I am so excited to be going on my third and hopefully not last RAVS trip in August 2015. RAVS gets a large portion of its operating costs from donations, and last year donations from family and friends of students and volunteers were a HUGE help. I believe they do very important work and I will be a much better veterinarian having had the opportunities to volunteer with them. Thank you for whatever you can give! Please see below for descriptions of my previous two RAVS trips.
Trip #2, August 2014, Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, North and South Dakota:
On this trip, I was one of 30 veterinary students but Jory was our one and only cook! He cooked three meals a day for all 50 of us for the entire 7 days. He was accordingly very popular! (At the very least, we were conditioned to associate him with food) He says of his experience:
Cooking three meals a day for 50 people was not as hard as I expected. There were some unexpected challenges, like discovering that we only had one pot and no frying pans, but there were also lots of unexpected perks, like hearing from 45 women what a catch I am! More than anything, I was grateful after a year dealing with ludicrous abstractions to do work that made me sweat and that created concrete results (yes, that’s what the food tasted like).
One of the best parts of cooking for RAVS was that it gave me a great opportunity to meet some of our customers, and other members of the Standing Rock community. Because we were set up in the biggest community areas in each town we went to, crucial community resources were often located in the kitchen (on our last stop, for example, the kitchen was the only source for uranium-free water). In addition, when customers were having a really hard time, they sometimes used the kitchen as a refuge. This was usually a lot of fun—when I burned my arm on a cookie sheet, a retired tribal police officer commiserated by showing me the knife wounds he picked up on the force. Other times, it was very sad. One woman had driven over an hour to get to our clinic the day after her brother-in-law committed suicide. She was incredibly stressed and upset, but knew that this was the only chance she’d have this year to get her and her sister’s pets spayed and vaccinated. Everyone I talked to, no matter what was going on in their own lives, was grateful for our presence and eager to help. While the community was poor, it also seemed very positive and cohesive, with lots of initiatives to help children and the elderly.
On the medical side, I grew so much over the week both professionally and personally. A typical day started at 5 or 6am (thank you Jory for having breakfast and coffee ready!) with rounds or orientation and went to 10 or 11pm. I spent one day on anesthesia, one day on surgery, and the rest of the days doing wellness care, physical exams and clearing animals for surgery. The anesthesia and surgery were new to me (I still haven't formally learned it in school!) but I had studied and practiced surgical skills before coming on the trip. The RAVS doctors tested us on surgical skills at the clinic (they said we would be more nervous than we expected during the test and BOY were they right!) and once they were satisfied, guided us through the surgeries, taking over when something was above our skill level.
Here are a few memorable cases:
Rex: A man in his early 30's who works for the local radio station brought his 130lb unneutered male pit bull to see us. Rex was a very, very large and strong dog but was super friendly and sweet and it was really fun to do his physical exam. (Holding his head was like holding a basketball!) The owner insisted that Rex would never hurt a fly, since he raised him from a puppy and keeps him inside all the time. ("You can do anything to this dog! Touch him anywhere! He won't mind!") The owner insisted that Rex was a "mastiff mix" because pit bulls are not allowed on the reservation. The owner was extremely friendly and appreciative of the services, After the clinic, he insisted on giving us a tour of a local bison farm that he used to work at. They have thousands of bison allowed to roam (land is not limiting out there!) which was breathtaking to see and gave us a sense of what the area used to look like.
Cute anesthesia patient: We premedicate/sedate animals before starting the surgical anesthesia so they won't mind pre-surgical procedures like placing intravenous catheters, endotracheal tubes, etc. I sedated this little kitty and left for about 10 minutes, which is typically how long it takes for them to get sleepy (and look like they are sleeping). I came back to find her like this! (No big lesson here...just thought she was cute).
Porcupine: I wasn't involved with this case, but a dog came in that had gotten quilled by a porcupine in its face. (There is a picture of the dog if you flip through the pictures on my fundraising page, below). Our team was able to put the dog under anesthesia and remove the painful quills and the dog was OK. This is a great example of the value of field clinics in areas like this. We just happened to be there at the right time for this dog (or almost the right time-- I think this had happened a week or so prior so the dog had been living with the quills for a few days). But in these rural areas, RAVS was the only possible provider of quill removal (and pain medication!) for this dog.
Hoarding case: A woman had around 40 cats living on her property. She cared deeply for these cats and drove over 150 miles to see us since she was unable to afford veterinary care for her animals anywhere else. (She did not live on the reservation and was not Sioux. At the southern most site in South Dakota, many people traveled to us from off the reservation). Some of the cats were spayed or neutered (by RAVS the year before) but many were not. She brought us 11 cats, all of which we were unable to handle so we had to sedate them for exams. (They were basically feral and not socialized; how could anyone socialize 40 cats?!) They all had severe respiratory infections, were very skinny (likely from fighting with each other for food), and were loaded with external parasites. (I learned what "walking dandruff" looks like!) We were able to spay and neuter all but one of the cats, who was too sick for the anesthesia. Animal hoarders have a very unique psychology; they love their animals and often feel that no one can give their animals better care than they can. This woman was no exception, but in rural South Dakota, she was probably right; there was no shelter she could give the cats to, and her neighbors and community generally do not believe that cats should be kept indoors as pets (or would choose to attentively keep them outdoors in less crowded conditions).
