Stories from the Field
2012 HSVMA-RAVS Clinics in South Dakota

Darci and Baby
Darci Adams

Darci Adams' work to improve the lives of animals doesn't stop with her day job as the South Dakota State Director for The Humane Society of the United States; she also gets her hands dirty and joins HSVMA-RAVS for their annual clinics in her state!

This year, Darci is blogging about her experience volunteering at the Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge clinics. Be sure to check back for near-daily updates while she's in the field (June 10 - 23, 2012)!

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Day 1 – Sunday, June 10, 2012

RAVS team sets up
Volunteers unload the rig in preparation for a busy week.
Darci Adams/The HSUS

Students, staff and professional volunteers from across the country met for the first time at 12 noon outside the cultural center in Eagle Butte, S.D. Little did they know that in less than 24 hours they would be operating a fully functional clinic to help people and their pets on the Cheyenne River Reservation! The RAVS rig led a caravan of 16 vehicles—marked with pink ribbons on each vehicle's antenna—to the remote and rural community of Whitehorse. After introductions, we participated in five hours of orientation, unloaded the rig and set up our clinic for the very first time. Forty-seven strangers from all different backgrounds formed a team that in a matter of hours will be providing much needed spay/neuter and pet wellness services for community members at Cheyenne River.

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Day 2 - Monday, June 11, 2012

In our vehicles by 4:30 a.m. and working on just 3-1/2 hours sleep due to a time change between the dorms and our clinic site, the RAVS caravan made the 1 hour journey back to Whitehorse. Each section of the clinic held another orientation and prepared for the day. Teams were assigned in receiving, anesthesia, and surgery. Forty-eight pets were treated and the students settled into their new roles operating a fully functional clinic. Then the team tore down the clinic, loaded the rig and caravanned 75 miles to the next clinic location in Dupree. We set up at our second clinic location in just 47 minutes and returned to the dorms for rounds and a good night’s sleep (almost 7 hours).

RAVS receiving team
The receiving team.
Darci Adams/The HSUS
RAVS anesthesia team
The anesthesia team.
Darci Adams/The HSUS
RAVS surgery team
The surgery team.
Darci Adams/The HSUS

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Day 3 – Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sara Eagle Boy and RAVS patient
Sara Eagle Boy and Phat Bou, who was treated at the clinic.
Darci Adams/The HSUS

In Dupree, 37 dogs and cats were spayed or neutered and more than 50 pets received wellness exams and vaccinations. One RAVS volunteer, Sara Eagle Boy, says she is grateful she was selected to be a part of this trip. Sara, who does animal rescue work in Wisc., wanted to join this trip to South Dakota because she recently learned of her true Native American lineage. “It is so surreal to think that my passion for helping animals has brought me here,” says Eagle Boy “every one of the clients I have met is truly grateful for RAVS services and I’ve learned even more about the culture.” Eagle Boy is an enrolled Cheyenne River tribal member and now has land her grandfather lived on; she hopes to visit when the clinics finish on Friday. “It is amazing to think that my years in animal rescue in my home state of Wisconsin have finally brought me back home.” Sara has been an invaluable part of this trip. She is assisting with the hectic duty of patient intake and loves meeting community members and their pets like Phat Bou, pictured in the photo.

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Day 4 – Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Harley Zephier, Hoksila and volunteers
Harley Zephier brought his puppy, Hoksila, in to be treated at the RAVS clinic.
Darci Adams/The HSUS

Our fourth day was surgery-only in the community of Eagle Butte. The Cheyenne River Reservation’s largest community hosted the RAVS team at their cultural center. When we arrived at 5:30 a.m., two vehicles of people were already waiting. Our intake list started promptly and our clinic was full by 7 a.m., speaking to the importance of this service to the community members. The RAVS team worked non-stop and ended the night doing more than 45 surgeries. So many community members are grateful RAVS continues to visit this reservation annually. Harley Zephier brought his puppy Hoksila to the clinic early this morning and he picked him up about noon. Harley says with the nearest vet more than 40 miles away the high cost of travel alone can make it difficult for people to get the veterinary care their animals need. “We are so thankful you were here to help us,” says Zephier “we appreciate what you do for the animals and the people. Zephier’s new puppy was actually a rescue. The dog strayed onto his ranch, probably dumped in the country he says, and soon after his arrival the Zephiers decided to make him a permanent member of the family. It is families like Zephier’s and many other that make working 17 hours straight seem painless. Very successful and rewarding day in the field!

