Northern Cheyenne Dogs Days of Summer

Back in December, we ventured to southeast Montana to get a better idea of the free-roaming dog population wandering the streets of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Lame Deer, Montana.

Free-roaming dogs on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation lack veterinary care and can be aggressive in their encounters with people.

This work is part of a continuing partnership with the tribe that was established in 2008 when the reservation became the 17th black-footed ferret reintroduction site. We have since expanded our efforts to determine if these dogs pose any threat to the health of the tribal community and the surrounding wildlife.

So we returned to the reservation over the Fourth of July holiday weekend to survey residents on dog ownership practices and encounter frequencies. We also wanted to get a better estimate of the free-roaming dog population. We used the same technique employed on our previous trip when we drove an established transect of about 2 miles taking pictures of all the dogs we saw. We then used individual markings to identify each dog and determine how often we encountered each one.

Our previous trip revealed there were already lots of dogs, and that was in the middle of the brutally cold winter. Given the warmer weather, we expected to see dogs everywhere. Of course, nothing is ever that simple. With temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit most afternoons, the dogs were even harder to detect as they were most likely trying to stay cool in whatever way possible.

The hot weather on our recent trip compelled dogs to seek secluded, shaded areas, making it more difficult to locate them.

We got first-hand experience with just how brazen some of these dogs are and saw some close encounters with people. Although this poses a big risk to people if the dogs are aggressive, it did make my job of photographing dogs much easier—and luckily, none of the animals we encountered were aggressive.

We also mixed research with culture when we attended the reservation’s Fourth of July parade. While this was a very cool experience, the parade also highlighted the fact that when there were people around there were also dogs nearby looking for a handout.

Northern Cheyenne tribal members participating in a Fourth of July parade were likely to encounter dogs looking for handouts.

We also came across a new trend on the reservation: owning “toy” dogs. Although these dogs are cute and often portable, these animals pose the same threat as their bigger counterparts, and we saw many of them roaming the streets as well.

And we still had the same problem of not knowing if free-roaming dogs had owners.

Because of the lack of veterinary access on the reservation, we classify all dogs on the streets as potential threats to humans and wildlife. Unfortunately, everyone we talked to seemed to have a story about a dog bite or attack. Most people seemed appreciative of our efforts. We are continuing to work with the Indian Health Service in an effort to expand veterinary services and help the people of the Northern Cheyenne live harmoniously with their canine companions.

Mary Beth Manjerovic

Mary Beth Manjerovic  

Mary Beth Manjerovic, Ph.D., is a Wildlife Disease Ecologist at Lincoln Park Zoo’s Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology and Urban Wildlife Institute.


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