A Royal Transformation

by Jenny Siess

October 18, 2013

Veteinary students prepare to set up the RAVS clinic
After cleaning the building from head to toe, veterinary student volunteers wait for the floors of the La Plant bus garage to dry so they can unload the rig and set up the clinic for the following day.
Ahne Simonsen, DVM/HSVMA

On a windy July morning, with the sun just barely visible in the morning sky, our team of HSVMA-RAVS volunteers arrived at the site of our first clinic on the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation.

We spent the previous day traveling, immersed in clinic orientations, taking practical exams, and setting up our M.A.S.H.-style clinic in a small school bus garage in La Plant, S.D. The rural community of La Plant is home to less than 200 people. Non-profits working with the families in the area report most community members are unemployed.

From previous years, the RAVS staff knew that the bus garage had limited space, but when the caravan arrived at the site we found the building full of an assortment of school maintenance equipment and, well, as clean as a garage. In typical RAVS style, without hesitation, our newly-formed team started moving workbenches, toolboxes, and even chains and flat tires to the perimeters of the building, then wiped down surfaces and swept, mopped, and squeegeed the floors. Next came unloading the 35-foot trailer packed with veterinary equipment. Before long, the garage was transformed into a fully-functioning veterinary clinic capable of providing wellness and surgical services to the La Plant’s animal family members.

Knowing the community was in need of veterinary services and counting on us, we filled up on extra coffee that morning and were ready to begin our week of clinics with a bang. The intake team battled the cold wind to provide thorough and efficient physical exams and, before we knew it, our pre-surgical kennels were full of dogs and cats. As the anesthesia team ushered each animal across the surgery tables to be spayed or neutered, the intake team refilled the kennels with more surgical candidates. The clinic was running smoothly and we were on our way to a great day.


Princess - before
Princess - before.
Shea Long

About mid-morning, a unique patient arrived to be spayed; her name was Princess. Although she was a three-year old Shih-Tzu mix, it was difficult to tell that she was even a dog. Her coat was tangled so extensively that mats covered her entire body, including her face. Despite the obvious difficulty she had walking, Princess still had a spark in her eyes that touched the heart of anyone who worked with her that day.

Princess hadn’t always been in this condition. She used to be an inside dog with a healthy coat, but many months ago her caretaker developed a medical condition which caused caring for Princess to be incredibly difficult. When family members moved in, they weren’t sure how to care for Princess so she became an outside dog. Already beginning to get matted, the move outside made things worse, and slowly she progressed to the state in which she was presented to us. The team gladly accepted Princess as a surgical patient and told her family that we would most certainly shave her mats while she was with us.

When Princess made it to the surgical preparation table, it became clear that without our help she would have been in serious trouble. Princess’s coat had woven together to form massive, thick tangles all over her body. One enormous mat that was at least an inch and a half thick ran down her back. Mats restrained her legs to the point that she could barely walk. The skin underneath was raw and infected. She was also much too thin and had ticks infesting every area of skin that they could find attachment. Princess was in a very sorry state. Seeing her this way broke our hearts.

Princess - after
Princess - after.
Shea Long

One of the volunteer veterinary technicians guided the small team of students in carefully shaving every last mat off her body. After more than an hour, Princess finally emerged from the mass of hair that had held her prisoner. She was then spayed and her wounds treated. As she recovered from anesthesia, I could see the change in her as she realized that she could again move her body without pain. Princess was again a happy dog who could run and play.

When Princess’ family came to pick her up, they were thrilled to see her transformation. Princess ran up to them to say hello, and her caretaker had a huge smile on her face. In discussing her future care, it became obvious that this was not a case of abuse or neglect, but rather a lack of knowledge about how to best care for a dog like Princess. We explained to her family that she needed to be brushed regularly, have her hair cut every few months, be fed more than once a day and have monthly flea/tick prevention applied that would keep the ticks away so that Princess could live in the house again. Her family was receptive to our advice and promised to do their best to provide her with appropriate care in the future.

A Happy Ending

Princess’ story was ultimately a happy one. We were able to greatly improve the quality of her life through a little care and a lot of education. Every day, RAVS’ staff and volunteers improve the welfare and save the lives of dogs and cats through attentive patient care and ongoing education of individual caretakers and whole communities. Many people simply don’t know how to provide the care that their animal family members need; they are not neglecting their dogs and cats out of cruelty, they simply lack the animal husbandry knowledge and resources to meet their animal’s needs. As a RAVS volunteer, I am blessed to be able to provide that education to community members, and better the lives of their animal friends, one family at a time.

2013 HSVMA-RAVS veterinary student intern, Jenny Seiss, with a pigJenny Seiss


Jenny Siess is a veterinary student at the Western University of Health Sciences, class of 2016. She has been a volunteer with RAVS for six years – five years as a volunteer technician and a veterinary student intern this summer. She wants to practice small animal medicine and is interested in orthopedics and public health. The importance of service work was ingrained in Jenny by her experience as a RAVS volunteer. She will be returning for RAVS trips for the rest of her career.