Four children have been killed by dogs in Quebec’s Far North since 2014, including a little boy who died three weeks ago. A series of tragedies which reveal the extremely high risk of bites to which children in the region are exposed, where stray dogs abound and sterilization is inaccessible. The solution applied: massive slaughters, which are increasing.
Little Sam*, 4 years old, lost his life while playing outside, in his village in Nunavik, on January 11. On his coffin, a friend from daycare placed two toy tractors, so that he could play “with little Jesus,” recounted to The Press a grandfather of the community.
Sam “had to go to school next year,” said Annie Alaku, the deputy mayor of Salluit, the village where the tragedy occurred. “He was 4 years old and had been adopted by a family in the community. His biological parents came for the funeral, to say goodbye. »
It was a big shock “for everyone, for the whole community,” she continued. “Everyone was sad and very scared. » “We tell the children that we don’t want them to be alone anymore, that they should call an adult to come home after school. »
The boy is the fourth child killed by a dog in Nunavik in 10 years, compared to none in the rest of Quebec during the same period. Nunavik has only 13,000 inhabitants. Compared to the total population of Quebec, it is as if 2,600 children had been killed by dogs in the province in a decade.
Director of Saturviit, the Nunavik Inuit Women’s Association, Nancianne Gray describes the death of the little boy from Salluit as “tragic”. The Kangirsuk native explains that if dogs “are an integral part of Inuit culture”, there has “clearly been a problem with stray dogs for years” in Nunavik.
The lack of veterinarians in communities makes controlling dog populations complex, she said. Mme Gray also explains that although dogs no longer play a vital role in the daily lives of the Inuit as they once did, “some still use sled dogs to go hunting.”
The majority of dog owners take care of them and keep them tied up, assures Mme Grey. But in the North, many dogs are “very territorial” and are “not pets as we know them in the South.”
In 2014, a 4-year-old girl died in Puvirnituq after being attacked by a dog. The animal was tied up, but the little girl had approached it. She had suffered significant neck injuries. In 2019, a 23-month-old boy lost his life in Kangiqsujuaq after being attacked by untethered sled dogs he had approached. The child died of “blunt cervical trauma, consistent with vigorous shaking of the victim by an animal.” In 2022, another 23-month-old child died in Quaqtaq after being bitten around fifteen times on the buttocks and legs by a husky dog. The little girl had a very deep wound in her left groin.
Dog attacks reported to police in Nunavik
2022: 2 (a child injured in Kangiqsujuaq, a 2-year-old child dead in Quaqtaq)
2023: 5 (the victims, aged 5, 8, 21, 34 and 22, were all from Puvirnituq)
2024: 1 (a 4-year-old child died in Salluit)
Source: Nunavik Police Service
Director of communications at the Kativik Regional Administration (ARK, or KRG in English), Denis Abbott explains that control and regulations concerning animals are “the responsibility of the municipalities” in Nunavik. The organization says it supports the 14 municipalities in the region by providing “technical advice” and “sharing best practices” in this area.
More than 200 dogs killed
In the wake of the Salluit tragedy, the municipality captured 70 to 90 stray dogs, said the village treasurer, Adamie Saviadjuk, in a message published on Facebook on January 13.
In this message, Mr. Saviadjuk indicates that the municipality will apply its regulations governing dogs more strictly. “Anyone who owns a dog should be given a copy of the law. This law must be followed and respected,” Mr. Saviadjuk wrote.
The day before, Mr. Saviadjuk had written to the citizens of Salluit to ask them to keep their dogs tied up the next day and to warn them to stay indoors all day while workers “eliminate stray dogs” in the village.
During the holidays, the village of Puvirnituq also carried out a massive slaughter of stray dogs following numerous attacks against citizens: 142 animals were slaughtered, confirmed Mayor Paulusie Angiyou in a telephone interview. Five people were attacked by dogs in Puvirnituq in 2023. A particularly high number compared to the average, according to data from the Nunavik Police Department.
Faced with the scale of the crisis, the village school even had to close its doors.
“The dogs were attacking people, that’s why we had to act. They attacked everyone. Some were bitten,” explained the mayor of Puvirnituq in an interview with The Press. Slaughter, “that’s what people were asking for”. His colleague Annie Alaku, deputy mayor of Salluit, agrees: “There are too many dogs. »
In the wake of the death of little Sam in Salluit, many residents of the region have expressed their fed up with the threat that stray dogs pose to the population.
“It’s time to get rid of it before it’s too late,” one woman said on Facebook. “Okay, I was chased by a dog while driving to my house,” added another. “It’s a very big problem, too many dogs don’t have homes and don’t have food,” Marsha Akparook told The Press.
The issue of dog management is historically charged in Nunavik. Between the 1950s and 1970s, law enforcement carried out mass killings of dogs in Nunavik communities. In a report on the subject submitted in 2010, former judge Jean-Jacques Croteau wrote that “the controversy concerning dogs” in Nunavik occurred “after the sedentarization of the Inuit.” In these years, the government made school compulsory for young Inuit. To be closer to schools, Inuit moved en masse into villages with their sled dogs, which for years had been essential to their nomadic lifestyle.
To avoid attacks in villages full of dogs, the authorities at the time forced their owners to tie them up, under penalty of killing them. “How is it possible to believe that the Inuit, who were nomads almost until that moment, could in such a short period of time adopt the values and ideas of the South,” writes former judge Croteau in his report. Clearly, Inuit families needed time to adapt. Instead, the administrative authorities decided to use “law and order” to resolve the dog problem. »
In 2011, the Quebec government recognized its wrongdoing in this matter and paid $3 million to the Makivik Corporation. At the federal level, discussions are underway on the subject with the Makivik Corporation. “As part of the activities of the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee, taking into account the repercussions of the killing of dogs in Nunavik has been considered a common priority element since 2017,” indicates the Ministry of Crown-Indigenous Relations. , who adds that “this work continues”.
The need for veterinary care in question
Professor of veterinary medicine Cécile Aenishaenslin has been interested in Nunavik dogs (and their bites) for several years. She says she is “still” discouraged by the lack of action by the public authorities in the face of a complex but solvable problem.
According to his research and that of his colleagues, members of northern communities – and particularly children from these communities – are exposed to a significantly greater risk of bite than the rest of the population. And since children are smaller, bites can be fatal more often.
“It’s a situation that persists and that we haven’t tackled very hard for a long time,” commented M.me Aenishaenslin in a telephone interview this week. A complex rabies prevention program exists in the region and dog bites “clearly create more mortality than the rabies virus,” she said.
The reason: the lack of veterinary care in the Far North, which means that few dogs are sterilized.
Mass slaughter is “not something that should be considered the solution,” said the professor.
“What we should do is sit down with these communities and determine a real program that would aim to minimize the risks associated with the presence of these dogs while maximizing the benefits and keeping the dogs in these communities. Because it’s important, they want to keep their dogs. They have many benefits for their physical and mental health. »
A veterinary clinic opened its doors in Kuujjuaq in 2022. “That’s progress,” argued Mme Aenishaenslin. However, the clinic is not permanently staffed by a professional; students in training spend two weeks there a few times a year. And since the 14 villages of Nunavik are not connected by road, it is difficult to have an animal sterilized elsewhere than in this community.
* Fictitious first name