The mid-day rush of clients and their dogs and cats had just passed last Monday when members of the intake team from the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association-Rural Area Veterinary Services clinic peered out the door of the community gymnasium and saw a medium-sized brown and black dog with what appeared to be thick white whiskers all over her face.
The clinic had set up operations the day before in rural North Dakota and, as it has for the past 10 years, was tending to the needs of the animals on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Almost 50 veterinary students, technicians and veterinarians had traveled from all parts to volunteer to help these animals and the people who love them. One veterinarian even came with her new husband to volunteer on her honeymoon.
Molly / photo: Holly Hazard
Similar to what occurs with The HSUS’s Pets for Life programs in urban settings, the HSVMA team has developed a relationship with the people of the Standing Rock community. Some bring their pets there year after year, all the records in hand, ready to get a rabies vaccine or just have a veterinarian look at a case of mange or fleas. Others were there for the first time, kids or grandkids in tow, anxious to have the family pet spayed or neutered or dewormed.
The brown and black dog waiting at the entrance came with two other family dogs. Her guardians explained that she had come home over a month ago with a face full of porcupine quills. They’d tried to pull them out with some pliers but she wouldn’t let them. They were worried because her appetite seemed off and her energy down. With the closest veterinary care an hour drive away, the dog’s family did not have the resources to get her there. They had waited all month for the clinic to arrive.
The HSVMA team completed a full examination of the dog, whose name was Molly. They found ticks all over her, and signs of other parasites. Our skilled anesthesia technicians anesthetized Molly and one of our most senior veterinarians, with students assisting, carefully began pulling out the quills. The surgical team then spayed Molly, who had already had one litter, and found her pregnant again.
Later that afternoon, another elderly couple came in with a large German Shepherd suffering from a probable case of hip dysplasia. Two small dogs appeared infested with fleas but so badly matted, the veterinarians needed to sit with them and shave them to get them any relief. All told, the team treated about 675 animals on this one-week trip.
The veterinary students who join these trips often say it changes their lives. The veterinarians come back year after year, some negotiating with their regular bosses to ensure that each year they can have one week to give to this program. The students learn basic surgical techniques from some of the best veterinarians in the country. The veterinarians are inspired by the energy and commitment of the students. One vet was overheard complimenting a student as everyone sat on the curb in the parking lot to eat the tomato soup and garlic bread dinner a volunteer mother of one of the students had cooked, “I was impressed with the time you took explaining the aftercare that family needed to give that dog [who had just come out of surgery]. It was so late in the day and you acted like you had all the time in the world.”
The team then helped clean up the kitchen and surgical area, unrolled their sleeping bags and mats and went to sleep for the night on the floor of the gymnasium, listening to the eight or so patients in cages next to them, including Molly, who were kept overnight.
The next day, the veterinary team released Molly to the care of the family, her tail wagging again. And they started the clinic all over.