We Roamed and Rambled

September 1, 2009

By Eric Davis, DVM

It was already dark as we drove the truck and trailer down the dusty path across the high Nevada desert. The lights illuminated swirling clouds of fine white dust, billowing over the sagebrush.

The occasional jackrabbit scurried off into the dark. Billions of brilliant stars covered the sky—there was no city "light pollution" here. When we did hit pavement, it was Highway 50, known as "The Loneliest Road in America".

Looking back

It was easy to reflect on another long summer of field clinics on the Indian reservations of the west.

Our crew of dedicated veterinarians and veterinary technicians had traveled through the giant redwood trees and snow to the Hoopa reservation in northern California, treated dogs for distemper in the White Mountains of Fort Apache, and performed surgeries on horses in the prairie breeze of the Dakotas.

Nevada landscape
The landscape of Nevada provided the backdrop for our last HSVMA-RAVS trip of the season.

We had worked in communities in the Badlands of Pine Ridge Reservation, taken breaks to swim in the Grand Coulee lake in the Palouse hills of Washington, listened to the waves of the Pacific Ocean crash as we cared for people's pets on the wooded beaches of the Olympic Peninsula, and driven miles on gravel roads to reach the most remote reservations in the Great Basin.

In the process, thousands of dogs and cats were spayed and neutered, and many more received the only physical exam and vaccinations that they have ever had in their lives.

Owners were respectfully educated, puppies found homes, horses were humanely castrated, mangled limbs were amputated, pain was relieved, ticks were removed, skin diseases treated, and an endless stream of routine and emergency care was provided to animals who would never see such care otherwise.

And of course, it was all done with love and at no charge.

There were also nearly 400 veterinary students who got to help, got to learn, and got to see things and interact with people they would have completely missed in their education, if not for their time with us. Based on past experience, many will have their lives changed by this experience, and they will certainly be more skilled practitioners, at the very least.

It's the little things in life

For whatever reason, it seems to be the littlest things that stand out sometimes, and as the diesel ground up the grade toward Reno, the "little things" were pretty remarkable to hear and smell.

In this case, it was the six tiny kittens that had been abandoned at one of the community centers along the way and that Windi Wojdak, RVT, our USA Programs Director for HSVMA Rural Area Veterinary Services (HSVMA-RAVS), was taking home to foster.

Windi Wojdak and kitten
Windi Wojdak, RVT, spends some quiet time with one of the kittens.

They were riding in a cage, which was sitting on the back seat of the crew cab pickup that I was driving. Though initially very weak and suffering from coccidiosis, they were gaining strength and vigor very rapidly. They had been with us all week, as Windi directed their care, which included regular feedings, fluids, and oral medications.

With her shelter background, medical skills, and affinity for cats, Windi frequently has kittens to foster. She takes on this responsibility in addition to negotiating our schedule with the tribes, selecting personnel for the trip rosters, and researching, approving and coordinating our anesthesia and critical care protocols.

She also plays a vital role in teaching students the finer points of client communications and animal handling—not to mention preparing delicious vegan meals for about 40 staff and volunteers on several trips.

As I drove, the kittens played rambunctiously—climbing the bars of the cage, meowing for food, and finally sleeping peacefully in a heap, a cycle that repeated itself at about 2 hour intervals. They were on their way to adoption at the San Francisco SPCA and made good traveling companions, all in all.

There was also "Potato", the puppy that our anesthesia technician, Erin Ludwig, had adopted. He was sleeping with his head on my knee, his front feet stretched out on the iPod that provided the soundtrack for the last drive of the summer.

Another successful year

HSVMA-RAVS staff and volunteers
Our caravan of HSVMA-RAVS staff and volunteers makes the journey back home.

I'm pretty sure that as we headed into the night, it was Woody Guthrie coming through the speakers, summing up another season for HSVMA-RAVS:

I've roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

Thanks to all the staff, volunteer technicians, volunteer veterinarians, and students who went on this adventure this year. You did great work and I hope we can do it again.

Dr. Eric Davis developed the HSVMA Rural Area Veterinary Services (HSVMA-RAVS) program in 1995 and has served as mentor and inspiration to hundreds of young veterinary professionals over the years. He continues his hard work in the field and is currently a consultant for the program.