Hopi Tribe addresses feral dogs on reservation

POLACCA, Ariz. — In April the Hopi Tribal Council passed an ordinance addressing the problem of loose dogs roaming around the Hopi Reservation, an effort that has been underway since 1977.

Madeline Sahneyah, public health compliance officer for the Hopi Tribe’s Department of Health and Human Services called it a huge victory. She spoke to Hopi High students Oct. 26 about the attempts to do something about the roaming dogs.

“The dogs are not restrained and most of us do not have fences because [the tribe] does not allow them in the villages,” she said.

Sahneyah said one female dog can produce 16 puppies within one year. In 1977, there were 4,000 feral dogs spread throughout the Hopi Reservation. The numbers have not decreased in the time since.

The situation drew more attention a couple years ago when a Hopi man, visiting the Hopi Reservation from the Phoenix area, contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and died. Rocky Mountain Spotted fever comes from ticks that live on dogs.

“We’ve been having problems with ticks for five or six years,” she said.

The Hopi Tribal Council passed the resolution by 10 to zero vote with one abstention. The Hopi Tribal Rangers are entrusted to enforce the ordinance for now. The intent of the ordinance is to regulate the ownership of domestic animals.

“Most are not cared for as pets,” she said.

There has also been a recent increase in dog bites with one person from First Mesa and another from Moenkopi ending up in the hospital.

“All violations go to civil court if someone is bitten,” she said.

Sahneyah said if someone is bitten by a dog now that the dog has to be confined to determine if it has rabies.

“If a person gets rabies they have to get shots,” she said.

Sahneyah said that if someone is accused of not confining their dogs they say it’s not their dog.

“There are many dogs that have never been to a vet,” she said. “Dogs have to have rabies shots and be registered.”

Sahneyah said dogs are allowed to roam on Hopi because Hopis acknowledge dogs as protectors and healers.

“You see dogs with prayer feathers because they are acknowledged,” she said.

Yet, many Hopi residents feel the loose dogs are a nuisance because they knock over trash and bark at all hours.

While the ordinance was passed, no money was approved for staff to address the problem.

Sahneyah said talking with nearby communities about dog ordinances, she has been told that it takes years to get them implemented.

Sahneyah is serving on the Animal Control Advisory Board, which is working on creating policies and procedures for dealing with loose dogs. She is hoping to have a budget approved to hire an animal control supervisor and an animal control deputy. They also need funding for a vehicle equipped to transport dogs. Loose dogs brought in by the Hopi Rangers are temporarily being housed at the Hopi Veterinary Clinic.

Sahneyah credits attorney Kathy Wright with working extensively to prepare the Hopi dog ordinance, also known as Ordinance 61.

“The idea is to make Hopis responsible dog owners. I see it like little children, you have to care for them,” she said.

Aside from rabies concerns, Sahneyah said Hopi residents are also concerned about dog bites.

“People can’t walk safely in their neighborhoods. Some carry sticks or don’t go out,” she said.

Sahneyah points to the Navajo Reservation where a boy was recently mauled and killed by a pack of dogs.

“We want prevention. We want to avoid conflict. If you want a dog, think about whether you can care for it,” she said. “This ordinance is meant to make dog owners responsible.”

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