Too Many Animals Still Roam the Navajo Reservation

The cat and dog overpopulation problem on the Navajo reservation has been persistent and immense. It’s also pretty well known.

Tens of thousands of cats and dogs without and with homes roam the largely rural 26,000 square-mile reservation, which extends into three states. The number of strays could be as high as 160,000, according to some sources.

The Kayenta Animal Care Center did a survey a few years ago for that area and found that there was one dog for every home and one cat for every other home. It estimates that today there are 1,633 dogs and 532 cats within its boundaries alone, and that does not include 20 to 30 strays.

At the heart of the problem: Cats and dogs with owners are too often not spayed/neutered, allowing them to breed unchecked. They are usually not vaccinated either, thus deadly diseases, like distemper and the parvovirus, spread like wildfire. Like the ferals, they are even left to fend for themselves for food. Loose dogs, in particular, are a danger to people, and bites are frequently reported.

Under the Navajo Nation’s Dog and Cat Control Ordinance, dogs must be licensed and have a rabies vaccination starting at three months, and all animals, except cats, are prohibited from running at large. Violations are punishable with fines, ranging from $50 to $100.

The Navajo Housing Authority has its own policies regarding pets. It permits only two per household; all owners must abide by the Navajo Nation Dog and Cat Control Ordinance; and the owner must show proof that dogs have been vaccinated and keep their dogs on their premises.

Low-cost spay/neuter and vaccination clinics, some mobile, are offered throughout the year by local veterinarians and animal organizations from off the reservation.

Tamara Martin, president of the Blackhat Humane Society, told AIR that dogs were once a valued part of the rural lifestyle.

She said: “They protected the sheep and guarded the hogan. Families lived miles apart, and dogs’ lives were short due to injury, disease [lack of vet care]. When families began moving to cities, they brought their dogs. The dogs had no work to do; they began breeding like hotcakes, and strays became as common as the plastic bags blowing in the wind. Animal Control is poorly paid and understaffed. They have no facilities to hold animals and don’t encourage adoption once the dogs are incarcerated.”

Martin does not know how many animals are impounded each year, but she estimates that 85 percent of those picked up by Navajo Nation Animal Control are euthanized. Owners that don’t want their pets to suffer that fate must pay fines and licensing fees.

Blackhat Humane Society, founded in 2000 and based in St. Johns, Ariz., is the only humane society on the Navajo reservation. It is funded mainly by donations, many given by visitors who want to do something to help, Martin said. It also sells merchandise, like t-shirts and a “Dogs of the Navajo” calendar, and there are some fund-raising events. It gets no money at all from the tribal government.

Blackhat is a “no-kill” organization, although it will humanely euthanize aggressive or severely injured animals, Martin said. The animals that it takes in live in foster homes, provided by volunteers, until permanent homes can be found.

It currently has about 50 animals in foster care. All will be vaccinated, socialized and spayed/neutered prior to adoption.

Martin believes that time is key to the animal overpopulation problem. “Most reservations are 50 years behind the rest of the U.S. One day there will be a Navajo Nation Humane Society Shelter, staffed by well-paid Animal Control personnel, and Humane Society volunteers, like our group, will be available to help with intake, adoptions, foster care and walking and socializing the animals at the shelter. At this time, animals are not a priority in tribal government.”

Education is also important. Blackhat has foster homes across the reservation, and many of the volunteers are school teachers who see what they are doing as a way to educate children by example.

“Navajo kids see that we contain our animals, rather than letting them run loose. We have buckets of water on our front porches so that animals have a chance to drink. We talk to the kids in our neighborhoods about spaying/neutering and let them know about the low-cost spay/neuter opportunities in their area,” Martin said.

Many of Blackhat’s volunteers will vaccinate their neighbor’s animals at no cost to help fight the spread of diseases. When it receives dog food donations, it often goes to families with pets in need.


  1. Veg says:

    Black Hat Humane Society rocks!!
    Spay and neuter your animals!! I’ve seen homeless hungry animals that I’ve fed in Navajo land. Treasure all creatures!

  2. Hosteen Naldloshi says:

    Dogs and trash. A few Irresponsible individuals create the glaring problems that we are tagged with. Some people just don’t care, they toss trash out in the ravines, gulleys, and refuse to take part in animal population control. It’s not a matter of money, it’s a matter of priorities. We all have neighbors like this. Wait until dogs bite their children, and they’ll be first to ‘sue’.

