Dog bite expert & animal behavior specialist

Richard H. Polsky, PhD, CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

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Fatal dog attack on indian reservation in Canada

Canadian-flagFatal dog attacks in Canada happen at a substantially lower frequency when compared with United States, and when they do happen the circumstances also seem to be different. For example, one principal difference is that in Canada there are disproportionally more fatal attacks inflicted by packs of dogs.

A case in point is a fatal dog attack on a 10-year-old boy that happened on February 1, 2010 on the Canoe Lake First Nation reserves in northern Saskatchewan. Prior to this fatality, it was known by officials that free-roaming packs of dogs presented a serious public health problem throughout the northern provinces of Canada. In fact, this fatality on the Canoe Lake First Nation Reserve is similar to the majority of dog bite fatalities that happen in Canada: that is, inflicted onto children, usually boys in rural areas by packs of dogs.

Another dog bite fatality on an Indian reservation happened shortly after the Canadian incident, in March 2010 in Perkins Oklahoma. The victim in this incidence was an infant, and as noted in news reports, the problem of stray dogs also existed in this locale, although it is believed that stray dogs were not involved in this fatality.
Given the recent dog bite fatalities on Indian reservations, I felt it would be interesting to see if there was any published literature about the dog bite problem on Indian reservation land. The only technical paper I could find was published 25 years ago, and so findings may be outdated but are worth noting (Daniels,T. A study of dog bites on the Navajo reservation, Public Health Reports, 1986, 101, 50-59).

The study took place on the Navajo reservation, located in the four corners area of the United States (northeast Arizona). Results from the study showed that there were no documented cases of fatalities (despite the presence of a stray dog problem) and that the overall rate of dog bites instances approximated the rate found in American metropolitan areas. There were no remarkable differences in bite rate frequency despite what one may have expected because of the less densely populated rural setting of most Indian reservations. Findings were explained by noting that population population density on reservations tends to be clustered, with large areas of land sparsely populated; hence, population density for practical purposes is approximately the same as in an American urban area. Moreover,the dog to human ratio was also approximately same as in American urban areas: one dog for approximately every eight humans. The findings from the Navajo study also showed that the demographic features of dog bite victims were very similar to what has been noted in American urban areas (that is, in terms of gender of victim, age of victim, location of bite injuries on the body, and the fact that most victims were attacked for territorial reasons), but, as note above, for the study period there were no dog bite fatalities (in contrast to approximatly 20/yr for the United States as a whole).

Data in the Navajo study were collected in the early 80s, and at that time, like now, many stray dogs roamed the reservations, in large part because of the absence of any effective animal control, and also because of the Indian culture believes that neutering a dog may make it less protective and less useful in herding sheep. Thus, it appears that the principal problem that existed then also exists now: namely, lots of stray unneutered dogs, many of which are probably underfed, and have little restrictions imposed upon them by humans. The fact that many Indian communities have limited funds for animal control enforcement and cultural beliefs, abets the problem. Dogs are not neutered, and consequently the population of potentially dangerous dogs grows virtually unchecked.