For several years, Lincoln Park Zoo has worked with Montana’s Northern Cheyenne Tribe on black-footed ferret recovery efforts. Over those years, the zoo has expanded its relationship with the tribe to also incorporate science education and look at community health issues.
One of these issues centers on free-roaming dogs in the reservation. Driving through the Lame Deer, the largest town on the reservation, the number of free-roaming dogs you see can be staggering, even in -20 degree weather!
Two free-roaming dogs on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.
In addition to the free-roaming dogs, there are also free-roaming cats and horses. Since these are all animals that regularly come into close contact with humans, it’s a concern that they may carry diseases, or parasites like ticks and fleas, that may be transmitted to humans and wildlife. These types of diseases are known as zoonotic diseases.
To study this concern, we are conducting a survey on the reservation asking questions about their health, how people care for their pets and their contact with the free-roaming dogs, cats and horses. We recently kicked off the study when we traveled to Lame Deer, Montana in -20 degree weather; the coldest it’s been there in 15 years!
Free-hanging horses in the Montana snow.
Luckily this wasn’t cold enough to stop students, faculty and those out for lunch from stopping by the Chief Dull Knife College’s cafeteria, where we set up a table and asked passersby to fill out our questionnaire. We had great response, and many people openly shared their stories and opinions. Many strongly believed that the free-roaming dogs are a problem and need to be managed, while others equally believed that the dogs are sacred and should only be respected.
Zoo scientist Evan Sorley mans the community-survey table at Chief Dull Knife College.
It is our hope that through our study we may develop a program aimed at improving the health of the dogs on the reservation. As we’ve seen in the Serengeti, this can also improve the health of the Northern Cheyenne community—and the environment they share.