Late last week, 8 year old Tomas Henio was attacked and killed by 9 feral dogs in Cibola County, NM. The young boy was outside sledding down a snowy hill near his home. Neither the boy's mother, nor his stepfather heard any commotion but later found the young boy dead in the snow. The dogs, all mixed breed dogs -- one of which weighed up to 100 lbs, were common in the area and may have been fed and "cared for" by the victim's great-uncle.
The incident took place on Navajo Nation owned land in New Mexico. Because of cultural differences in the idea of canine "ownership" between many Native American tribes and most of the United States, free-roaming dogs are very common and a fact of life on many Reservations.
According to Navajo Nation wildlife and animal control manager Kevin Gleason, it is estimated that as many as 445,000 dogs roam freely on the reservation of about 89,000 households. He also reports that they respond to about 25 dog bite cases a month (which is 300 per year) and 25 attacks on livestock each month -- very high numbers for such a small population. The area euthanizes about 6,000 dogs a year.
Dog attacks are rare, and ones causing serious, fatal injury are even more rare. However, this is the second similar tragedy on the same Indian Reservation -- as 55 year old Larry Armstrong was found dead on December 8, 2010 from a similar incident -- and shows why it is important that in most of the US we continue to treat animals as household pets and continue to pick up stray dogs so we don't have large groups of free-roaming dogs in neighborhoods (which is not common in most of the US).
My heart goes out to the family Henio family, and to the people in Navajo Nation who are trying to solve their feral dog problem.