Humane Community Development pilot a success in Sagamok First Nation

I’ve been working with Stanford Owl, the Sagamok First Nation’s Animal Control Officer, for three years now. Stanford takes his job seriously from both a community health and safety perspective and from an animal welfare and planning perspective.

When IFAW began working with Sagamok, it was because Stanford was looking for a wellness clinic so that dog owners in his community could have access to basic veterinary care, including vaccinations and parasite control.

Sagamok was also working with an animal rescue organization to remove unwanted dogs and cats and to take some females from the community, spay them, and return them to their owners. 

But Stan wasn’t seeing the results he hoped for from these initiatives. He continued to receive complaints about dogs in his community — but what others were seeing simply as a dog problem, he was now seeing as a people problem.

When Stanford started discussing these issues with me over a year ago, IFAW was starting to roll out the Humane Community Development program in Bosnia in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Humane Community Development (HCD) is a tool developed by IFAW to enable communities to take ownership of their dog problems, come to agreement on what their issues are, and develop their own solutions.

I thought that Sagamok might be a good candidate for the program, and Stan agreed.

Last month, IFAW piloted the first HCD workshop in Sagamok with Stan and a group of community members.

We were really hoping that the HCD model would work in Sagamok, but we also recognized the importance of cultural differences between Bosnia, where the HCD project was first rolled out, and Sagamok, a First Nations community halfway around the world.

Our cautious expectations were blown away.

Stan had assembled a group of super engaged and insightful community members who really knew their community’s dog issues inside and out. They came to the two-day workshop with both enthusiasm and patience.

They were laser-focused throughout the workshop exercises, and came away with a renewed energy to tackle their problems in a holistic, community-centred way.

My team and I also learned a lot during the workshop. We were fortunate enough to witness master storyteller Isaac Murdoch recount the legend of how the dog came to the Anishnawbe people.

The legend really foregrounded the deep respect for the natural world — dogs included — in Anishnawbe culture, and workshop participants referred back to the story again and again over the next two days.

It’s times like these, when I meet a fantastic group of people who are just as dedicated as I am to preventing the suffering of animals, that I am re-energized.

And while we have some work to do to revamp the HCD process to make it a better fit for First Nations, I’m confident that this tool will be one that will help many communities come to a new appreciation that what they see as a dog problem is more than likely a people problem — and to understand that they have most of the tools they need to tackle that problem.


For more information about IFAW efforts to help communities like this one, visit our campaign page.

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Senior Program Advisor
Senior Program Advisor
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