In my position as an Environmental Health Officer, I travel to villages throughout the Delta vaccinating animals against rabies. In every village I go to residents, village officials and law officers worry about stray dogs. There is good reason for this. Between 2007 and 2013, there were 703 reported animal bite incidents in the Delta. More than 50 percent involve children under 10, and seven children under age 5 have been mauled to death by dogs since 1994.
There has never been any access to veterinary care outside of Bethel. This has lead to an extreme surplus of unwanted, unkempt animals in our villages and an ongoing emergency situation that is both a major threat to public health and animal welfare.
After factoring in travel, it can cost between $600 and $1,500 per animal for a spay or neuter in our region. A trip to Bethel or Anchorage is not feasible for the majority of YK Delta families.
The Office of Environmental Health (OEH) is building working relationships with several non-profits in Alaska dedicated to providing low-cost or free spays/neuters for animals in the rural parts of our state. The first year of this effort has been successful:
- In July, OEHE teamed up with the Alaska Native Rural Veterinary Inc. (ANRV) to provide free spay and neuters in the villages of Napaskiak, Kwethluk and Akiak. In seven days, 44 dogs were spayed/neutered and 145 were vaccinated against rabies, parvovirus, etc.
- In September OEHE teamed up with Alaska Rural Veterinary Outreach Inc. to provide veterinary care to St. Mary’s and the surrounding villages. In four days, 13 animals were spayed/neutered and over 25 received wellness checks and the full range of vaccinations.
- In late October, the Christian Veterinary Mission made it out to Hooper Bay, Chevak and Scammon Bay providing first time services to over 100 animals.
Our work in the summer of 2013 has made small progress in addressing a major humanitarian, health and safety issue in the YK Delta. Some people might ask why one would want to have their pet spayed or neutered. Here are a few reasons:
- No more puppies!
- Reduce the amount of unwanted, uncared for animals in your community!
- Improved human health. — Stray/unkempt dogs spread germs and are more likely to bite.
- Reduces undesirable behavior like aggression, fighting and roaming.
- Increases a dog’s ability to maintain healthy weight.
- Health of the dogs is improved and animals live longer.
- Dogs become more obedient and responsive.
We could not provide these services if it wasn’t for the assistance of active community members in each village. If you have interest in bringing veterinarians to your community, please contact the Office of Environmental Health at 1-800-478-6599.
Spay and Neuter Clinic in St. Mary’s in September
The President and Director of Alaska Rural Veterinary Outreach (ARVO), two volunteer veterinarians from Anchorage, the St. Mary’s water plant operator, and Environmental Health Officer Ryan Autenrieth of YKHC partnered to provide a free spay and neuter veterinary clinic in St. Mary’s and four surrounding communities.
The team transformed the Boys and Girls Club in St. Mary’s into a temporary clinic in a matter of hours. They worked from morning to late evening from Sept. 12 to Sept. 15 to provide spays, neuters, vaccinations, and education.
In between surgeries, Ryan went door-to-door to provide vaccinations and called community members to offer the clinic’s services. The City of St. Mary’s provided lodging for the team, and water plant operator Andrew Journey’s steady, consistent support helped make the clinic a success.
The team “fixed” a dozen dogs and one cat, vaccinated nearly 40 dogs and cats, and connected with dozens of adults and children from St. Mary’s and the surrounding communities. ARVO has expressed interest in returning to St. Mary’s in the future and partnering again with YKHC.