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Day 5 – Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dr. Joe Schmidt and puppy
Three time RAVS volunteer, Dr. Joe, and a puppy who was treated at a Cheyenne River clinic.
Darci Adams/The HSUS

We arrived at the cultural center at 6 a.m. and found community members had already formed a single file line from the front door all the way into the parking lot. For those of us who work intake at these spay/neuter clinics, the hardest thing to do is turn people away. Only three-quarters of the way through the line we already hit our surgery cut off, but it was our last surgery day on this reservation so we went over that limit to serve the clients who had been waiting for hours. Taking in 50 surgery patients in a given day means the team will be working into the night—this got me thinking about our professional volunteers who are on their feet 15 hours a day performing surgery after surgery and teaching vet students all day long. These volunteers are crucial to the success of the RAVS program. So why would veterinarians like Dr. Joe Schmidt volunteer with RAVS? I asked him today. Dr. Joe, as we call him, practices at Aspen Tree Veterinary Clinic in Pagosa Springs, Colo. In order for him to volunteer a week with RAVS he must find a relief vet to cover the clinic in his absence. Participating in his third trip, Dr. Joe made the 15 hour journey to Cheyenne River because he enjoys helping in underserved communities, but most of all, because he really enjoys the teaching element of the RAVS program. I enjoyed watching Dr. Joe in action—his calm and confident energy was present with every patient as he taught while performing surgery. “This is exhausting work; exhausting but great” Schmidt chuckles after his last surgery of the day. “I keep coming back because RAVS is win-win-win: It is great for the students, community and the pets.” I think that says it all. For me it is a pleasure to work with all of our professional volunteers and I am always amazed by their dedication to this unique program. Kudos to Dr. Joe and all the professional volunteers!

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Day 6 – Friday, June 15, 2012

RAVS team with members of Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
Dr. Elizabeth Berliner, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman, Kevin Keckler Sr., Ethel Morgan, and Darci Adams pose for a photo after a busy week of clinics.
Darci Adams/The HSUS

The last day at Cheyenne River is a pet wellness day. All student teams do health exams, provide vaccinations and much-needed treatments for everything from ear mites and parasites to mange and fleas. Students even provided supportive care for a snake bite today. It is a fast-paced and busy day at the clinic; student teams find themselves examining patients in shady spots in the grass, on the tailgate of a pickup or at exam tables set up throughout the cultural center. What makes this trip even more special for this team is the cooperation and support we receive from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. The tribe recently enacted a new animal ordinance to encourage community members to take responsibility for their pets and it also promotes community safety. They recently set up a temporary animal shelter to house stray pets and hired Ethel Morgan to manage the facility and the program which includes registering pets with the tribe. Photos of the owner with their pet are taken and kept on file to help the tribe reunite owners with their pets. In addition, unwanted pets can be surrendered to the shelter. Morgan also works community members who formed a group called Friends of Cheyenne River Pets. They have transported more than 75 animals to South Dakota shelters where they can be adopted. Morgan also adopts out pets to community members locally. “I was thrilled the other day to see an elder walking his dog down the street on a leash,” says Morgan. “It made me feel good to know he could safely walk his dog and get some exercise. We are creating a safe and healthy community for people and their pets.” We were also honored with a visit from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman, Kevin Keckler Sr., who stopped by to see the RAVS team in action. Our time at Cheyenne River concluded mid-afternoon, and we provided vet care to more than 200 pets during this wellness day—it was a record turnout.

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Day 7 – Saturday, June 16, 2012

RAVS student members at Badlands
RAVS student volunteers visit the Badlands on their much-deserved day off between clinics.
Jen Kulp

The RAVS team celebrated a great first week and enjoyed a much needed day off—yes an entire day off before we head to the Pine Ridge Reservation early tomorrow. Everyone slept in and took the opportunity to do some laundry and regroup before another week in the field. Most students, staff and professional volunteers visited some of the popular tourist attractions in western South Dakota. From Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument to the Badlands and Custer State Park, we made great use of a beautiful South Dakota day.

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Day 8 – Sunday, June 17, 2012

Caravan from Cheyenne River to Pine Ridge
RAVS caravan from Cheyenne River to Pine Ridge. Each vehicle had a pink ribbon on its antenna so drivers could keep track of one another.
Sara Eagle Boy

We gathered in Rapid City and welcomed five new members to this RAVS team. We lined up behind the rig and caravanned more than 100 miles to the Pine Ridge Reservation located in southwest South Dakota. Ninety-seven percent of the population lives below the federal poverty level and the unemployment rate is 85 percent. The Pine Ridge reservation is more 2.6 million acres and it is the 2nd largest reservation in the U.S. For the team, this means extensive travel to clinic locations serving a community in great need of our services. We’ll spend two days in the community of Pine Ridge, one day at Loneman, one day in Manderson and one day in Kyle. After setting up the clinic tonight, we headed back to the dorms early for a quick meeting and a good night’s sleep before we begin another long, but rewarding, week of work.

