Improving the lives of people and dogs in rural Alaska

A dog in Kwethluk.
(Film Academy Students / Lower Kuskokwim School District)

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta has more dogs than it can care for. A veterinarian travels to Bethel once a month, but no such service exists in the villages. Unvaccinated and uncared for, stray dogs threaten a community’s well being. Now, two organizations have teamed up to work with Delta communities to fix the issue.

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Two weeks ago, Napaskiak decided it needed to reduce its stray dog population. So it did what many communities in the Delta do: the city offered a bounty of $20 per dog. Three were killed.

Napaskiak City Clerk Valerie Kaganak said that it’s hard to find people to participate. People don’t like shooting dogs, and many don’t collect their bounties. But people agree that loose dogs are a problem.

“They open trash bags and let it scatter all over. And they steal [subsistence] food that we put away in our porch,” Kaganak said.

Dogs also hurt people. Over the past decade there were nearly a thousand reported dog bites in the YK Delta, according to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. More than half the victims were children under 10 years old. In the worst cases, children died.

For the past five years, volunteer veterinarians have tried to address that issue by traveling to rural Alaska and offering basic veterinary services like spaying, neutering and vaccinations. This year, for the first time, the vets at Alaska Native Rural Veterinary, Incorporated are teaming up with the Humane Society to work with three Delta communities to find solutions to their stray dog problems.

The groups are visiting Kwethluk on Wednesday, May 31 and Napaskiak and Napakiak on Thursday, June 1.

“We want everyone to show up. Everyone is invited,” Angie Fitch, Executive Director of Rural Veterinary, said. To attend, head to the Bingo Hall with your stories and ideas.

“Which will help us determine the best way to address the lack of veterinary care,” Fitch said.

Using this information, the groups will return three times this year to offer spaying, neutering, and vaccinations. They’ll also offer a doghouse building project where the group works with students in the schools to build doghouses from donated wood.

“So they learn carpentry skills, but also learn how to do something good for the community. And then the dogs will get new dog houses, also,” Fitch said.

The groups will hire one person from each community to help organize and run the visits.

“They just need to enjoy helping people, and like animals, and be good at collecting data,” Fitch said, “because they’ll have to get all the names of the families and the dogs, and keep track of the shot records.”

The goal is to use the program as a pilot project to improve the lives of people and dogs across rural Alaska.

Anna Rose MacArthur is a reporter at KYUK in Bethel.

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