogs were changed, through breeding, in other areas of the world for specific purposes. Dachshunds were bred in Germany to go into holes and kill badgers, foxes, and other pests; Karelian Bear Dogs were developed in Finland to hunt bears; Rottweilers and Dobermans were used as guard dogs by Nazi Germany; Siberian Huskies and Norwegian Elkhounds were bred in Northern Europe to pull sleds in the snow; and the list goes on. When dogs were changed through selective breeding, they also lost their ability to live in the wild and to control their own population. Today’s dogs are a man-made problem imported into Indigenous communities.

Uncontrolled dog populations, and problems they cause, are also an issue in other areas of the world. In response, the world developed humane societies (public education and the prevention of cruelty), veterinary services, bylaw regulations, and animal bylaw enforcement services as the infrastructure to control problems created by these changed dogs. Unfortunately, these infrastructure services were withheld from Indigenous people as part of a general policy to withhold infrastructure from Indigenous communities in Canada. The teaching that went along with these infrastructures to manage European dogs were also never introduced or adapted to respect Indigenous culture.

Most rural, northern or remote Indigenous communities are plagued by dog-related problems. Dog overpopulation was identified as one of the top ten environmental problems within Northwestern Ontario First Nation communities.1 However, it is not just Indigenous citizens and their communities that need veterinary infrastructure services, Indigenous police are also missing their veterinary infrastructure-related dog control services. Indigenous police can not fulfill their mandate to protect citizens from aggressive and dangerous dogs without community by-laws that harmonize into the judicial system and an animal control infrastructure, including dog pounds, animal control officers and related veterinary services.

Dog-Related Public Health Crises

1. Introduction:

Indigenous communities have expressed serious public health concerns regarding out-of-control dog populations. Dog overpopulation negatively impacts community public health through dog bites, pack aggression, mauling deaths, zoonotic disease transmission2, and animal suffering. Neglecting dog populations and their derivative problems has a negative psychological impact on children and is linked to subsequent violent offences within a community3. Indigenous communities should not be held hostage by dogs; and children should not have to suffer bite wounds or mauling deaths from dogs at rates over 100 times higher than the rest of Canada. These dog-related public health crises are a direct result of the lack of veterinary infrastructure services to Indgenous communities.

2. Bites, Pack Aggression, and Mauling Deaths:

Dog bites and mauling deaths, either by a single dog or through a dog pack, will be addressed together for discussion purposes.

It is easy to understand how uncontrolled dog populations and dog overpopulation will result in increased opportunities for bites and mauling deaths. Increased levels of these problems, above Canadian national averages, should trigger a public health crisis. Unfortunately, Health Canada officials, First Nation and Inuit Health Branch, and now Indigenous Services Canada:

  • Only record a small fraction of the dog bites occurring in nation communities;
  • Do not adjust these “reported” dog bite values to better reflect the extent of the problem;
  • Do not make First Nation dog bite data available for public scrutiny; and,
  • Will not fund public health solutions related to dog management because they do not have an established program through which to flow funding. Unfortunately, Health Canada will also not fund pilot projects to develop fundable programs for dog-related public health solutions.

It is therefore “conveniently” impossible for to measure and publish the significance of dog bite problems for appropriate resource allocation; and, it is impossible to obtain funding to develop or implement programs to decrease the number of dog bite and mauling deaths in Indigenous communities. Fortunately, newspapers cover horrific incidents, including dog child mauling deaths. While child mauling deaths represent only the most extreme dog bite scenario, they give a clear picture of the dog attack public health crises magnitude in Canada’s Indigenous communities.

A search of the CBC archives yielded 11 dog mauling deaths January 1998 and April 20074 in Canada. This rate is in general agreement with published Canadian dog mauling death rates5. All of these deaths were in children under eight-years-old and seven occurred in Inuit or First Nation communities. When adjusted for on-reserve populations6, children living on-reserve were 180 times more likely to be killed by a dog then children living off-reserve. While it can not be assumed that dog biting incidents are equally disproportionate in their representation within Nation communities, it can be assumed that they are very high and of significant public health concern. Unconfirmed reports place on-reserve dog bite incidents 20-200 times above those in the rest of Canada. Dog bites and mauling deaths are a public health crisis in progress!

3. Zoonotic Disease:

There is a long list of zoonotic diseases that may be expected to transmit from dogs to citizens in Indigenous communities7. The most notable is rabies so we will focus the discuss on rabies. Keep in mind there are many other diseases that are of concern, some of which are also deadly.

Rabies is a virus disease spread predominantly through saliva during dog biting. However, it can also be spread through the air in bat colonies, by ingestion or contact with infected tissues, transplacental, and rarely through the environment8. Rabies started as a northern disease in arctic fox and then spread through the Americas adapting to other animal species. The incubation period can vary from three weeks to five months. Rabies is a fatal disease with no cure. If exposed, the disease can be prevented from progressing with post-exposure vaccinations given within 10 days of exposure. After that time, rabies invariably progresses to death. Any one can be exposed to rabies through saliva and bites but trappers, hunters, and citizens can also be exposed through the processing and eating of wildlife. Rabies is always present, endemic, in Canada.

