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Navajo Animal Control: Increase in dog attacks during pandemic

WINDOW ROCK

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez vetoed a resolution to amend criminal code Title 17 addressing vicious dogs in the Navajo Nation.

The resolution is reactionary emergency legislation that hasn’t extensively come up for debate. So as a result, it did not get input from public safety, animal control and natural resources – the entities that the amendment would directly impact because each respective department will have to enforce it.

After vetoing the resolution, Nez suggested that lawmakers change laws to give animal control officers more authority to issue citations to dog owners. He also said he would approve $1.2 million to hire more animal control officers to deal with the growing dog population.

“When a resolution comes across, I bring in all the experts to the table and we discuss it,” Nez told the Times. “And the way this was drafted was very problematic.”

Animal control officers can’t enforce Title 17 because they are not commissioned officers of the Navajo Police Department. Title 13 in the Navajo Nation Code is what animal control goes by.

During Navajo Nation Council’s special session on June 3, acting chief prosecutor, Brandon Bitsuie, answered questions.

“I think something we should talk about is identifying the owners of the dog,” Bitsuie said during council. “Under Navajo law, all dogs are supposed to be registered to a person. The reality, they are not. If they’re feral dogs, there’s probably not going to be charges pressed on anyone based upon lack of ownership.”

When it comes to identifying ownership, another issue is when dogs are owned but not registered. Having to prove this ownership can be a daunting task if the dogs aren’t registered.

Nez said he received a report showing 972 calls about animal control and 300 cases filed in the courts about the issue. But only two have been addressed.

“The courts need to get involved,” Nez said. “It’s not just animal control; even what the police officers give to the courts aren’t filed.”

When discussing the resolution with Navajo Animal Control, Nez said he was assured of more funding to hire more animal control officers.

Law enforcement officers and fish and wildlife officials said the Navajo Nation has only five officers to help address dog attacks. Wildlife officials explained that when animal control officers arrive at an alleged dog attack scene, they often take custody of the dog. Still, officers cannot issue a citation or take further action against the dog owner(s) to hold them accountable. Amending Title 13 of the Navajo Nation Code would allow the animal control officers the authority to do so.

Kevin Gleason, the animal control manager, explained during a May 23 Law and Order committee meeting that there had been incidents in Dilkon and in Ramah involving children attacked by dogs.

Gleason added that the stray dog issue has risen to about 250,000 during this year due mainly to the pandemic. Gleason said a total of six deaths involving dog packs – and dog attack incidents in which some people lost limbs, ears and arms – happened.

The minimum fine for animal violations is $50, and the maximum is $500, usually for vicious animals, dog bites, livestock damage, unlicensed animals, or no animal restraint.

“Our current situation on Navajo is we have 100-plus communities, but we have only five animal control officers to address the 100-plus issues,” Gleason said. “This year, they have 280 bite cases on Navajo. They’ve impounded over 5,000 cases involving 10,000 animals.

“The dog population is just too large for Navajo, and people are not being responsible for their pets,” he said. “We don’t have the staff to sufficiently be proactive with animal control. We are being reactive to what calls we are getting right now.”


About The Author

Arlyssa Becenti

Arlyssa Becenti reports on Navajo Nation Council and Office of the President and Vice President. Her clans are Nát'oh dine'é Táchii'nii, Bit'ahnii, Kin łichii'nii, Kiyaa'áanii. She’s originally from Fort Defiance and has a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University. Before working for the Navajo Times she was a reporter for the Gallup Independent. She can be reached at abecenti@navajotimes.com. Follow her on Twitter at @abecenti

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