  3. Adelina Defender says:

    ALL of our reservations/pueblos are plagued with dumping of unwanted dogs and cats by ourside individuals. I have witnessed dogs dumped off the highways by non-Indians. I would say 85% of stray or homeless dogs/cats are dumped upon our pristine lands. Same is true of trash dumped along our highways. Native Americans have fond ties to our lands, therefore, we cannot take all the blame. So what is the resolution? I say euthanization of all strays. That eliminate diseases that affect our people and definitely eliminate the animals’ starvation –we are confronted with critical issues to worry about strays. Our BIA is at stake. Senator Paul wants to eliminate BIA and treaties! Oh, also wants to cut IHS by $650 million. So there goes the dogs and cats.

    • Justin Pierce says:

      Really Adelina Defender? That’s your answer? Blame the white man for 85% of the problem and kill all the animals? Please never vote or breed.

    • ckcs247 says:

      Euthanization of all strays? really? thats sounds particualrly awful and heartless. how about more people try and eliminate or confront the indian and navajo laws about not being able to remove any animals they consider “property” and some how put together an organization that will help these strays find homes instead of putting them to thier death. More people like you need to confront the problem by finding humnae solutions instead of looking for the easy way out by euthanization. also raise awareness about the necessity of spay/neuter. we can humanly solve the problem without having to kill them. havea heart people.

    • angela cerci says:

      Euthanize the strays? Interesting… let’s euthanize all of the idiotic people in the world while we are at looking at “solutions to problems’” – is that really THE solution… htink about your words? seriously.

      you think that the rez is plagued by OUTSIDERS dumping strays on rez land? i lived on rez land for 3 years and as a white person living on rez land, natives would DUMP boxes of puppies, half dead dogs on the school’s property because they knew the “outsiders” would take in the strays and help… I LIVED IT for 3+ years… and have also PERSONALLY rescued and transported over 1300 animals since summer of 2010 to places where they have a chance at LIFE…

      i think youre thinking is a quite skewed here and you need to give some SERIOUS thought to what you stated above… kill the strays?

      is that REALLY the issue… or more targeted spay and neuter and education?

  4. Sarahkate Moore says:

    I have been reading about the dogs of Kayenta from eyewitness accounts and older published reports. What I would like to know is this: first why are the people in that township allowed to use the street dogs for target practice? So many starved and injured dogs, why are they allowed to get away with even worse cruelty than abandonment – such as shooting these dogs for “fun” and “sport”? I thought First Nations honored animals but what I have been reading is sickening – and frightening too. second: when “outsiders” donate money and food for the animals care (specifically in Kayenta) why is this food and money not being accounted for and why is it not going to the animals? It seems that so many are willing to step forward and help but – and this is an ongoing problem according to years-old news reports – the donations just don’t seem to get to the animals. At what point does cultural sensitivity become a process of turning away from the most helpless of creatures, the abandoned dogs and cats who depend on humans for food and shelter? I ask WHY is this allowed to go on AND ON AND ON with no end in sight???

  5. Adelina Defender says:

    Serious questions Sarakate. I believe such behavior is due to 1) an insatiable appetite for money by program directors and members on our tribal governments; and 2) our hearts have hardened through wreckless leadership and total lack of our appreciation for God’s (Creator of our universe, earth and us) abundant blessings. Somehow the most God-conscious group of people on earth known as Native Americans have strayed so far off that we have allowed ourselves to grasp worldly pleasures offered through technology, gambling, pornography, etc. Dogs, especially were held in high esteem by many tribes, but most noted are the Navajo, Sioux and other Plains Indians–the travois. The 1800s artists have captured in their paintings dogs hauling valuables on the backs via a travois. Killing dogs and other animals for fun just isn’t our nature. Something is drastically wrong here. We just need to voice our opposition–at least we are attempting to end such cruelty. I salute all of you who have provided your comments.

    • Justin Pierce says:

      Really Adelina Defender? That’s your answer? Blame the white man for 85% of the problem and kill all the animals? Please never vote or breed.

  6. Jade says:

    I have worked with native tribes, other than my own, for nearly 25 years now. I hear every exuse for the mistreatment and neglect. I have also repeatedly heard the argument that the white man is dumping the dogs on reservations. What I can say without a doubt that 85% of the stray/homeless dogs that I have seen on every reservation I have been to are a result of an unenforced or non existent spay/neuter law. If you could pay for the genetic testing you would find this to be true let alone that they all look the same and because of the inbreeding have suffered some ill genetic effects. The suffering of these animals is unbearable for me and have taken quite a few home myself. I have witnessed an indian male preach about the indian obligation to the health of the planet and all its inhabitants and later that same week beat a dog to death with a hammer. Until these crimes of cruelty and neglect are enforced and the punishment is equal to the crime, I fear this will only get worse. For 25 years I have watched this play out over and over with the old and the young, saying it isnt in “our” nature is just denial Adelina.

