Animal control officer Walter Kehoe stands with a stray dog he recently collected on Tsulquate Reserve.

Tsulquate Reserve inks animal control act

A new agreement means stray dogs will be rounded up on Tsulquate Reserve.

PORT HARDY—A new agreement between the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nation and District of Port Hardy animal control has the local dogcatcher operating on Tsulquate Reserve for the first time.

But the goal is not to eliminate the canine population.

“Part of the band’s commitment under this agreement is that we do education on proper animal control and care,” said Jessie Hemphill, who is a member of both the band council and District of Port Hardy council. “We send out a community newsletter, and we did a colouring page for kids on dog control. We’re making sure we get word out to the community that this new animal control contract is in place.”

Piecemeal efforts have been made in the past to round up potential problem strays in Tsulquate, including the band hiring individuals to collect the dogs, but the practice never stuck or worked particularly successfully, Hemphill said.

The current agreement, which took effect this month, came about with the help of a Community-to-Community grant through the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) and the work of Gloria LeGal and Rick Davidge of the District of Port Hardy, who presented the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda with a draft of the agreement.

The final agreement brought in Aries Security, which provides animal control for the District in addition to its other duties.

“It’s very much like the District of Port Hardy contract, almost like an extension of it,” said Anika Kelly, owner of Aries Security. “Our animal control officer goes out and does a round in town, and then extends that to the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw area.”

But Walter Kehoe, who collects the loose dogs, does not simply scoop up every unattended canine he encounters. He first asks anyone in the vicinity if they know who owns the dog, and tries to return it, said Kelly.

“The line we are trying to take is education,” said Kelly. “We’re very much solution-based. We’re trying to get as much education out there as possible.”

The animal control contract was not the result of a single incident, but a cumulative matter.

“There were more packs forming lately, and it was getting to be a problem,” said Hemphill. “The band decided it needed to take matters into its own hands.”

One of the primary areas of concern was at Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw School, where dogs — occasionally grouping into packs — were challenging children for their lunchbags. School principal Reed Allen said the school instituted a dog policy a year ago after several children had their lunches taken and a few were “nipped” during lunchbag grabs by the dogs.

“I think dogs on reserve, for us, is a reality,” said Allen. “We do see the odd dog sometimes by itself, and they’re usually fine. It’s when they’re in packs, that’s when it gets dangerous. What it boils down to is, if the students are at risk, then we have to do something.”

Sometimes, a dog at school is simply a matter of a child bringing the dog or the pet following the student. The school policy is, first, to attempt to remove the dogs from school property. If that step fails, the school tries to contact the owner. Step three is contacting animal control.

When an animal is taken to the local pound, it is not simply locked away. The pound has outdoor runs, and Glenda Hogan works with Aries to ensure dogs are exercised and socialized during their stays.

While the animals are fed and given basic grooming for the first 72 hours, Kelly posts their pictures on a Facebook page she has established to alert owners: Port-Hardy AnimalShelter. If the dogs are not claimed, or if their owners simply cannot pay the impound and the spay/neuter fees, they are given another chance.

If not claimed after 72 hours, under the bylaw, the animals are taken to the airport and flown, courtesy of Pacific Coastal Airlines, to Victoria Adoptables, an association which keeps dogs until they can be housed with a new family.

“They don’t have to take that walk down the last mile to the euthanasia room,” said Kelly, who adds those who have difficulty paying for spay/neuter fees may be eligible for discounted pound rates with help from Alex Shorre, a spay and neuter advocate who runs For Paws Boot Camp.

Hemphill went with Kehoe on a ridealong in the first days of the new program, and verified the treatment of the dogs.

“I was amazed how fun it was,” said Hemphill. “The dogs were happy. Walter’s happy. I like how he uses treats to get them to follow, and he has real positive, kindness-based approach.

“And Anika and Mike Kelly have created a Facebook page for dogs that need to be picked up. It’s nice to be working with them.”