Feral dogs can hurt people, other animals Feral dogs are more than just a nuisance in the San Juan County area. The dogs are also a problem when it comes to pet health and public safety.

Traffic: The dogs will sometimes cross the road in front of cars, causing wrecks and leaving dead dogs beside the road.

Aggression: In December 2012, an 8-year-old boy on Navajo Nation was killed by a pack of feral dogs. More than 3,000 individuals are treated each year in Navajo Nation for animal bites and attacks, according to Navajo Nation animal control. Livestock is also affected by feral dog attacks.

Disease: In 2012, 14 dogs from Shiprock tested positive for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The fever is a tickborne illness that affects both humans and dogs. Feral dogs are often not treated for fleas and ticks and are more likely to pick up the fever and transfer it to family pets or carry the ticks into yards, where people might pick them up.

For more on health and feral dogs, go to agriculture.navajo-nsn.gov.

SHIPROCK — For three months, Bailey, a shepherd mix, wandered around City Market in Shiprock with a piece of wire sticking out of his leg. People saw the dog and tried to catch him.

"Everybody and their brother was out there throwing ropes at him," Izzy Todacheene said.

Todacheene and his wife, Yvonne, took in Bailey after Navajo Nation Animal Control caught him.

The Todacheenes volunteer with Soul Dog Rescue, a nonprofit rescued run by a Denver woman that provides low-cost spay and neuter services to rural communities in Indian Country, particularly on the Navajo Nation. The couple fosters animals for the organization before they are transported to shelters in Denver.

Bailey is seen wandering around the City Market in Shiprock last month prior to being captured by Navajo Nation Animal Control officers.
Bailey is seen wandering around the City Market in Shiprock last month prior to being captured by Navajo Nation Animal Control officers. (Courtesy of Yvonne Todacheene)

In addition to their nine dogs, the couple's farm in northern Shiprock often is filled with dozens of others. Izzy Todacheene said they had 65 mouths to feed earlier this month, and, last June, 187 dogs, mainly puppies, passed through the farm's kennels.

Soul Dog Rescue provides food for the dogs, which is dropped off every few weeks when volunteers pick up the next load of dogs to transport up to Denver shelters.

Even with the frequent transports, the Todacheenes' kennels are often full. They said within two days, the kennels can fill up.

"It's a passion," Yvonne Todacheene said. "I mean you got to want to do it to do it."

When Bailey was brought to the farm around April 1 there were almost 30 dogs at the property.

Catching Bailey

For months, Stacey Daw, a senior animal control officer with the Navajo Nation, got calls about a dog running around with a wire in his leg, but every time she went to City Market, he was gone.

That was when Yvonne and Izzy Todacheene heard Bailey was staying at a residence not far from City Market.

Rescued puppies jump at the fence on April 4 at the Todacheene Farm in Shiprock.
Rescued puppies jump at the fence on April 4 at the Todacheene Farm in Shiprock. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)

Daw went to the home and met the man who lived there. The man confirmed Bailey had started hanging out at his house and told Daw the dog had started sleeping in a dog house he had outside. But, the man told Daw, he wasn't feeding the dog or caring for it.

So Daw set out a live trap for Bailey, but the dog didn't go into the trap. Instead, it went inside an old outhouse near the side of the man's house.

"Trapping him in there with the flimsy plywood door — man, it was a battle," Daw said.

Eventually, with the help of her catch pole, she was able to get Bailey into her truck, where he was sedated and his leg was examined.

She said she doesn't know how the wire got in his leg.

The wire is embedded in dog's left hind leg, behind the tendon, and the muscle has atrophied.

"We're thinking just by looking at him, it's probably going to have to be an amputation," Yvonne Todacheene said.

Izzy Todacheene is friends with Patrick Goddard, a veterinarian in Durango, Colo., who provides much of the medical care for the Todacheenes' dogs. He has agreed to perform the amputation if funds are raised.

For the last several years, Goddard has provided reduced cost veterinary care in the Four Corners. He currently works as a veterinarian for the La Plata County Animal Shelter, but he also volunteers with Soul Dog Rescue and the Dogster clinics on the Navajo Nation and in Towaoc, Colo.

Izzy Todacheene walks with his dogs on April 4 at his farm in northern Shiprock.
Izzy Todacheene walks with his dogs on April 4 at his farm in northern Shiprock. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

Before examining Bailey, Goddard looked at photos of the dog and said the only likely option will be amputation.

"Often times, the only option for these animals is the cheapest option," he said.