  7. Lucy says:

    The overpopulation problem IS a result of an unenforced or non-existent spay/neuter program. Up until 2-3 yrs ago, there was a mobile spay/neuter clinic that provided FREE S/N’s on the reservation, including the community of Beclabito. Then, the chapter officials of this community started demanding to BE PAID for this free service and they are no longer providing S/N to this community. We travel through this area all the time and always see a pregnant dog, one becoming impregnated, a mother with a litter or some killed on the highway. We are trying to help by adopting and sheltering the homeless/neglected ones that we find. The first thing we do is get them checked by our vet and spayed or neutered and vaccinated. We hope that the children of these communities can be taught the value in all life, as it seems that the “elders” do not. Lastly, my husband is “white” and he is the only helping the dogs in these communities, picking them up, feeding and watering them as the chapter officials continue to dump their litters at the local “humane shelter” to be euthanized. I guess the new truck payment is more important then the low cost of S/N or one that once was free. Peace.

  8. Maia Daly says:

    I live in New England although the Southwest and Navajo Nation are always near my heart. In the past several years I’ve learned that animal cruelty is everywhere. There is “sport” is throwing dogs down elevator shutes, or simply tieing them outside until they die of hunger and thirst. We look to you, the First Nation People, to show us how to respect and care for all living beings. I try to live by your creed as much as I can, but hearing about the abandoned and abused animals on your Reservations send me into despair.

  9. Christopher says:

    I live on the Navajo rez and I have never seen anywhere else where people have no respect for dogs whatsoever. Dogs are nothing but Sh*t eaters and their name in Navajo says it. At least this is what the elders tell me. The dogs on the rez have no chance of being treated with any respect. Most are mistreated by their owners and fellow Dine’ people. My mom’s dog was shot in cold blood in front of her N.H.A home by a naive, pimpled face 16 year old emulating the ganster lifestyle he had seen on movies. We had to watch helplessly as this dog was shot in the spinal cord, whimpering on an ice, snow packed road. Unable to move just shallow breathing while we wait for the NN Police. When the police finally showed up. All that was done to this teenage wannabe was he got his .22 caliber rifle taken away from him. That was it. No jail time or fine. Not even an eviction from the housing community. This type of in humane treatment of dogs on the rez is pathetic. There is even poisoning of these poor stray dogs by the elderly on the rez. These hungry dogs think they are getting a steak to eat but grandma or grandpa has a little trick up there sleeve. They just marinated the meat with antifreeze. I have seen many times, dogs die this horrible death from antifreeze. They walk a few feet then stumble. Then walk again then fall and die from a seizure. Nothing will ever change on the Navajo rez until there is a law protecting these stray dogs. There needs to be a law enforced that would make it a crime to mistreat animals on the rez. A cruetly to animal law. Also a law that would make it illegal to dump dogs anywhere on the rez. Make it a $500.00 fine and or 6 months in jail. Once laws are in place. They need to be enforced with no exceptions. If grandma or grandpa is caught abusing a dog by feeding it meat laced with antifreeze. Let grandma or grandpa go to jail. Let them be an example to other elderly people who abuse dogs and get away with it. There also needs to be a non profit animal shelter place @ all areas of the rez. @ least give the authority for the humane society to be able to go out on the rez. There is so much restrictions in place on the Navajo Nation. The rez is still part of the U.S. not some other country.

  10. Milo says:

    We need to shoot all the dogs, and feed the cats to the dogs, it is their destiny.

  11. Andrea says:

    I lived and rescued on the reservation for 25 years and found homes for so many wonderful animals. I probably could have purchased a very nice house for the amount of money I spent for health care, spaying and neutering but then I would not have the beautiful memories of the lucky ones who were re-homed.
    You will find mistreatment and lack of respect for domesticated animals throughout the US which is rather embarrassing since we are suppose to be a world leader. Unless people are open to education on animal overpopulation and cruelty is punished appropriately the US will look more like a third world country in the area of animal welfare.

  12. Jenna says:

    Instead of talking about. No something about it. We do lack recycling facilities and pet control facilities and staff.

  13. Jenna says:

    I know all these native american people who went to school to be a vet do something about it!!!

