Navajo Nation Council backs bill to address vicious dog attacks

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Council passed a bill to amend the tribe's criminal code by establishing criminal charges and penalties for injuries or deaths caused by vicious dogs and other animals.

"Passing this legislation strengthens Navajo law to provide criminal penalties to deter people from keeping vicious dogs or other dangerous animals that can attack our loved ones," bill sponsor Delegate Eugene Tso said in a statement.

The legislation was developed in response to the number of injuries caused by dog bites, including those that killed tribal members, and to help address the population of dogs that roam the tribal land.

The Navajo Nation Council Chamber is pictured in 2016 in Window Rock, Arizona. During a special session on Dec. 30, 2021, delegates approved additional hardship assistance payments to eligible tribal members.

A study by the Navajo Nation Animal Control Program states that the severity of dog bites has increased in the last five years and approximately 3,000 individuals are treated for animal bites each year at local clinics or by the Indian Health Service.

Deaths that have occurred because of dog attacks include a 13-year-old girl in Fort Defiance, Arizona, in 2021, a 3-year-old boy in Dilkon, Arizona in 2016, an 8-year-old boy in Pine Hill, New Mexico in 2012 and a 56-year-old man near Gallup in 2010, the bill states.

The council voted 23-0 in favor of the legislation on April 19. It now goes to tribal President Jonathan Nez for his consideration.

Nez will have 10 calendar days to sign or veto the resolution after it is submitted to his office.

This was the second time the bill appeared before the council.

Delegates tabled the bill during the winter session in January to allow a work session between the Law and Order Committee and the Resources and Development Committee to further discuss the proposal.

That work session happened on April 12 at the Twin Arrows Casino Resort near Flagstaff, Arizona.

In a memorandum to the council by Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton, chairperson of the Law and Order Committee, and Delegate Rick Nez, chairperson of the Resources and Development Committee, participants at the meeting were the tribe's fish and wildlife department, animal control program, veterinary program, prosecutor's office, controller's office, agriculture department, public safety division and the Navajo Housing Authority.

The work session resulted in six recommendations to help address the issue, including more funding for animal control officers, setting the limit for dogs and cats to two per household, and all dogs and cats must be spayed or neutered.

Charles-Newton provided further information about the recommendations but none of the delegates motioned to amend the bill to include the suggestions.

"It gets pretty frustrating when individuals drop off puppies and dogs along the roads. I wish we could all be responsible as pet owners," Delegate Edmund Yazzie said.

He added that the previous council passed funding to start construction on a building for the animal control program in the Crownpoint area, but nothing has been developed.

Leadership can allocate money and make laws, but it will not change people's attitudes, Delegate Pernell Halona said.

"Something needs to be done to really get out there and advocate to the people, notify the people," Halona said. "'What if this was your child? What if this was your grandmother? That's going to be the next victim.' That's a scary thought to have."

However, Delegate Daniel E. Tso reproached Halona's comments.

"Colleagues, let's be careful in how we voice our comments. Don't wish these things on our people, 'what if it happened to you?'" Tso said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at

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