HSVMA-RAVS: A World of Difference for Animals in 2012

by Ahne Simonsen, DVM

December 10, 2012

I remember waking in my sleeping bag on the floor of the community building in Bylas, Ariz. on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, excited to start the first clinic day of the 2012 season. It feels like it was just yesterday, and yet, since that day in March, the HSVMA-Rural Area Veterinary Services (HSVMA-RAVS) staff and volunteers have helped 7,000 animals – providing over $1.3 million in veterinary services in communities geographically and economically unable to access essential veterinary care. More than 300 dedicated veterinary students and 125 amazing professional volunteers invested their passion and skills in 23 communities on 10 Native Nations and in seven countries, donating nearly 37,000 hours of volunteer clinic work.

Although we enjoy stepping back and looking proudly at 2012 in its entirety, it is equally gratifying to remember individual animals whose lives were saved or improved by the RAVS clinic team. Each of us has a favorite patient or memory from the year and, we thought we would share our reflections on a few of the many special animals whom tugged at our heart-strings this season.

Zoe with family, HSVMA-RAVS staff and volunteersZoe with her family and HSVMA-RAVS staff and volunteers.
Susan Monger, DVM

"Zoe," a 4 year-old Bichon mix was brought by her family to be spayed at the HSVMA-RAVS clinic at the Universidad de Colima Facultad de Medicina Veterinaria Zootecnia in Tecoman, Mexico. The surgery proceeded with a few anesthetic "bumps" but nothing truly alarming. Upon endotracheal extubation in recovery, Zoe became acutely cyanotic and dyspnic. Immediate emergency procedures were applied and upon further examination and stabilization, the most likely cause of the severe problems was determined to be a diaphragmatic hernia. Despite the limited resources available, the team had no choice but to re-anesthetize her and explore her abdomen. Sure enough, Zoe had a diaphragmatic hernia which was carefully repaired by our surgical team while a skilled anesthetist dealt with a complicated anesthetic procedure. Zoe was intensely monitored throughout the night in our make shift ICU hotel room. Within days, Zoe was fully recovered and able to return home to her family a healthy, happy, spayed dog.

There is no doubt in my mind that Zoe would have died without HSVMA-RAVS' help. Although many people refer to spays and neuters as routine, Zoe reminded me that whether one has done a few spays and neuters or a lot of spays and neuters, no procedure is "routine." Though the procedure was challenging and resources limited, the skill and experience of the HSVMA-RAVS veterinary team lead to the best possible outcome for Zoe.

-Susan Monger, DVM

In 2012, HSVMA-RAVS provided wellness services, which included physical exam, monthly tick medication, de-wormer, vaccination, and spay/neuter surgeries to 1,296 cats and 3,949 dogs. It is easy to take preventative medicine for granted in areas with a history of veterinary care and a resulting lower infectious disease prevalence, but in the 23 state-side and seven international communities visited by RAVS during the 2012 clinic season, the shocking realities of feline panleukopenia, canine parvovirus, canine distemper virus, and other preventable conditions are encountered routinely.

Steve Wright and Kittie
Steve Wright holds his 13 year-old cat, Kittie, after her wellness treatments.
David Paul Morris

In Standing Rock this year, I met "Kittie," a beautiful grey and white DSH with a BCS of 6/9, whose loving owner shared with me that she had been vaccinated and spayed by HSVMA-RAVS in 2001 at the age of two after having 3 litters of kittens. She has been coming to HSVMA-RAVS clinics for yearly check-ups ever since and turned 13 this year! Kittie and her five feline housemates are a heart-warming reminder of the benefits of spay/neuter, yearly physical exams, and appropriately timed vaccination.

-Ahne Simonsen, DVM

HSVMA-RAVS also provided wellness services, which included a physical exam, oral exam, de-wormer, vaccination, dental float, and castration to 1,706 horses in 2012.

Dr. Turoff mentors student on equine dental float
HSVMA-RAVS veterinarian Dr. David Turoff (center) mentors a veterinary student on an equine dental float.
Susan Monger, DVM

On every HSVMA-RAVS equine trip, there is at least one dental case, which justifies the entire effort. In Saqsayhuaman, Peru, I met a horse in his mid-teens, with rostral hooks on his upper first cheek teeth so long and sharp, as a result of malocclusion, that in a few months the hooks would have grown so long as to prevent him from closing his mouth or chewing at all. In the absence of veterinary intervention, the horse would have been doomed to die of starvation for pure physical inability to eat. After sedation and 40 minutes of careful grinding with the portable, solar powered equipment, his dentition was restored to full functionality. Of course, the anatomic abnormality remains, so I was sure to impress upon the owner the importance of returning with his horse to next year's clinic in order to avoid the recurrence of the condition for his remaining years. Believe me, there is not much in life more satisfying than watching a horse graze normally for the first time in years.

