By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
We are a rich and privileged nation by many standards. We have been blessed with an economic engine that, so far, has outpaced, outproduced, and sustained the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), even through very dire predictions during the pandemic. Challenges loom – pandemic impact, competitive casino development, and dissolving of grant funding – but, to date, we still have one of the biggest budgets and fullest coffers of any municipality in the region.
We can build tall, expensive buildings in a single bound. We were once told by a North Carolina governor that we had constructed a hospital that should be a model for not just the state, but the nation, and we continue to build on to it. Our school, at the time it was constructed, was state-of-the-art, and we continue to build on to it. We build high-rise towers, convention centers, and many other amenities, and still have money to invest more in Sevierville, Tenn. and points west.
You might say, ‘well, our elders, men, women, and children should come first’. And, you would be right. You might say, ‘economic development should come first’. And, you would be right. And, you might say that the health and welfare of the tribal members should come first. And, again, you would be right.
But, do those things prevent a compassionate community like the Qualla Boundary from being able to create the community education and adequate resources like facilities and personnel for the protection of animals? Does the need to address economic and community development prevent the government from enacting laws and allocating resources to increase capacity for veterinary services and proper networking to allow relationships county-, region-, state-, and nation-wide to place animals before they have to be euthanized? There is no need to neglect the community needs to make a better environment for stray and unwanted pets. We can, indeed, walk and chew gum at the same time.
We have a detailed section in the Cherokee Code outlining law for animal control. We have dedicated enforcement officers in the EBCI Animal Control Department who fulfill the law and maintain the tribal shelter. The volume of animals passing through the shelter are staggering. In a 2019 One Feather article, EBCI Animal Control said they handle between 1,500 and 2,000 animals each year. At the time, they said the number hadn’t fluctuated much from year-to-year.
Those who work in the department have a difficult task. Like other Animal Control departments in other municipalities, they suffer from the stigma that the public associates with government shelters who, out of necessity, must have a policy of disposing of animals after a certain period of time. There is simply not enough room. There are simply not enough resources to maintain animals for an indefinite period of time. Under current tribal law, the prescribed wait time before a decision is made about euthanasia of an animal is 10 days.
In addition, the structure created by tribal government does not include a strategy or manpower for significant adoption efforts. Animal Control does what it can under current law. They have established a policy for adoption and have even made efforts to seek spay/neutering for some pets in order to make them more attractive for adoption. But, with the mammoth volume of animals, they are only able to adopt out a small fraction of the many that come through the shelter. So, many fall victim to the end of the 10-day waiting period and what it necessitates.
The One Feather has requested a periodic report on the status of many law enforcement actions and inventories from Animal Control, Cherokee Indian Police Department (CIPD), Cherokee Police Commission, and the Office of the Principal Chief, so that the public might be able to have a snapshot of those activities like volume of animals passing through the EBCI shelter, number of those adopted, and the number that have had to be euthanized. A representative from the Cherokee Police Commission and also from the CIPD have stated that they are working on a format and deciding what information will be included. We will provide that information in future additions of the paper when it is available.
Our neighboring municipalities, who have smaller budgets than us are working diligently to make it easy to adopt and to educate the public on the importance of spay/neuter. Private citizens are coming together to create public-facing organizations with websites, social media pages, and publicity campaigns with the goal of publicizing individual pets needing homes, soliciting for foster “parents” for pets in the interim to give the animals additional time and freeing up space in the shelters for incoming animals. In those municipalities, it has become a labor of love involving private citizens, businesspeople, and government.
In Swain County, PAWS Animal Shelter is funded by donations, grants, and proceeds from a thrift shop that was created by private citizens to generate revenue for that purpose. At www.pawsbrysoncity.org, the organization’s stated mission is “To help alleviate the suffering of abandoned abused, homeless and injured cats and dogs in Swain County. We provide a caring haven and find loving homes for as many as possible. Through community outreach, education and media, we seek to transform local cultural norms so that human-animal bonding and neuter/spay become more widely practiced in our region.”
They started in 1990 and, by 1995, were sustaining themselves as a no-kill shelter. They have affiliated themselves with a pet adoption inventory website (www.petfinder.com) and all of their potential pets are available to view on that site.
We, the Tribe, do not set an adoption fee for animals at our shelter, but adopters are required to pay for spay/neuter and for rabies vaccinations. This cost for a dog, according to the 2019 article, was around $130 per animal. PAWS offers pets for adoption with an adoption fee of $85 for dogs and $65 for cats, but this includes deworming, spay/neuter, microchipping, and vaccinations. They advertise their adoptable animals and provide a structure, a culture that supports both adoptee and adopter – and all in a municipality that doesn’t have the economic wherewithal of the EBCI.
It is quite common in Native American culture to have respect for every living thing. It is claimed to be a spiritual foundation, giving thanks to the animal even when the animal had to be killed for sustenance. In native tradition, animals were killed only out of necessity and never taken for granted. We are renowned for our love of nature. Doesn’t it fly in the face of who we are to not do everything we can to preserve the lives of animals on the Boundary? Isn’t it hypocrisy for us to have the resources that we have and continue to ignore this deficiency in our community care?
We as a tribal community, as a tribal government, need to provide better education for our people on the necessity for responsible pet ownership and resources to join the networks available to increase the base of available adopters. We need to establish a foster care network for pets so that it won’t be necessary to make life and death decisions after only 10 days.
The Christmas holidays are upon us. Every year, dogs, cats, and other domesticated animals are given as gifts for the holidays, many times without a thought of the ability of the receiver to care for or even if they want to commit to the care of another life. Typically, a few weeks and months after Christmas, there is a surge of animals in shelters throughout the country. By then, like the Tonka trucks and doll houses, little dogs and cats have lost their luster with the people they were given to, and now end up in shelters or, worse yet, abandoned on the side of the road – one minute a cherished gift, the next a feral stray fighting to survive. Let’s not be a part of that this year. Let our New Year’s resolution be that we will get serious and take action to make Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary a no-kill sanctuary for animals.
It is long overdue.