HARDIN — It's a problem affecting animal rescues all around Montana—shelters are full or beyond capacity with strays and surrendered pets.
Right now, an emergency pet rescue effort is underway in south-central Montana, as the Northern Cheyenne tribal government tries to get a handle on its stray dog population.
On Feb. 17, the Northern Cheyenne Board of Health, Investigative Services, and Tribal Council announced a dog sweep would begin Feb. 21, where all dogs in any publicly populated area without a leash would be captured and euthanized. This came as a response to bites, maulings, and a recent confirmed case of brucellosis in a dog in the Lame Deer area.
When the notice was posted, animal rescue organizations in Hardin, Billings and surrounding areas jumped into action, distributing collars, and loading up dogs and puppies and taking them to shelters and foster homes.
When Kayleigh Roy heard about the rescue effort, she cleared out her car and headed to Lame Deer.
"We got a litter of puppies and four adults," Roy said. "We could have taken a whole busload probably, but we did what we could do."
Roy and her fiancee, Spencer Martin, stopped in Hardin Tuesday to get the puppies vaccinated, as they were en route to Sheridan, Wyo. to drop the puppies and their mom off at a foster home.
"I think the time is now," Roy said. "I think a lot of people have thought about adopting and fostering, but with COVID, that really put a damper on our spay and neuter clinics and we saw a lot more dogs on the reservation. With the overpopulation, right now is the time to help."
In Hardin, Roy met up with Eshan King, the founder of the Hardin-based Freckle and Tomcat Rescue, who had been Roy's contact for the volunteer rescue effort, so King could vaccinate all of the pups.
This quick vaccination is the first time Roy and King have met in person.
"It's hard to look at an animal that's starving or freezing and just walk away from them," King said. "The main thing I would stress is that we need foster homes."
Packs of dogs have been a safety issue on reservations for years. In December 2021, MTN spoke with family members ofDuke Little Whirlwind, 58, who was found dead in Lame Deer after being mauled by dogs.
"It's a very big problem," Avalee Little Whirlwind, Duke's niece, told MTN in 2021. "People walk around with scars on them. There's been near-death experiences."
"(It happens) all the time," longtime Lame Deer resident Tom MexicanCheyenne told MTN in 2021. "They’re reported to law enforcement, but nothing ever gets done. They say it isn’t their responsibility."
It's a problem that Tammy Devers, founder of Hardin-based rescue Hamster Boy and Tiger Lilly, says is preventable through spaying and neutering.
"It has to be addressed before it gets to that point," Devers said. “I’m sure there’s nobody in the tribe that enjoys it coming to that, but it’s become a safety concern. Feral dogs, semi-feral dogs they pack up with friendly dogs, it’s just become a concern."
Devers says the only answer is fewer puppies being born.
“Rescues are overwhelmed, shelters are overwhelmed and it's not just a reservation problem, it’s everywhere," Devers said.
At her rescue in Hardin, Devers worked with Rez Dog Rescue of Montana to take in dogs from Lame Deer.
“I agreed to take two juveniles and some small dogs. I ended up taking 15, but how do you say no? How do you say no?” Devers said.
Devers and King are close friends, and along with their rescues, Rez Dog Rescue of Montana and Take Two Equine Rescue have been collaring, housing, fostering, feeding and otherwise caring for dogs from Lame Deer, including getting them veterinary attention, vaccinations, and tests for brucellosis.
All of the rescues are looking for puppy/dog food, emergency foster homes, monetary donations, and adoptions.
Some of the dogs, like two, 13-week-old female Heeler mixes at Hamster Boy and Tiger Lilly, are ready to find their forever homes, but struggle because they are mostly solid black.
"We need to get them into forever homes, so we don't have to say 'no' to other people trying to relinquish dogs. And I say no daily," Devers said.
You can learn more about Hamster Boy and Tiger Lilly here, and Freckles and Tom Cat Rescue here.
Rez Dog Rescue of Montana has launched a fundraiser through the Animal Care Center in Hardin to establish free spay/neuter clinics for the Northern Cheyenne Reservation year round. To donate, you can reach them here or Venmo: @RezDogRescueofMT
Spay Montana is offering free spay/neuter clinics for the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in 2023 on June 10, 11, July 15, 16, and August 12, 13.