Spay and Neuter Clinics Improve Village Safety

Kongiganak residents brought dogs to a free spay and neuter clinic. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.
Kongiganak residents brought dogs to a free spay and neuter clinic. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.

A team of veterinarians brought spaying, neutering, and vaccinations to two YK Delta villages last week. Alaska Native Rural Veterinary, a Fairbanks-based nonprofit visited Tuntutuliak and Kongiganak for the free clinic.

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Veterinarian Paula Gibson is in Kongiginak to spay, neuter, vaccinate, and deworm as many dogs as she can in a marathon day. She lives in Missouri, but grew up in Adak. She’s volunteering with Alaska Native Rural Veterinary. This December morning, her mobile surgical unit is set up in a wide hallway of the community’s washateria with a window overlooking the ocean.

In recent years, rural western Alaskan villages have struggled with loose dog populations. It’s not uncommon for some villages to pay young people a bounty of $10 or $20 dollars per dog when things get out of control.

Environmental health experts say overpopulation creates the potential for hungry and aggressive dogs and can lead to bites and in some cases maulings. The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation office of environmental health cites 703 animal bites in the YK Delta between 2007 and 2013.

In the lobby with about 10 others was Leann Miller and her small, gold-coated Scarlett, age two.

“I don’t know how she feels, maybe she’s excited and scared and nervous at the same time,” said Miller.

The community of over 400 located near the mouth of the Kuskokwim a few miles from the coast doesn’t get visits from vets. Residents would need to fly to Bethel for procedures like spays and neuters, which is cost prohibitive for many. The result can be a overpopulation of stray and loose dogs, raising the risk for dog bites, contact with rabies, and a more hungry dogs getting into garbage.

Jonathon Otto, a VPSO, brought his German wire-haired pointer hunting dog, Nuka, to be neutered.
Sergeant Otto says spaying and neutering is a better alternative to how village dog populations are usually controlled.

“They call me and we find someone to do the dog control, they round them up, take them to the dump, and take care of them,” said Otto.

Joe Joseph is President of the Kongiganak tribal council, which hosted the clinic in their building. He says the village’s dog control efforts are only a temporary fix.

“Neutering dogs, fixing them up, it’s going to help us a lot, I’m glad they’re doing that. For the safety of our kids, for the safety of our elders, I’m glad they’re doing that,” said Joseph.

It’s not only dogs they take care of. Hannah Jimmy held a gray cat, thought to be one of three in town.

“We call him kitty and sometimes Bobby,” said Jimmy.

After Gibson was finished with Bobby, there will be no Bobby Juniors. By late morning, the line was long for pet owners, and Gibson was eager to have as many animals as she could come across her table.

Gibson, who also works with Christian Veterinary Mission, says every dog counts.

“It may sound like we’re not doing enough when you look at the actual numbers of animals. But when you break it down into the number of puppies a dog can have or a male dog can father, we’re at least stopping that much, so it’s a start and there’s quite a bit more to do,” said Gibson.

Angie Fitch of Fairbanks is the director for Alaska Native Rural Veterinary.

“One female could have 16 to 20 puppies a year,” said Fitch.

After the team sterilized 38 dogs during the visit, the two communities can expect fewer puppy litters and fewer problem dogs.

Sponsors of the clinic include Grant Aviation, Delta Western, and the YKHC Office of Environmental health. The group hopes to visit 20 villages a year.

Ben Matheson is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network.

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