With Bailey's skittish nature, he said it would be difficult for Yvonne and Izzy Todacheene to help the dog through the intense physical therapy that other options would require.

Goddard performs a couple dozen amputations a year and estimates it will cost between $400 and $500 for the surgery — half the cost many other clinics charge.

Because Bailey hasn't put weight on his leg for weeks, Goddard said the amputation won't affect the dog's life much.

"If anything, it's kind of a burden on him," he said.

Yvonne and Izzy Todacheene watch their dogs play on April 4 at the Todacheene Farm in Shiprock.
Yvonne and Izzy Todacheene watch their dogs play on April 4 at the Todacheene Farm in Shiprock. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)
Learning to trust

The amputation will just be the start of the Todacheenes' work. After that, they will start getting Bailey accustomed to being around humans.

Izzy Todacheene said while people had good intentions trying to catch Bailey, their efforts may have further scared the injured dog.

Until he is socialized, Bailey will live at the Todacheene farm in Shiprock.

"We don't like to send anybody off until they're ready," Izzy Todacheene said.

So far, they have had success socializing most of their dogs.

Izzy Todacheene points to Jackie, a rottweiler mix, as an example.

When Jackie first came to the rescue, she was terrified of people and wouldn't let them touch her. Now, Jackie runs up to strangers and begs to be petted.

Challenges for animal control

The Shiprock Animal Shelter, located near the intersection of U.S. Highways 491 and 64, consists of six kennel runs and a series of small cages for puppies and cats.

Each kennel run can hold a single dog, although the shelter frequently has many more.

Daw said an animal sweep can bring up to 40 dogs to the small shelter. The staff then sorts through the dogs. Dogs that have bitten people or hurt livestock are euthanized and so are the ones that are sick or injured.

The shelter tries to hold the dogs for as long as possible to reunite them with their owners.

The friendly, healthy dogs are often sent to Todacheene Farm, where Yvonne and Izzy Todacheene take care of them.

In addition to the small capacity shelter, Daw and her sole temporary employee are responsible for answering animal control calls in the eastern half of Navajo Nation.

"The Navajo Nation is a huge area," Daw said. "Some people think there's like 20 of us."

Her patrol area is bordered by Pueblo Pintado area in the east; Sheep Springs in the south; Montezuma Creek, Utah, in the north; and Teec Nos Pos, Ariz. in the west.

However, she occasionally answers calls outside her area, as far away as Tuba City, Ariz.

The animal control consists of six full-times officers and three temporary workers.

Veterinary expenses

One of the reasons so many dogs go through the shelter and Todacheene Farm is the cost of neutering. The Todacheenes said many people in the Shiprock area cannot afford a few hundred dollars in veterinary bills, and few other options exist.

There are some reduced cost clinics, including a mobile unit and clinics in Farmington.

Soul Dog Rescue also offers clinics. The clinic neuters pets for whatever the owner can donate. However, those clinics fill up quickly, and the rescue gets hundreds of calls a day from people wanting to get their pets neutered.

In the past few years, groups like Soul Dog Rescue have focused on areas such as Shiprock, Kayenta, Ariz., and Towaoc, Colo.

Their efforts have included trapping, neutering and releasing feral dogs to control their populations and help the dogs have better lives.

Goddard said spay and neuter also has other advantages. Unaltered dogs are more prone to certain kinds of cancer and tend to be more aggressive.

Their efforts are beginning to pay off.

"I think we're starting to see a visible impact," Goddard said.

Like Goddard, Daw said the number of dogs running around Shiprock has decreased. But certain locations still have large packs of dogs.

"For some reason, it's always City Market and the flea markets where I see stray dogs roaming," she said.

Daw stresses that educating people about animal control will continue bringing down feral dog populations.

"It's always a people problem," she said. "It's never a dog problem."

She said people need to understand that just because their dog is spayed or neutered doesn't mean it can run free, and vaccines need to be given every year, not just once in a dog's life.

There are various clinics available to help the people vaccinate and neuter their pets.

"People get new pets every day," Daw said. "Hopefully, they take advantage of these clinics."

How to help

To volunteer to help with Soul Dog Rescue, call Shelby Davis at 314-691-6810 or email shelby@souldog.org

Donations for Bailey's care can also be made by contacting the rescue or Yvonne Todacheene at 505-634-6302.

Checks can be mailed to:

Soul Dog Rescue

P.O. Box 270534

St. Louis, MO 63126

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.