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Day 9 – Monday, June 18, 2012

Bonnie with Layla and Shaggy
Bonnie Brown with her dogs Layla and Shaggy.
Darci Adams/The HSUS

It was an exciting day in Pine Ridge today, so I enlisted the help of volunteer Jenni Steinbrecher with this entry.

We had the pleasure of seeing a repeat client who had a fabulous story to share. Last year Bonnie Brown brought her beautiful Chow Chow, Layla, to our clinic. She presented to us with a rare transmissible venereal tumor, or TVT. This type of tumor spreads among breeding dogs and is one of only three known types of transmissible cancers. The tumor affects the genitals of the dog and can cause their urethra to obstruct. In a patient who has little to no opportunity to see a veterinarian, it can cause a very painful death. You would think this would translate to a very sad post, but it has a very happy ending!

Last year, we were able to present Layla's owner with not only a diagnosis, but a treatment and CURE for her tumor! On our mobile unit, we carry a drug called Vincristine, which has been known to shrink this unusual tumor. We presented this option to treat Layla at our clinic last year and spoke to the owner about the necessity of follow up treatments and that she would be responsible for carrying this out with her local vet. Layla’s owner also wanted to spay her because the tumor is extremely painful and, if she were to go into heat, she would experience excruciating pain when any male dog attempted to breed her. But Layla had been bleeding so long she was anemic and not a good surgical candidate. Our vets put their heads together, and realized that the woman had also brought in Layla’s puppy, a male chow named Shaggy. And with a blood transfusion from her son—also done with the supplies we have aboard our mobile clinic—Layla’s blood values became normal enough for us to do her surgery.

Layla came through her spay wonderfully and went home, and all the time we hoped and prayed that the owner would indeed follow up on her treatments. Well, this morning we got the answer when Bonnie came through our door, leading two beautiful, happy Chows on leashes behind her. She DID follow up with her vet, and Layla is in complete remission!

“I wanted to come back to tell you how grateful I am to Dr. Kate and the team” says Brown. “If it wasn’t for RAVS being here when we needed you, I wouldn’t have Layla today.”

Read a May 2012 article about another RAVS clinic in Arizona for more information about TVTs»

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Day 10 – Tuesday, June 19, 2012

It was a crazy, busy day in Pine Ridge today—a line formed early and the surgery team worked into the evening to complete more than 40 spay/neuter surgeries. Although it was a hot and windy afternoon, we also received more than 97 pets for wellness exams. To top that off, we received a visit from another dog we helped at Pine Ridge last year.

Spook, a young Great Dane mix, came to us with a severely injured left front leg in June 2011. The condition was extremely painful and, after discussing various options with Spook’s owners, they decided to have his leg amputated. The surgery was done early in the week in Pine Ridge and we got to know Spook quite well as he had the pleasure of traveling with us to all the clinic locations while we monitored him post-surgery. I remember how easily he adjusted to walking on three legs and after taking many photos of Spook, I wondered how he was doing now. We got our answer today when he stopped by for a visit. Spook seemed so happy; it was wonderful to see this big tripod enjoying a healthy and wonderful life.

Spook in 2011
Spook, post amputation at last year's clinic.
Darci Adams/The HSUS
Spook in 2012
Spook a year later, happy and doing well on three legs.
Darci Adams/The HSUS

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Day 11 – Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It’s the middle of our second week, and we are all exhausted, both mentally and physically, but at the same time excited and surprised by our performance. Just when you think you can’t go any longer, you’re somehow able to keep going. Today it was the story of how one family and their cat Fuzzy gave us the motivation to push through.

