- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

PINE RIDGE, S.D. (AP) - They have become the human faces of the stray and feral dog problem on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation: one dead, the other a survivor.

Before that, they were just friends.

Sixteen-year-old Braedon Rodriguez and 8-year-old Jayla Rodriguez maintained a close bond since being paired several years ago in a school mentoring program, according to Braedon’s mother, Ellen Fillspipe.

When Braedon walked into Jayla’s classroom the first time, she asked if they could be best friends and if their shared last name, Rodriguez, meant they were related.

“He said, ‘No, I don’t think so,’ and she looked really hurt that they weren’t,” Fillspipe told the Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/1wWIEqr ). “I think she was looking for family, so he said, ‘We can be related if you want to.’ “

Afterward, according to Fillspipe, Jayla sometimes referred to Braedon as her cousin. When they passed each other in the hallways at Red Cloud School, their standard greeting was “Hi, best friend.”

Fillspipe does not know if the two discussed the dog attack that Braedon suffered 11 years ago. So brutal was the attack that in 2006, it inspired the passage of Braedon’s Law, a tribal ordinance that bans several dog breeds.

Jayla died Nov. 18. Tribal police said she was attacked by wild dogs while she was sledding behind a trailer house on the edge of the town of Pine Ridge. Her body was sent for an autopsy and the FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs continue to investigate the cause of death.

Some on the reservation say Jayla’s death was the sad and predictable result of the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s failure to deal with the reservation’s longstanding dog problem. The tribe responded with a two-day roundup of an untold number of dogs in the town of Pine Ridge - some dogs were killed, others were given to a rescue group - and tribal officials are pondering their next move.

Similar circumstances existed after the 2003 attack on Braedon, when outrage prompted the passage of Braedon’s Law in 2006 and an amendment to strengthen the law in 2007.

Fillspipe said Braedon, who was then 5, was riding a four-wheel all-terrain vehicle with another boy when the ATV ran out of fuel near Sharp’s Corner, a small outpost within the vast reservation. The other boy went for help, and Braedon was mauled by two pit bulls that roamed over from their owners’ nearby residence. The owners saw the attack and chased the pit bulls off.

It took hundreds of stitches to close wounds on Braedon’s face and head. An ear had to be reattached. His eye was nearly torn out, and the crease of his nose was ripped.

He underwent 15 facial reconstruction surgeries over seven years. For his post-traumatic stress disorder, he attended weekly counseling sessions that dwindled to twice a month and finally six-month check-ins.

“He still has some nightmares,” Fillspipe said.

Otherwise, he has rallied to participate fully in teenage life. Jayla attended some of his basketball and football games, Fillspipe said. When people asked why she came, she said she was watching her cousin.

Now, with the reservation agonizing over its dog problem, Fillspipe is in a unique position to advocate for solutions. Not only does she bring the credibility of being Braedon’s mother, but she’s also a newly elected Tribal Council member.

She wants to focus on enforcement of existing laws, which give the tribe authority to confiscate and kill various banned breeds and other dogs deemed stray or dangerous. She said discussions are underway about beefing up the tribe’s one-man animal control office and moving it from the umbrella of a community health program to under the authority of public-safety officials.

“We do have an animal code in place,” Fillspipe said, “but we never required anyone in particular to enforce it. Nobody went back to see if they need help, like funding, staff, training, equipment.”

She also repeated what has become a familiar call on the reservation for responsible dog ownership. It is believed many strays and feral dogs ran loose or were set loose by owners who couldn’t or wouldn’t care for them.

“It’s a huge issue for us,” Fillspipe said. “Our negligence as owners and letting more dogs run loose might have caused the death of a little girl.”


Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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