-David Turoff, DVM

Although HSVMA-RAVS' services are focused on preventative care and creating animal care sustainability with in communities through education, our teams frequently provide emergency medical and surgical services to sick and injured animals.

HSVMA-RAVS volunteers remove embedded chain from Minnie's neck
HSVMA-RAVS veterinarian Dr. Lisa Shriver (left, front) works with veterinary assistants Kat Menard (back, left) and Angie Yen (right) to remove an outgrown chain link collar from Minnie's neck.
Kari Nienstedt

I will always remember "Minnie," a young adult shepherd mix who I met on the San Carlos Apache reservation this past April. When the students and I approached the sweet, thick-coated female, we noticed a strange smell. We soon discovered that the chain collar that was used to keep her safe in her yard had become too tight and the skin on the back of her neck had grown through five chain links, making it appear as though she had chain-link piercings! Luckily, the rest of her neck was not affected. After administering sedation and pain medications, we shaved the fur from around the chain. Our wonderful local community coordinator found bolt cutters of just the right size to carefully cut the ends off of the embedded links and one-by- one slide them out of her neck without any injury to her. Then we flushed and cleaned her wounds well, completed her wellness treatments, gathered her antibiotics and pain medications to go home, and educated her visibly shaken caretakers. I am so very thankful to have been able to make a difference for Minnie.

-Lisa Shriver, DVM

Inyan Sica at 2012 Pine Ridge clinicKyle LaForge and his son visit their dog, Inyan Sica, in recovery.
Kristen Nau

On our last day of surgery in Kyle, S.D. during a week-long clinic with the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota Sioux, I had the opportunity to help a German Shepherd Dog, Inyan Sica. He was emaciated and came limping into the clinic. It was immediately clear that he had a compound fracture in his right front leg that was more than a few days old – even from a distance we could tell that the wound was infected and crawling with maggots. Inyan Sica's distraught family explained that eight days before, they had heard him barking in the woods behind the family home, heard a terrifying yelp, and then there was only silence. The family spent almost an entire week searching on foot and on horseback for their dog, who they had raised from a pup. The family had all but given up hope when Inyan Sica showed up at the back door, having lost a significant amount of weight and bearing a severely injured front leg. The family was sure that their dog had had a run-in with Sasquatch. All we knew was that in order to save Inyan Sica's life, we needed to amputate his leg. We started him on IV fluids, gave him antibiotics to fight the infection and pain medication to keep him calm and comfortable. The procedure ran late into the evening, but the amputation went well, and Inyan Sica had a smooth and comfortable recovery with his family nearby. We kept Inyan Sica with us that night so we could monitor his recovery and make sure he was comfortable. The next day, he looked like a new dog when his family came to take him home. His family was extremely grateful to RAVS, and we expressed our amazement at how lucky Inyan Sica was to have wandered home just in the nick of time for us to be able to treat him.

-Melina Stambolis, RVT

Orion is treated at 2012 San Carlos clinic after HBC accidentHSVMA-RAVS veterinary assistant Robin Post monitors Orion during IV fluid administration for shock after being hit by a car.
Kari Nienstedt

Orion's guardian was so distraught after she mistakenly hit him with her car that she first rushed to the HSVMA-RAVS clinic for help, without him. After a quick trip back home, she returned with Orion in her arms. When I first met the sweet four month-old husky puppy, he was tachypnic, cold, and shocky with blood running out of his nose. Since HSVMA-RAVS was providing a non-surgical wellness clinic on the San Carlos Apache reservation, we did not have access to our usual surgical supplies and being a M.A.S.H.-style field clinic, we did not have the advantage of radiographs. We quickly placed an IV catheter, administered IV fluids and pain medication, and placed him on oxygen via a face-mask, while we assessed his condition and spoke to the guardian about Orion's probable poor prognosis and recommended options. We urged his guardian to take him to a referral veterinarian, but this was not an option for her due to distance and expense. With the worry of pulmonary contusions in the forefront of our minds, we offered euthanasia, which she declined. When Orion's condition began to improve some, his family elected to take him home, with instructions on monitoring his condition. He was in the back of my mind at all times for the next month until the May surgical clinic in San Carlos when a strangely familiar, healthy five month-old husky puppy appeared on my induction table headed for a neuter. When I looked at the patient's paperwork and the name said "Orion," I surprised him with a huge hug. I caught up with Orion's guardian that evening when she came to pick him up. Orion taught me that sometimes the best thing you can do for an animal is everything that you know how to do under the conditions that you are in, and then have hope for the best. In this case, the best was more than I could have hoped for since this wonderful pup now gets a chance to grow up.

-Robin Post, Veterinary Assistant

Each and every HSVMA-RAVS team member has a multitude of stories of animals who have affected their lives, just as the lives of a multitude of animals have been made better by each HSVMA-RAVS team member. As 2013 approaches, we look forward to the rewards and challenges of a new clinic season and the opportunity to meet more of these amazing animals and the families who love them.