Dogs are still the primary source of rabies infection in Indigenous communities. Each community’s dog population forms a barrier between its citizens and rabies infected wildlife. If 70% or more of a community’s dogs are vaccinated against rabies, the community will be protected from a rabies outbreak. Indigenous communities do not meet the 70% dog vaccination target for community protection but non-native communities do. This is because:

  • “Federal” Indigenous communities, in general, are not serviced by “provincial” veterinary and public health services;
  • Indigenous communities are not permitted to own or operate veterinary facilities in most provinces and territories;
  • Federal government policies will not allow federal veterinary authorities [Canadian Food Inspection Agency] to aid Indigenous communities with dog rabies vaccinations;
  • Dog rabies vaccinations are not mandatory in a region unless the region is declared rabies endemic [always present] by provincial health authorities [even though provincial health authorities have no jurisdiction over federal Indigenous communities];
  • Provincial health authorities will not declare Northern regions [populated by remote Indigenous communities] rabies endemic citing that rabies monitoring evidence from wild and domestic animals indicates rabies is not in the north. [This despite the fact rabies started as, and still is, an arctic fox disease and therefore endemic in all of northern Canada];
  • Provincial authorities will not monitor for rabies in wild and domestic animals in the north citing they have no evidence rabies is in these regions; and,
  • If the North is not declared rabies endemic, provincial, territorial and federal governments do not need to provide access to veterinary services in rural and remote Northern Indigenous communities for mandatory rabies vaccination programs.

Translating the above government rhetoric, Indigenous communities are left exposed to recurrent rabies outbreaks [and other diseases from dogs] simply because provincial, terrtorial and federal governments do not want to provide funds for remote First Nation community access to veterinary services. When will there be consistent vaccination programs to prevent rabies-related public health crises for Indigenous Peoples? Rabies is a preventable public health crisis waiting to happen ...... again.

4. Animal Suffering:

The relation between dog suffering and public health is still not general knowledge. Causing or ignoring animal suffering is defined as cruelty to animals. Purposed cruelty to animals has a devastating psychological impact on young children witnessing the act. Willful acts of causing or ignoring animal suffering are also linked to subsequent violent offences against people. This is especially true in domestic violence9.

Questionnaires administered to battered women in Canadian shelters indicated that 75 per cent of battered women who had pets reported that their aggressor had also injured or killed one or more of their pets. The act of children throwing stones at or hitting unwanted dogs with sticks, even in self-defense, can lead to escalating violent behaviors in these children. Children that see dogs they play with shot, trapped, or poisoned will be psychologically impacted, even if these dogs were killed to control the dog population. The reason for this is that people bond to a dog in the same way they bond to family members. People bond well with dogs because dogs also have a similar need for a family unit. In essence, dogs bond to people the same way people bond to dogs. This bonding is called the human animal bond. A dog can be a powerful source of unconditional love through this bond. Abuse of this human animal bond is part of the cycle of abuse seen in domestic violence. Our judges, health professionals and law enforcement officers have linked animal abuse to the bigger problem of violence in society3. The evidence for this “link” is that virtually every serial killer and almost every habitual violent offender began by torturing or killing animals.

Out-of control dog populations in Indigenous communities will result in unnecessary dog suffering and increased willful and neglectful acts of cruelty. The willful act of causing or ignoring suffering to animals has a negative impact on a community’s mental, social, and physical health. It is also part of an escalating level of domestic violence. Statistics indicate that on-reserve communities have an 8 times higher violent crime rate then the rest of Canada10. Preventing animal cruelty is part of breaking the cycle of violence in Indigenous communities.

Animal cruelty is a major public health concern and is at crisis levels in many Indigenous communities!

1. (2004) Environmental Contaminants & Traditional Foods Workshop Final Report. March 15, 2004.  Page 28. Environmental Research Division, First Nation and Inuit Health Branch, Health Canada. Thunder Bay, Ontario, February 10-11, 2004.

2. Zoonotic diseases are diseases that can be spread from wild or domestic animals to people.

3. (2004) Senator Mobina S. B. Jaffer. March 29, 2004. Senate speech on Bill C22, to amend the criminal code (cruelty to animals).

4. (1998) Stouffville, ON; 1998, Cross Lake, MB; 1999, Garden River, AB; 1999, Lutsel’ke, NWT; 2002, Barrie, ON; 2003, Kingston Peninsula, NB; 2003, Nelson House, MB; 2004, Vancouver, BC; 2006, Tadoule Lake, MB; 2006, Hollow Water, MB; 2006, North Tallcree, AB. CBC News Archives.

5. (1997) Jasline Florea, Janet Brown, Susan G. Mackenzie, & Pierre Maurice. Innovative CHIRPP project focuses on dog bites. Canadian Hospital Injury Reporting and Prevention Program. CHIRPP NEWS, issue 11, July 1997. Health Canada, Population.

6. (2001) Census, Standard Data Products, Aboriginal Peoples of Canada, Statistics Canada.

7. Examples: Rabies, tuberculosis, salmonellosis, toxoplasmosis, scabies, cryptococcosis, psittacosis, campylobacteriosis, yersiniosis, leptospirosis, brucellosis, echinococcosis, visceral larval migrans, strongyloidiasis, giardiasis, trichinosis, blastomycosis, tularaemia, and etc.

8. (1990) Greene, C. E. & Dreesen, D.W. Rabies. In C.E.Greene’s (Ed) Infectious Disease of the Dog and Cat. Philadelphia, W.B. Saunders Company, pp 365-383.

9. (1998) Ascione, Frank R., Battered Women's Reports of Their Partners' and Their Children's Cruelty to Animals,  Journal of Emotional Abuse, Vol. 1(1).

10. (2006) Juristat, Victimization and offending among the Aboriginal population in Canada. Statistics Canada - Catalogue No. 85-002-XIE, Vol 26, No.3.

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