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Spirit Lake Reservation addressing 'nuisance' dogs after 6-year-old boy mauled to death

Tribal leaders say last year alone they took in more than 700 dogs wandering the reservation.

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A "nuisance" dog is seen wandering the Spirit Lake Reservation.
Matt Henson / WDAY-TV
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FORT TOTTEN, N.D. — The FBI is investigating the death of a 6-year-old boy on the Spirit Lake Reservation.

Sources close to the investigation confirmed the boy was mauled to death by at least one dog Sunday afternoon, March 27, at a housing development next to the old social services complex off Highway 57 in Fort Totten.

The FBI declined to release any other details as they try to piece together exactly what happened.

Those findings would then go to federal prosecutors, including if the owner of the dog is identified.

The attack has highlighted an issue some on the reservation say has gone on for way too long. The deadly attack prompted an emergency meeting of tribal leaders. They admit the issue of "nuisance" dogs has been a problem for years, but they say there’s no easy solution.

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"A lot of them are just running rampant out here," Spirit Lake resident Shawn Guy said.

He is a father of three children and has three dogs. He's disappointed it took this deadly dog attack to bring the issue to the forefront.

"We've got people over here walking with sticks ... just to protect themselves," he said.

Tribal Chairman Douglas Yankton said last year alone they took in more than 700 dogs found wandering the reservation, and that didn't even "dent" the problem.

The dogs are then fixed, vaccinated and rehomed. Due to the sheer volume of dogs, the reservation said it would be impossible to establish a registration system.

Tribal leaders said it's not just residents of the reservation causing the problem. They've had numerous issues with people bringing unwanted dogs onto the reservation and abandoning them.

"You could just be walking around the road and all of a sudden these dogs just pop out of nowhere, and you don't know if they're going to be hostile or just friendly," Guy said.

Yankton noted the reservation has several regulations on the books, including the banning of certain breeds like pit bulls and rottweilers.

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He said enforcement has been a huge issue because owners become confrontational, and kicking people out of housing just makes the homelessness situation worse.

"I don't want that to happen to any other child. This is my reservation, this is my home, and in order for us to actually address this, we've got to come together as a whole," Guy said.

There's only one animal control employee on the reservation, but the reservation said it is in the process of adding more animal control officers, especially for mating season.

Guy said he reached out to volunteer help to capture the nuisance dogs to make his community feel safe again.

"To protect the little ones, like the elderly, too," he said. "Sometimes they want to come outside and walk, and they should not be afraid to do that."

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at mhenson@wday.com and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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