Kayenta Dogs Update

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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.

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.


42 thoughts on “Kayenta Dogs Update”

  1. I have lost any respect I had for the Navajo Nation. Their stubborn refusal to help the dogs when they created the problem in the first place condemns them in my book. If they want sympathy for the loss of their lands and how they have been treated then they may try finding some sympathy in their own hearts first because obviously they have none.
    For shame Navajo Nation! For shame!

  2. They should take their hatred of the white man out on the white man, not poor defenseless animals. That is cowardice.

  3. Sounds like people off the rez HAVE provided Dr Holgate and the Tuba City Humane Society with lots of aid – but this aid, for this specific purpose, is not getting to the animals. Misappropriation of funds in all other nations is called “embezzlement.” Yes, we acknowledge the historical “distrust of white people” and “lack of funds” – but this has become a absurd canard. NN must act responsibly and not hide behind PC. They HAVE gotten aid for this matter. If they are spending it for other purposes, this is breaking basic decency, not just “white man’s laws.” And “distrust of the white man” in this case is irrelevant.Why NN think they deserve an exception in this is not just. If you have connections to this community, I urge you to get involved.

    • Thank you to these commenters for not just jumping on the hate wagon and actually offering solutions. Kudos!

    • Cindy, I don’t htink anybody here has accused Dr. Holgate of embezzling anything. This article is about what is happening in Kayenta – only.

  4. Gina – it’s quite obvious by your response that you have not bothered to read the blogs about the struggle I had with the officials on the REZ. To make blind assumptions that I do not know what poverty is like is to be rather narrow. In my life I have lost everything, my business, house, belongings, just about all I had. I know poverty, I know what it’s like to not know where your next nickel is coming from. I do not condone the racist and blatantly prejudiced comments on this thread. You mention the history of the Indian, and I think we would all agree that it is abhorrent, but that was in the past. To consider it acceptable to deny animals the basic care they need due to past injustices that they had nothing to do with is just bad logic. I was not there when these injustices were perpetrated, and therefore to hold me responsible in any way is an injustice in itself. There comes a time when a people must let go of the past, no matter what wrongs were committed in order to continue into the future and go forward. It’s wrong when people have been willing to give their time, money, effort and compassion to solve a problem to be met with apathy and hostility. If they cannot fix the problem themselves then they should let those who are willing do the job. Just watching the animals suffer on a daily basis is unacceptable no matter where in the world you live. There have been spay and neuter programs, rescue organization etc that have donated hours and hours of time and much in the way of money to this problem, and it still continues today.

    As to your suggestion that we stand outside the borders of the REZ with traps and LURE the dogs out there???? What – are you nuts?? It’s hundreds of miles away. Do you actually think the dogs will simply get up and begin to travel that direction because some idiot is standing out there with bait? More than likely it would attract coyotes, wolves, or other wildlife, but the packs of starving dogs in Kayenta are not going to even know the food is there!! And it’s easy for you to legislate how we solve the problem when you are flinging about your opinions but not following up with action of any kind. My suggestion to you is that YOU stand out in the 110 degree heat with your traps and bait and see just what you may lure in. AYAYAY

    There comes a time when being politically correct is simply amplifying a problem, making excuses to find what is abhorrent acceptable, and doing a huge injustice to people who should be behaving like responsible adults rather than pointing fingers at everybody else. The dogs starving have nothing to do with the way people treated the Indians, that is an convenient excuse for inaction. It is unacceptable no matter where in the world it happens, no matter what country, what neighborhood or nationality.

    • Yay – It’s about time someone shot straight from the hip. Susan is right on the money, and bless her for her efforts rather than condemn her for politically correct crap.

    • Susan,

      Let me first start by saying that I encourage and appreciate what you are trying to do for the rez dogs. It wasn’t my intention to lambast your efforts in trying to motivate people on the rez and feed the dogs, as I believe that we have a responsibility to take care of our domesticated friends as best as we can. I don’t doubt that you have spent many tears, dollars, time and sweat (it’s hot out there!) dedicated to improving the lives of the Kayenta dogs and that your efforts have saved the lives of many. Unfortunately when it comes to politics, the innocents tend to lose. And as your experiences will tell you, this is not a one-sided issue, and in particular, the care of the dogs is not something that can be solved by a single person.

      My issue was with the the tone of your article, and the resulting hateful comments over which you had little control. Your article was dripping with spite, not toward the individuals who got in your way, but to faceless, general members of the populace, some of whom are working to help the situation as you can see from the resources shared on this page. It read more like an angry blog entry than a professional article, rife with emotional and hypothetical value judgments, particularly toward the end of the article and it left a bad tasted in my mouth. I felt it necessary to dispel the comments like those calling natives “apathetic savages” (user comment) and attempt to redirect the conversation to something more constructive. Most Americans don’t know much about life on reservations (not that they are all the same), but I believe it’s your responsibility as a journalist reporting from that location to be fact-driven. (Also, I was not and would not make assumptions about your personal life experiences with poverty. If it came off that way, I apologize. Also I was not the one to suggest “luring” the animals to the border as a solution, which I think is preposterous.)

      I agree and sympathize with many of your points, as I struggled to come to terms with the many free-roaming, skinny, and dirty dogs on the rez on my short visits. Of all people, you would know that to help fix a large scale problem, you first have to understand the situation then collaborate on ways to solve it by working together. You mention that cultural sensitivity should be recognized but not fixated upon, but we aren’t just talking about the European invasion hundreds of years ago, we are talking about years and years (to present) of broken promises, government overreaching, and native appropriation. This, however, does NOT excuse individuals from reneging on their responsibilities to care for their animals, and I think that the local authorities (and dogs!) would benefit immensely by collaborating with someone as passionate as you.

      I am on your side. I support efforts like yours (and have put resources where my mouth is aside from fostering and re-homing animals) and would like to see more updates on how you are affecting change. Identify groups, doctors, clinics, shelters, rescues, individuals who are helping you to garner support, both on the rez and not. Keep trying and find people on the rez who are willing to work with you to make sure any funds are being spent appropriately. As a dog-lover and a reader of this website, I want to see ways that I can help, as well as efforts that are already being made that can be strengthened by my support. I’d like to see you continue to be vocal, but just be mindful of the ways your writing can not only inspire change, but also inspire negativity.

  5. I have read the above comments and offer the following. Why can’t people just move on – the Indian wars are over – the white men who caused them are long gone – we need to fix the current problems – why can’t the reservation sack the current animal shelter management who have been totally useless – employ more responsive and caring individuals to run it – rebuild the shelter so that it can function properly – accept all the help being offerred by the other shelters who are very willing to pitch in as the current bad PR is reflecting on them as well – approach the Tour companies, Burger King, McDonalds etc for donations as I suspect they would be more than willing to assist so this problem could vanish and stop the complaints that they receive as a result of the evident cruelty – then look at progressive ways to become self funding as the other shelters/societies have done. Less talk and more action would be good for everyone. Just do it.

  6. Gina – I and most other people do not want to hear about the past – the situation just needs some common sense action – action that should have been done years ago. Ask your boyfriend to talk to the elders who control the money – they know what needs to be done. Fix the problems so that we can all move on. Monument Valley is a beautiful place spoilt by the cruel inaction of a few.

  7. Yes, people who have all sorts of opinions on what SHOULD be done and sit back, contribute NOTHING, and judge those who are actually doing what they can ought to probably keep their uninformed opinions to themselves. That someone drives hundreds of miles just to feed the animals should be applauded, supported, and assisted, not condemned, ridiculed, and criticized.


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