ST. IGNATIUS - Lake County has a dog population problem that's leading to these animals being injured in fights or hit by cars, spreading diseases — or attacking other animals.
The situation is leaving one rescue organization scrambling to help and law enforcement looking for solutions and as we found out, a solution is in the works.
“We have dogs getting shot left and right now because people don’t know what to do with them," said Arlee Rehabilitation Center founder Filip Panuze who is frustrated he can’t do more to help curb the stray dog population and find the animals' homes.
Panuze recently organized a spay and neuter clinic in Pablo that fixed 140 animals. While that helped, it also highlighted the need for more clinics. “As soon are you get the word out you get flooded with calls and emails and messages with people desperate for help."
Even dog ownership can be ambiguous. Some kind-hearted people may help keep a stray from starving but might not be prepared to afford long-term care.
“There’s these animals that are in this in-between space. They’re cared for by somebody because no one else with care for them," Panuze explained. "They happened to be strays, and they wandered nearby and these people cared enough to try to care for them."
The Mission Valley Animal Shelter recently had to limit the number of stray or lost dogs or litters of puppies it could take. It's the only brick-and-mortar shelter from Missoula to Kalispell and it's carrying the load.
"We don't have any dog ordinance. No leash laws, no containment laws," said Mission Valley Animal Shelter manager Ravea Corkill. "We have a vicious dog ordinance so police can step in but we don't have anything in place that forces animal owners to keep their animals in their own yards, no fines or anything like that."
During a recent visit to Ronan, we had to wait for a dog to move in a parking lot. A worker there told us it was a stray. But even if it’s not, it could get hurt in the busy parking lot.
“We do see the dogs running in packs of two or three. I’ve seen packs as high as six at a time," noted St. Ignatius Police Chief Jason Acheson.
Acheson told us the small towns across the Mission Valley have their own city ordinances regarding wandering dogs. But the smaller communities don’t have the budget or infrastructure to care for strays. Additionally, The Tribes have their own rules. Acheson believes consolidating could help.
“I honestly think a county-wide ordinance or a county-wide facility would be the ultimate solution in that way all communities could have a place to take their animals or take strays — a place to house them," Acheson said. "A county-wide facility and animal control officer would be the best solution.“
We talked with Lake County Commissioner Steve Stanley who says they are in the beginning stages of working on a joint animal control project on the Flathead Reservation with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council, with a goal of building an animal control facility at some point. It's something that doesn't exist right now.
But until that’s in place, more spay and neuter clinics will lead to a healthier and safer dog population in the Mission Valley.
"Honestly, the most effective strategy is put as many resources as possible — human and financial — into spaying and neutering like crazy, Panuze concluded.
Learn more about how you can help by contacting the Arlee Rehabilitation Center at https://k9arc.org/.