Dog News

Kayenta Dogs Update

by Susan R. Stoltz

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An Update from Susan R. Stoltz on the plight of the abandoned dogs at Kayenta in Navajo Nation. Susan Previously chronicled the Dogs at Kayenta for Life With Dogs back in January. To help fund the feeding of these dogs please go to the ChipIn fund here.


It’s been a hot summer, felt far and wide across the country.  The same goes for the abandoned dogs at Kayenta in the Navajo Nation.

For those of you just tuning in, the dogs in Kayenta have been a problem for years and years. The majority of the people living on the Reservation are without funds to care for their own children much less an animal population out of control.  There is the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation itself, which resents interference from any ‘outsiders’ whether the interference is for good or not.  There is a great lack of education about spay and neuter, and finally there resides a great apathy towards these animals.  Besides being left out in the weather, which can exceed 105 degrees and dip to well below freezing, these animals are starved to death, left without sufficient water or shelter, and are denied vet care in spite of a clinic set up to help the situation.

The laws of the Navajo Nation are very specific.  It is illegal to take an animal off the Reservation and you can be arrested and convicted of a crime for doing so.  It doesn’t matter that one has good intentions, and the best interest of the animals suffering in mind.  It is illegal.

The ‘laws of the jungle’ so-to-speak, in a pack of dogs is even more daunting.  They will attack in a feeding frenzy, not just dogs that are weaker and smaller, but they will often attack the humans that are feeding them, or anybody that comes between the food and their desire to survive.  Children are often attacked and those of us who have made it our crusade to help these animals know to keep close to the vehicle and feed quickly and efficiently in many spots to avoid the pack mentality and injury.  These dogs are often diseased, pregnant and/or nursing a littler, injured by cars, used for target practice among the residents, and are often the victims of purposeful and painful abuse.

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It’s difficult for those of us who recognize these dogs as living, breathing, and valuable beings on this earth to drive by and not stop and try to help.  The gas stations regularly stock dog food because they know that the tourists passing through will buy a bag to feed these poorest of the society.  It’s good business and business owners are well aware that empathy for the animals will bring them profit.  Almost every person that has contacted me about these dogs has driven through the Burger King and bought bags of burgers to throw to them, myself included.  It’s in Burger King’s best interest then, to keep the dogs around as it increases their bottom line.  In my opinion Burger King as a corporation should be ashamed of what they have allowed to continue outside their store for years and years.  Burger King has enough money as a corporation that they could make a difference in the plight of these animals. And the same with the other businesses that profit from the tour buses that bring thousands of tourists to the area.  The hotels, most from some of the biggest chains in the nation do nothing for the animals surrounding their establishments.  At the very least they could exert pressure to help these animals by giving funding to those of us who have been willing to help.  Giving funds to the Navajo Nation itself has proven a waste of money, effort, and time.  I have one friend featured in the articles about the Kayenta dogs, Russ Mann, that sent a monthly stipend for years and discovered that none of his money was ever used to help the very dogs he was trying to assist.

And then we have the final result when the Navajo Nation, who doesn’t want the bad publicity, decides it’s time to end the problem.  They round up all the strays they can and dispose of them, and not through humane euthanization.  Then the problem begins anew and the cycle continues for years and years.


This summer I have been contacted by people from far and wide, even from as far away as Australia, about what to do with this problem.  Gary Pascoe was so appalled he wrote the tour company that hosted his trip through the valley and admonished them for their apathy to the situation. Anne Coble-Carrel sent me photos and asked how she could help these poor animals.  Most people don’t know of the laws and culture of the Reservation and it’s really tough for me to have to inform them that their best efforts will be met with resistance, condemnation, and denial by those who have the power to change the pattern.  I’ve had national celebrities email with offers to help, tourists, travelers, and animal lovers appalled by what they see.   Dead animals littering the roads, sleeping in the parking lots, taking cover where they can, limping about with injuries and mange.  Some of the dogs are friendly, others wary, and many more vicious – and who could blame those that still have the spirit to fight back against such abuse and apathy.

The problem continues, and until those businesses that fund the area show that they care, until the Indian Nation themselves decide to do something other than round them up and shoot them every couple of years, there is not much any of us can do.  We can feed, water, and show these animals as much compassion as we are allowed.  Beyond that, it will take pressure from those that have the power to make a difference and it’s difficult to help them see beyond their own financial bottom line. And it’s difficult for the individuals on the Reservation who do care and are so under-funded that they cannot even feed the few animals they can save.

For those of you who want to read about the road blocks thrown in our way, the plight of the dogs, the laws of the Indian Nation, the apathy from the populace, and what we’ve done to help there are many links from Life With Dogs to the blogs written, or you can access them here.  For those ready to make all sorts of suggestions know this: we have lined up fosters for many dogs, but the authorities refuse to round them up.  We’ve sent funds for vaccinations, and again, they don’t go to the dogs in need.  We have dropped food at the clinic for distribution only to return weeks later and find it had never been fed.  We’ve contacted rescues willing to help, but again, we get apathy by the busloads when push comes to shove and it’s time to bring the dogs in to find them a better life.  Our government won’t help; certainly those living on the Reservation won’t either.  The newspaper in Kayenta published a long article of several pages with my photo stating that I was making claims that were untrue, verbally attacking the local authorities for their lack of action, and basically making every excuse possible that this ‘problem’ was beyond my scope.  It was an attack on my personal character although I made every effort to work with the veterinarian, the city officials, and other rescue groups. I am clearly sensitive to the problematic cultural issues and I have tried to work within their own system to no avail.  But I have a problem accepting cruelty to animals labeled as ‘cultural differences.’

I encourage you to watch this video entitled ‘Rez Dogs.’  It clearly outlines the lives of these dogs.  30 minutes long it’s worth a view.  The authorities claim that they are doing everything they can about the problem, but there is no evidence that, years later, the problem is any better.

I often wonder as I drive to Kayenta with a carload of dog food if I will find the dogs there or if they will be gone.  If there isn’t a dog in sight I know that they have all met their end in a frightening and careless manner.  It makes my heart sick to see them alive and suffering, it makes me equally as nauseous to know that they have met their end.  For those of us committed to action it’s a heartbreaking cycle.  Even as I write this article I know that it may spur the anger of those on the Reservation, and the results are deadly to the dogs.  And so I continue to help in the best way I know how, and that is to provide what I can with loving kindness to the starving dogs.

I’ve seen animals so injured you know they haven’t long to survive.  I’ve witnessed bigger animals in a pack tear apart a Chihuahua and eat it seemingly alive.  I often see the dogs standing in the middle of the highway as if willing those of us with the power to put a stop to their suffering right then and there.   I see no end to the passive aggressiveness shown by a nation that prefers to be revered for their spiritual power and harmony with the land.  Kindness to animals and harmony with the world around you are not mutually exclusive.  At the very least, if the Indian Nation doesn’t have the capability or where-with-all to fix the problem themselves you would think they would be more accepting of those who are willing to take their problem on and work to solve the issues.