Desert Animal Companions of the Navajo Nation

Animal Planet Visits the Navajo Nation to do Free Spays and Neuters

By Maxine Hillary, M.A. .

Window Rock--You see them everywhere. They hang around gas stations, supermarkets, flea markets and behind restaurants. They cross the roads in search of food--you find them dead on the road. Those are the lucky ones. Their suffering is over. Others live on the brink of starvation, breeding uncontrollably, covered with mange, fleas and ticks, their insides riddled with parasites. Compassionate locals and tourists passing through might drop the remains of a fast food lunch or leave some dog chow for them. Others go after livestock or join packs where they pose a risk to the health and safety of local residents. Stray dogs and cats may seem like just part of the scenery in Indian Country, but the problem is more serious than it seems. But it's easier to fix then you might think.

Glenda Davis, Director of the Navajo Nation Veterinary and Livestock Program works tirelessly to help these animals and to educate the Navajo people on the importance of sterilizing dogs and cats in an effort to reduce the numbers of hungry dogs strays the reservation. She networks with non-profit organizations who are happy to help if it means making life safer for the people she serves and happier for the animals that desperately need her help.

"Dogs have always been part of our community. They have provided companionship and protection as well as helping us herd sheep. Cats go after the deer mouse which carries Hantavirus. We have a responsibility to take care of these animals and to protect our families and livestock from bites and diseases. Many people don't know that mange is communicable to other animals and can spread to children."

While the offspring of rez dogs and cats contribute to the large numbers of stray animals roaming the Nation, the vast majority of them are from unsterilized pets running loose mating with whatever crosses their paths. These puppies and kittens, if not taken into good homes, usually contract parvo, distemper and other diseases. When they die, their bodies are eaten by other hungry animals that come down with the diseases and a vicious cycle begins. The risk of a rabies epidemic is always present. The only solution is to prevent them from ever being born and that's why Animal Planet has come to the Navajo Nation.

Famous for the Crocodile Hunter, the Jeff Corwin Experience and Emergency Vets, Animal Planet is teaming up with the American Human Association to do free spays and neuters on the Navajo Nation and to assist with low-cost vaccinations. Assisted by Navajo Nation Vet Program's vets and three interns from the Ohio State University Veterinary Program, the American Humane Association's staff veterinarians have performed 83 free surgeries and it's only the second day. The event was kicked off with speeches by Navajo Nation President, Kelsey A. Begaye, Navajo Council Resources Committee Vice Chairperson, Robert Billie Whitehorse and Omer Begay, Council Delegate from Greasewood Springs who brought his lab/pit bull mix, Jed in for a free surgery. Glenda Davis couldn't have been happier.

"I'm so pleased at the support we've gotten from the President's office and the Council delegates who took their time to support this event. I'm also very grateful to the Navajo people who chose to take the responsibility to make sure their pets don't contribute to the large numbers of strays we see around the Nation."

Animal Planet will feature three Navajo families as they share their animal stories with international viewers. A camera crew has been following them as they vaccinate, sterilize and teach their kids proper pet care. An elderly Navajo woman has volunteered to show them her sheep dogs and how important they are to her lifestyle.

Contrary to popular beliefs, spaying and neutering doesn't hurt an animal or compromise their quality of life. In many cases it ensures that animal has a longer and healthier life. Spaying a female dog keeps male dogs from hanging around, prevents pregnancy and the dog version of breast cancer known as mammary cancer, which spreads fast and is almost always fatal. Neutering a male dog prevents wandering and cancers of the testicles and prostrate, also fatal diseases. Sterilizing a cat or dog in no way affects the amount of love, loyalty or protection an animal gives its owner. It reduces the likelihood of spraying common in male cats and fighting in male dogs. And sterilizing a pet in no way affects the human owner or family members. In fact, it makes for a happier pet relationship. Says Davis, "It's so sad when an animal runs into the road and gets hit by a vehicle and we can't save it so we have to put it down to get it out of its pain. It's not fun when an animal gets a disease and the family doesn't have the money to save it, so we have to put it to sleep."

Animal Planet and the American Humane Association are also helping the Navajo Nation Veterinary Program with education on the proper care of an animal. The Navajo Veterinary & Livestock Program along with the Spay Neuter Assistance Program and Remote Area Medical -- Veterinary services have aggressively addressed the people education issues. The goal is to make good pet owners of people on the reservation and to put an end to animal cruelty, abuse and neglect on the Navajo Nation. There is a strong link between violence against animals and violence against humans. Navajo Nation Animal Control officers maintain that homes that mistreat animals usually have some abuse or neglect happening to children or elders inside the homes. The correlation is so strong that some states require animal abusers to seek counseling in an effort to prevent violence against humans. Studies show that repeat violent offenders usually start their violent behaviors by hurting animals. Glenda Davis has a lot invested in stopping these cycles of violence.

"It's important to teach our youngsters compassion, responsibility and respect for all living things. Giving them the skills to be good pet owners does much to make them good citizens. Kids that learn to love animals usually turn out to be good to other people and good members of society."

The goal of Davis and the Animal Planet/American Humane Association team is to sterilize 250 dogs and cats this week, which will prevent the births of thousands of puppies and kittens. The clinic is also offering low cost vaccinations for $15 dollars per pet. Animals must not eat or drink for 12 hours prior to surgery. The service is open to anyone wishing to spay or neuter a pet. For more information, please call 928-871-6615 or 928-871-6619.

Contact Glenda Davis, Program Manager, for more information.

While every effort has been made to insure reliable and accurate information, any errors or omissions are the sole responsibility of the webmaster, Rose Z. Moonwater.