In January, one village in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta removed all its stray dogs with the help of two nonprofits, including Bethel Friends of Canines. It took a lot of planning to ensure that the ambitious effort was a success.
Alice Fitka teaches Yugtun at the Tuntutuliak school, but she took a break to talk about how the village decided that all its stray dogs needed to go. Fitka is a traditional council member; she helped come up with the idea after the principal of the school expressed concerns.
"The people, the community out there complain about dogs, loose dogs," Fitka said.
Fitka said that the principal was worried how the stray dogs would react to her dog if she was out walking it. And stray dogs can be a public health hazard, as they can carry rabies and bite people.
Andrew Frank is a tribal police officer in the village, and says that the tribal police officers didn’t want to shoot the dogs.
"A lot of people kept calling us and asking us to shoot dogs, and I kept telling a lot of people that we only shoot sick dogs or injured dogs that can’t be helped anymore," Frank said.
Historically, shooting dogs has been one way villages controlled the population of strays. But that practice has become controversial, and communities are looking for other ways to manage the dog population. The traditional council in Tuntutuliak passed a resolution that would give the council permission to ask Bethel Friends of Canines for help. The nonprofit helps put stray dogs in Bethel and nearby communities up for adoption, and holds spay-neuter clinics. But Tuntutuliak wanted something that the nonprofit had never done before: remove all the stray dogs.
Lillie Reder is a board member at Bethel Friends of Canines. She was one of five volunteers who went to Tuntutuliak to help the community remove the animals. As soon as her feet hit the ground, she was helping to administer vaccinations.
"When we got there, it was just go, go, go," Reder said.
But to get there, the nonprofit needed a lot of help. Another nonprofit, Alaskan Animal Rescue Friends, helped raise money and offered support. Northern Air Cargo, Grant Aviation, and Ravn Alaska made space in their planes for kennels, and transported the dogs out of Tuntutuliak. They shipped 28 dogs to Anchorage or Bethel for adoption.
But that’s not all.
"Then we did a lot of door-to-door vaccines, so we were able to vaccinate a lot of dogs that were owned by people in Tunt, which was awesome because we got to meet a lot of people and make sure their dogs were safe for the upcoming year," Reder said.
With help from Tuntutuliak’s TPOs, the volunteers vaccinated about 50 dogs. The effort lasted four days. So far, Fitka and Frank have nothing but good things to say.
"It was a lot better than it was before," Frank said. "Less loose dogs."
Bethel Friends of Canines says that they wait for communities to invite them in. Reder says that helps with resources, like finding a place to stay, and ensures that they only remove stray dogs rather than accidentally grabbing someone’s pet.
It also helps with community goodwill and shows respect. Other communities who want to remove stray dogs can reach out to the nonprofit through Facebook or their website: www.bethelfriendsofcanines.com.