The death of a nine-year-old boy torn apart by dogs on a north Saskatchewan native reserve Saturday has highlighted a growing danger - wild dog packs that roam many northern communities.
The child - Keith Iron-Cheekosis - was found dead in the snow near the home of a cousin he was going to visit at Canoe Lake First Nation, a 1,700-member reserve.
"It was shocking to me to see him lying there in the snow," said Cynthia Ballantyne, Keith's aunt. "I couldn't sleep. I just can't close my eyes. They must have jumped him.
"Something has to be done about these animals because kids go out every day, and they are afraid," Ms. Ballantyne said. "It's not safe for them to go out. It is the same all across the north. Reserves need help with these animals. The dogs are overpopulated and not fed anything at all."
By late yesterday, band members had hunted down and killed four dogs with Keith's blood on their fur.
"All of a sudden yesterday, they started killing the dogs - but they were told last week after another kid was attacked," Ms. Ballantyne said. "They just jumped to it after my nephew was dead. It's not right. They should have done it before. Other kids have been bitten, too. They will even attack grown-up persons. Now, it's too late for my nephew."
Ms. Ballantyne said that more than 200 half-starved dogs roam the reserve in packs searching for food.
"Nobody is tying them up or feeding their own animals," she said. "They don't bother taking care of them. They let them go loose and wild."
Keith, a boisterous, popular child, was well known in the community. He was extremely close to his elder brother, Sonny, who has a significant learning disability and relied on Keith to help him communicate and understand the world around him.
"Keith is like a guide to him," said a local resident, who asked to remain anonymous. "Sonny is going to be very lost. It will take a long time for his to understand that his brother is gone."
Geraldine Red-Iron, a vice-principal at Canoe Lake's high school, said that the dog issue is very divisive. She said that whenever authorities try to kill the wild dogs, people claiming to be their owners rise up in anger.
"They get very, very defensive about the dogs," Ms. Red-Iron said. "This is not just a reserve issue. It is a northern issue. The bylaws regarding pets are not enforced. Whenever we see a pack of dogs near our school, we have to call the band office to come and remove them."
She said that bands have tried unsuccessfully to persuade provincial health authorities to send vets up north to neuter dogs.
Mr. Ballantyne said that her cousin was hired by the Canoe Lake band council several weeks ago to kill some of the dogs. Within days, she said, he was arrested for garroting one them, and is now serving a ten-month jail sentence for animal cruelty.
Keith was the third child mauled by dogs in northern Saskatchewan in the past two years. In 2007, a five-year-old boy on the Cumberland House First Nation reserve died after in an unprovoked attack by five dogs.
Last fall, a six-year-old child at Île à la Crosse, Sask., was badly bitten but survived after surgeons at a Saskatoon hospital used 60 stitches to close the wounds.
Lance Loonskin, a five-year-old boy in northern Alberta, died in 2006 after being mauled by a pack of dogs running loose on the North Tallcree reserve.
In Manitoba, two children also suffered the same fate in 2006. A two-year-old boy on the Hollow Water reserve and a three-year-old boy on the Sayisi Dene reserve were fatally attacked by dog packs.