Lyssa Upshaw, 13-years old, was found dead near a pack of vicious dogs in Fort Defiance.
05/30/22: On April 24, the 24th Navajo Nation Council passed legislation amending Title 17, specifying a criminal nuisance offense and establishing penalties for owners of vicious dogs and other dangerous animals running at large that cause injury or death. The Navajo Nation Council passed legislation No. 0002-22, sponsored by Honorable Eugene Tso, with 23 in favor and 0 opposed. The legislation was signed into law by President Jonathan Nez on May 9, 2022.
The legislation follows a half dozen fatal dog attacks on the Nation since 2010, the most recent being the death of 13-year old Lyssa Upshaw. She was killed by a pack of vicious dogs in Fort Defiance on May 16, 2021. Upshaw was found curled up in a fetal position with "her clothes and pieces of flesh scattered around." Other victims include: Larry Armstrong, 55, in 2010 (Sundance, NM), Tomas Henio, 8, in 2012 (Pinehill, NM) and Kayden Begay, 3, in 2016 (Seba Dalkai, AZ).
The new legislation designates a criminal nuisance violation for owners that allows their dog to run at large, and while at large, that dog chases or attacks a person causing physical or mental injury or death. Punishment includes up to 30 days in prison and a fine of up to $1,000, or both. In the case of multiple violations, a conviction can yield up to 1 year in prison and a $5,000 fine. Those convicted under the statute shall also pay restitution for any costs incurred by the victim(s).
After Upshaw was killed by the pack of dogs, the owner hid the dogs from authorities, according to her mother, Ris Jones. Tribal officials were helpless to charge the owner, as the tribe's animal control laws at that time did not hold dog owners criminally responsible for attacks. The most they could do was fine the owner $500. On the one-year anniversary of her daughter's death, May 16, 2022, Jones asked community members to help celebrate the life and memory of her daughter.
05/29/21: Navajo Nation Council
On May 27, 2021, the 24th Navajo Nation Council issued a press release confirming that 13-year old Lyssa Rose Upshaw was killed by a pack of dogs in Fort Defiance. The release addressed the Navajo Nation feral dog population and the necessity for action. The release also stated that three other people have been killed by dogs on the Nation over the past year. One death was mentioned specifically, a 5-year old boy was recently killed by a dog in Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, New Mexico.
During the last week in May, two separate meetings were held by the Law and Order Committee and the Resources and Development Committee. Items discussed included appropriating emergency funding to bring animal control staffing levels up to five officers per agency, as well as funding for the Navajo veterinary program for increasing the spaying and neutering clinics. Changes to the maximum number of dogs allowed, which is currently four, was also discussed.
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — This week, the Law & Order Committee (LOC) and Resources and Development Committee (RDC) of the 24th Navajo Nation Council held separate meetings where reports were given by various Navajo Nation government entities regarding the growing issues of feral dogs in communities.
The reports were requested after a recent incident, where 13-year-old Lyssa Rose Upshaw was fatally attacked by a pack of dogs in the Fort Defiance area. The Council held a moment of silence for her at last Friday’s Special Session to mourn her passing.
“Life is not worth a small fine nor a simple warning,” said Chairman Rickie Nez (T’iistoh Sikaad, Nenahnezad, Upper Fruitland, Tse’ Daa’ Kaan, Newcomb, San Juan). “These laws need to change because it is now a matter of life and death that we cannot afford to ignore.” …
Director of Criminal Investigations, Michael Henderson, said the recent dog attacks are not the first and that the Navajo Nation Police Department has received multiple reports about dog attacks resulting in severe injuries, including three other deaths in the past year.
Henderson recalled a recent case in Tiis Tsoh Sikaad where a 5-year-old was also fatally attacked by a dog. According to Henderson, the dog’s owner was only given a $500 citation for the attack, which he says is a common penalty that does not help the issue.
“[It] doesn’t seem that justice was served at the end,” stated Henderson. “Our department has distributed press releases to bring awareness to the issue and encourages the public to remain vigilant for their safety.”
Henderson acknowledged the current laws surrounding animal attacks do not waiver criminal prosecution due to the inability to determine whether attacks are intentional or not on behalf of dog owners...
05/19/21: Teenager Found Dead
Fort Defiance, AZ - A 13-year old girl was discovered dead on the Navajo Nation near a pack of vicious dogs. Lyssa Rose Upshaw asked her mother if she could go for a walk near the family's home. When her mother, Marissa Jones, got a call from her son saying, "Mom, you need to get over here," she knew something was wrong. Lyssa was discovered curled up in a fetal position. Her clothes and pieces of flesh were scattered around; signs indicative of a fatal pack attack.
"Her legs were all chewed up," her mother recalled. "She was gone."
The dogs were aggressive towards people at the scene, including police. By the time Animal Control arrived, the owners had hidden the dogs, Jones said. Officials eventually found 12 dogs locked in a building on the property. The dogs were seized as evidence. "They had to check them for blood, hair, anything that might be caught in their teeth or on their coat,” Jones said. She believes more dogs may have been involved too, but authorities could not locate them.
Fort Defiance Animal Control officers would not confirm or comment on the case. Her daughter's remains were sent to Flagstaff for an autopsy, Jones said. The dogs were known to be aggressive, according to Jones. "Everybody knows those dogs are mean," she said. Jones also said that NHA housing pet policies are enforced (certain dog breeds are banned from Navajo Nation Employee Housing units), and that more should be done to enforce the animal ordinances on the Nation.
Lyssa's death comes a month after the Associated Press reported that Covid-19 had hindered animal control services on the Navajo Nation, which spans 27,000 square miles. Last year, the pandemic forced Navajo authorities to shut down three of four animal shelters, states the report, in Tuba City and Many Farms, Arizona, and Shiprock, New Mexico. The only open shelter was in Fort Defiance, where this fatal attack occurred. Only two officers worked for the most part of 2020.
Navajo Nation Animal Control manager Kevin Gleason estimated the dog population on the Nation was back up to 250,000 dogs, just like it was 10 years ago. In 2020, his program only picked up about 7,000 dogs, instead of the normal 20,000 to 30,000 dogs annually. Most of those dogs, 80 to 90%, are euthanized. Also, the veterinary mobile spay/neuter unit was not used during the pandemic. The unit provides vaccination and spay/neuter service in rural areas on the Nation.1
Fatal Dog Attacks on Reservations
If Lyssa Upshaw was killed by this pack of dogs, she will be the fourth person fatally attacked by dogs on the Navajo Nation since 2010. In 2016, Kayden Begay, 3-years old, was killed by a pack of dogs in Seba Dalkai. In 2012, Tomas Jay Henio, 8-years old, was killed by up to nine dogs in Pine Hill. In 2010, Larry Armstrong, 56-years old, was killed by a pack of dogs near Gallup. Since 2010, there have been at least nine fatal dog maulings on Indian reservations nationwide.2
Learn about breed-specific laws on Indian reservations in our Breed Safety Laws section.
2These numbers only reflect deaths that have been reported by the media.
05/29/22: Escalating Fatal Dog Maulings on Tribal Lands - Suspected Fatal Dog Attack on...
01/16/20: 2020 Dog Bite Fatality: Woman Killed by Pack of Dogs on Tribal Land at Taos Pueble
07/23/16: 2016 Dog Bite Fatality: Pack of Pit Bulls Kill Boy on Navajo Nation Reservation