Fuzzy’s owner, Carla Pittman, was sitting next to his crate, rubbing his head through the bars and talking to him, and I marveled at what a difference a day makes. Fuzzy, a long-haired gray cat (already neutered) was attacked by dogs at the beginning of June. Carla took him to the vet, but wanted someone else to look at her cat as the prescribed treatment wasn’t helping. We were expecting maybe some open wounds or scratches, but were shocked at what we saw. When this happy, friendly cat stood up to rub on us, we discovered that the lower part of his rear left leg was turned completely around and half of the skin and hair on the leg was missing, exposing a length of dried bone and tendons. An amputation was necessary, so on Tuesday after our regular spay/neuter patients were off the table, Drs. Kate Gollon and Ahne Simonsen began his surgery. However, an unexpected complication arose when they discovered that his tail was also badly injured and had become necrotic. The tail also needed to be removed, along with a rather large patch of necrotic skin between Fuzzy’s shoulder blades. Fuzzy’s surgery was quite long, but he handled it well and stayed several nights with us so we could manage his recovery and ensure his surgical wounds were healing properly. If we hadn’t come into town a day earlier, Fuzzy surely would have eventually died from his wounds.

Fuzzy’s owner visited him daily and will take him home at the end of the week. “We are so grateful to Dr. Kate and Dr. Ahne for saving Fuzzy”, says Pittman. “You have no idea how important RAVS is to pet owners here; the nearest vet is about 60 miles away, treatment and travel can be very expensive. You were here, and Fuzzy wasn’t ready to leave us.” It was Fuzzy’s story that helped us through the mid-week hump today, because he reminded us of why we were here—to help pets like Fuzzy who might not otherwise receive proper medical care due to lack of funds and/or inability to travel to a veterinarian.

Fuzzy - before
Dr. Ahne Simonsen points out Fuzzy's injured leg prior to his amputation.
Darci Adams/The HSUS
Fuzzy - after
Fuzzy with Dr. Kate Gollon and his owner, Carla Pittman, after his successful surgery.
Darci Adams/The HSUS

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Day 12 – Thursday, June 21, 2012

RAVS team and stray dogs
Volunteers with two stray dogs who showed up at the clinic and lifted the team's spirits.
Darci Adams/The HSUS

The name of the game today is adaptation. Adaptation can be stressful and cause anxiety, or can be entirely positive. As our trip lead, Dr. Kate Kuzminski reminded us, "a person makes their own destiny and a willingness to adapt can open up many doors in life—doors one never knew were there."

Today, we were scheduled to set up shop in a small church in Manderson, S.D., but as we approached our location Dr. Kate received a phone call. A community member had unexpectedly died, and the church was the only location the community could use for the wake and funeral. So about a half hour before we were to begin receiving patients, we were suddenly homeless. With the help of our CHR host and Manderson community members, our fearless leader secured the use of the local Community Action Project office just down the road from the church. We were welcome to use it for the day, however the building was tiny and filled with donated clothing and food, including 500 watermelons. Yes, I said watermelons. So our task quickly changed from jumping into pet exams and surgery to moving armfuls of clothing, pallets, large cardboard boxes and watermelons to the lawn so community members could go through them. Then we cleaned the building, set up for the day, and began receiving patients.

Despite our early morning setbacks, the RAVS team still managed to perform 25 surgeries and received more than 65 wellness appointments. We were also able to help stitch up a kitten named Sugar Bottom after she was hit by a car, and amputate the front leg of a dog who suffered a severe injury a week before. To lift our spirits just a little more, two stray dogs from the community made themselves at home at this location, “helping” with intake and “participating” in our evening rounds meeting. It was an exhausting but exciting day, where we learned the art of adaptation and even more about ourselves!

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Day 13 – Friday, June 22, 2012

Dr. Kendall and patient
Dr. Kendall Bourke with a young patient.
Darci Adams/The HSUS

Our final day at the Pine Ridge Reservation started early: We loaded our personal belongings and cleaned the dorms before caravanning the 62 miles to Kyle, S.D. Community members were already waiting for us at 6:30 a.m. with pets needing spay/neuter. We were swift and efficient in setting up the clinic; our first day doing this together less than two weeks ago seemed to be in the distant past.

The team enjoyed a hectic and busy day, rallying through the heat to complete 35 surgeries and 70 wellness appointments. As the sun set on our final day together, the team broke the site down and loaded the rig for the final time. While our minds began to focus on our journey home and the return to everyday life, we spent time reminiscing about the community members and pets we helped (over 1,200 animals in all) and the lasting friendships we made during this two-week trip in my home state. With strong thunderstorms approaching, we said our goodbyes—remembering what we learned and knowing we made a difference for the people and pets of these two rural, underserved reservations. As a South Dakota native, I am so proud of the great work done by RAVS in the state. These students, staff and professional volunteers made a lasting impression on the communities they served and I am extremely grateful I had the opportunity to work with them all.

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View more photos from these clinics»