SAO PAULO — Anywhere you look, they're there. You could be attacked, even inside your own home. For the 800 indigenous Guarani people living in the four villages of the northern Sao Paulo district of Jaragua, the threat of getting hurt by stray dogs is growing. Locals estimate that there are as many dogs as people.

The dogs are mostly withdrawn, but they're always ready to kill a chicken or attack a child. Students are forced to carry wooden sticks as they go to school and return from it to defend themselves against the fearsome "canine gangs."

"I was bitten four times recently as I was returning from school," says 17-year-old Jefferson Xondaro.

"Dog-related problems are multiplying, and they're not limited to fights," says Jurandir Martin, a teacher at the local primary school, saying the dogs roam in packs and are willing to defend "their territory."

"They sometimes have mange and are infested with fleas. They enter our homes to look around and turn out our bins. We need to keep everything locked. One day, we found some of them destroying my daughter's diapers," Martin says.

The situation isn't new, but "it's gotten much worse lately," says Martin, whose grandfather had founded one of the Jaragua villages in the mid-20th century.

Marcia Venicio, 24, the chief of Ytu village, says people often abandon puppies on a nearby road, even in broad daylight. "They throw them out of car windows," she says.

An animal defense group comes to the villages twice a month. "They bring enough food for all the dogs. And they take care of the castrations," Martin says. Local civil servants also vaccinate the dogs.

"Sometimes, there's not enough time to castrate or vaccinate them all," Martin says. Because many of the abandoned dogs are sick, you can see them roaming the villages, their ribs visible on their emaciated bodies, holes in their fur and open wounds.

Vitor Guarani, a village leader, says that the living conditions of the indigenous tribes of Jaragua are growing more precarious. A nearby stream in which the community used to swim is now so dirty and polluted that nobody dares to go near it. The tribes live off of donations.

"We don't want to transfer our problem onto others. And we don't want the dogs to be put down either. Many people here end up adopting some of them but the canine population would need to drop at least by half," Martin says.

The best way to solve the issue is through adoption, he says. But until that's possible, the community is staying on its guard.

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