  14. Wanderer says:

    On January 1st, 2012, my family and I were traveling through Kayenta Arizona. We stayed at the Hampton Inn and it was below freezing that night. In the morning, I went outside and saw a few stray dogs. I whistled and nearly 10 dogs gathered around. Many of them were incredibly sweet. I fed them the food I had in the car. All of them got some scraps. One of the dogs had obviously had puppies. One of her pups (who looked about a year old) was the friendliest of all of the dogs.

    He had about 80 burs buried in his fur and his skin, and he was 15 lbs underweight. He was the sweetest dog. He allowed my mother and sister to pull the burs out. He then was trying to get food with the rest of the dogs. He ran around the other side of our car and was attacked by one of the larger dogs of the pack (a beautifully colored pitt bull). He was shivering and incredibly hungry. My mom couldn’t let him go. We are complete animal lovers and she made sure he wasn’t vicious or wouldn’t lash back as we put him in the car. She scooped him up and we drove all the way back home with him.

    I named him Kayenta in honor of the beautiful place he was born to. A year later, he’s healthy, neutered, and loves his home. He is the most amazing dog you could ever ask for; he’s sweet, funny, wickedly smart, and loving. I am incredibly glad to have picked him up from that horrible place. I now plan to travel back to Kayenta and pick up a stray dog the next time I’m looking for a new member of the family :)

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  17. lane says:

    the reservation should not dump and killed dogs and cats they should give it to the people who cares and loves pets

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  19. Yas says:

    The real problem that you are obviously omitting is the result of the biggest holocaust in human history. White people love to blame Natives for not taking care of animals but when a group of people have been FORCED onto infertile third world like land called reservations and are stripped of their identiiy, this is what you get!
    As long as the people are oppressed and suffering due to institutionalized racism and as long as white people continue to BENEFIT from the oppression, the cat/dog stray problem will NEVER be solved.
    Do you research and stop blaming the people! If your people were forced to live on shitty reserves, believe me, spaying and neutering will be the LAST thing on your mind so blame your privileged upbringing!

    • rebecca says:

      Wow Yas……that sounds like your playing the victim card about living on the reservation(which nobody is forced to do but has the choice to stay or move on to anywhere you choose)…so that means it’s ok to be an ugly human being and abuse animals. Hu….sounds like excuses excuses excuses. Animal cruelty is inhumane and no excuse is going to justify such ignorance

    • Stephanie says:

      It is so sad that a discussion about stray dogs and searching for a solution so quickly becomes a finger-pointing racial war. Shame on you participants. Pointing fingers never solves anything. As my mom says every Christmas when the family starts to bicker (used to be my fault most of the time), “can’t we just all get along?” Now I ask that of my kids. We just went and adopted a puppy from New Mexico today, we live in Colorado, and she is so stinking cute! I will be sure to spay her early after reading about the problems out there. We don’t see too many strays in Colorado. Or too many racial wars, must be the fresh air. Come for a visit. :)

  20. Frank Ramsey (founder KACS) says:

    I love and appreciate everyones comments except KACC and whom ever said they did the survey. I did the survey as well as putting the shelter together and all original documents under the name of KACS I worked with township, Navajo nation animal control, Best Friends, Carol Holgate, Black hat, Second Chance and so many others that you can find articles on. They were all wonderful contacts. I moved hundreds of animals with the help of all these groups and more not mentioned in my statement. A huge resource was lost at least half a dozen groups were all allocating resources to the reservation and directly to my efforts here in Kayenta. The Navajo Nation,Township and many local groups can work together what is lacking is a unity that used to exhist. Bridges were burnt repaired burnt etc. I know work a full time job removed completely from humane work due to the way that things ended with Township and the current person running KACC. I worked 8 years putting together everything needed to put together a working animal control and shelter in line with all Navajo nation laws working with humane groups and Navajo nation animal control directly. It is still possible to fix these issues but my warning to all get it in writing before you waste time effort resources and more. Saving as many animals as I did was still worth it. I have one lady to thank for motivation and effortsRose Moonwater. She coordinated and worked with so many people. My original goal of dedicating the Kayenta Animal Shelter to my son the guiding force in everything I did never happened. Victoria Ramsey also helped proof reading for hours work I did. Sorry this is years of resentment built up but people stole my work and are now using my work done for Kayenta Township and attaching their name to it. All you animals Cats, Dogs,kitten, puppy and even a couple donkeys that found homes I’m glad I put the time in. All you people that helped thank you but for those using my work calling it their work you should be ashamed. You did not put the time in and the work needed to get that place started and your stealing many peoples efforts.


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