I spent all day with this woman and her crew, and though she traveled such a long distance to see us, she was extremely resistant to our suggestion that her cats were ill or that their care needed to be changed. This was probably the most emotionally challenging experience of the trip and I tried my best to communicate clearly and firmly but gently with her. Another element of culture shock; I had to get her address surreptitiously (so the Humane Society South Dakota field rep could follow up with her later) and she legitimately did not have one. She had her mail sent to the Super 8 motel where she worked. Her street had no name, and her house no number!
Princess: Her owners said Princess, a beagle, was "really really old." Princess turned up on their porch a few months earlier so they didn't know much about her. I thought she was likely more around 4-5 years old (her teeth were relatively white and clean) but she did seem extremely tired. It didn't take long to discover that she was completely, completely covered in ticks, some extremely engorged and some that had attached recently. An individual tick doesn't take too much blood but they can certainly add up, and of course we are worried about tick-borne diseases. A quick blood test showed that she was extremely anemic and that is likely why she was tired. We gave her some fluids (we didn't have the ability to give a blood transfusion), antibiotics for the tick-borne disease, and a topical medication to kill the ticks. (We picked off as many as we could but there was no way we could get them all!). We sent her on her way home and crossed our fingers.
After she left, I realized that Princess had received the wrong medication. The medication she received only killed fleas, not ticks. It was unacceptable to leave that dog with all those ticks and no relief. The fluids and antibiotics would make her feel better, but as long as the ticks were still there she would continue to feel weak. There is no other way to fix this kind of problem than just to make it happen. We called the owner and told him we had to give him more medications, and on the drive back to Bismarck from the South Dakota location, Jory, Amanda and I met him at a community center and gave Princess the correct medication (and more antibiotics). The owner was very happy and said that Princess seemed like a new dog, and much more energetic!
Trip #1, January 2014, San Carlos Apache Reservation, San Carlos AZ
In January, I went on a trip with RAVS to San Carlos, AZ, an Apache reservation approximately 2 hours east of Phoenix. The clinic provided wellness care only (no surgery- exams, vaccines, flea and tick medication, and treatment when needed) for 400 cats and dogs over 5 days with 12 student volunteers and 3 veterinarians. San Carlos has been struggling with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a tick-borne disease that affects both humans and animals. They had an overpopulation of free roaming dogs that would bring the ticks from house to house, and they have lost children (a 3 year old most recently when we got there) and adults to the disease in addition to their animals. The community needed education on ticks--how to check for them, how to remove them properly, and how to clean yards so they wouldn't harbor them--but also needed to get their dog overpopulation problem under control, and needed to give all dogs flea and tick prevention medication. A gifted and motivated community member acting as the animal control officer took it upon himself to educate the community about ticks, including going to elementary schools and teaching children how to check themselves for ticks, even though this definitely wasn't in his job description. RAVS has been helping on the animal side over the past few years, and are proud to say that the tick incidence has gone way down since they started to visit. It used to be that each dog examined at the RAVS wellness clinic would have dozens to hundreds of ticks on them! After 3 yearly visits and donations of long-lasting effective tick collars by Bayer, in January we found 5 ticks on 400 animals. (It's worth it to say here that Cye, the animal control officer, has taken every ounce of help outside organizations like RAVS provide and multiplied it with his own ingenuity, He got the CDC to travel to Arizona and teach him to properly and safely spray insecticide. He convinced the tribal elders, who were nervous about allowing outside organizations to come onto the reservation, to not only allow them but also to pay for a mobile veterinarian to travel to the reservation monthly until every dog on the reservation is neutered, which is why RAVS provides only wellness care there. He is amazing.)
THE HUMANE SOCIETY VETERINARY MEDICAL ASSOCIATION INC wrote -
"My previous experience [with RAVS] was nothing short of amazing. It was rewarding both on a personal and educational level. The communities that we served were appreciative and thankful. You could tell that they truly love their animals and want to do the best they can for them. They made the long days and hard work more than worthwhile! The hands on clinical experience that I gained while on the trip will be indispensable when I graduate from school and become a working veterinarian...there is only so much learning that can be done in a lecture/classroom setting. Being able to use that knowledge in a supervised, clinical setting during RAVS was awesome." ~Katherine Cooper, Class of 2017, University of Glasgow School of Veterinary Medicine
In August of 2015, HSVMA-RAVS staff and volunteers will travel to the Spirit Lake Dakota Sioux Reservation in east central North Dakota for a 5 day field clinic. The team of 30 veterinary students and 15 professional volunteers will offer free spay/ neuter and wellness care to hundreds of animals in this remote community where regular veterinary care is not available.
In addition to wellness services, RAVS’ volunteers will care for animals with a wide range of health concerns including puppies suffering from parvovirus and distemper infections and older animals suffering from multiple infirmities. We will help animals with old traumatic injuries and festering wounds, returning them to a happier life with their family. While providing this care, our volunteers and staff will be educating the family on animal care and public health, helping to make the community a better place for the animals and the people of Spirit Lake.