Dishing Up Gratitude

March 16, 2015
by Anna Sarfaty

Though most volunteers for HSVMA-RAVS clinics are veterinary professionals or students, there are a few non-veterinary support volunteers on each trip with critical roles. They may run our intake, being the first face of RAVS for our clients, they may process our surgery packs in the autoclave – no sterile packs means no surgery, they may help with community outreach and education, or like Jory Harris, they may cook. Whatever they do, they are a valued part of the HSVMA-RAVS team.

My husband, Jory, and I volunteered on a Lakota reservation in North and South Dakota in August 2014 with HSVMA-RAVS. RAVS sets up field clinics on remote reservations to serve people and animals that do not have access to veterinary care. Animals receive physical exams, vaccines, parasite/worm medications, and high quality spay or neuter surgery. Our trip was a huge success, with hundreds of animals treated, spayed and neutered over just seven days. I was one of 30 veterinary student volunteers, but Jory was our one and only cook! He made three meals a day for all 50 of us for the entire seven days. Needless to say, he was very popular (at the very least, we were conditioned to associate him with food)! He says of his experience:

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Jory whips up meals for the hard-working HSVMA-RAVS team.  Anna Sarfaty
Cooking three meals a day for 50 people was not as hard as I expected. There were some unexpected challenges, like discovering we only had one pot and no frying pans, but there were lots of unexpected perks, like hearing from 45 women what a catch I am! More than anything, after a year of dealing with ludicrous abstractions in graduate economics, I was grateful to do work that made me sweat and yielded concrete results (yes, maybe that’s what the food tasted like, but when you work as hard and as long as RAVS volunteers and staff do, anything marginally edible is a feast). One of the best parts of my experience was the opportunity to meet some of the RAVS clients and other members of the Standing Rock community. Because we were set up in the biggest community areas in each town, crucial community resources were often located in the kitchen. On our last stop, the kitchen was the only source for uranium-free water. In addition, when clients 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 was grateful for our presence and eager to help no matter what was going on in their lives. Though the community was poor, it also seemed very positive and cohesive.
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Anna (center) welcomes an excited puppy to the RAVS clinic.  Jory Sarfaty

On the medical side, I grew so much over the week, both professionally and personally. Starting as early as 5 a.m. – with Jory's breakfast and hot coffee ready – we continued through the day with orientations, clinical duties, rounds, and surgery practice, often until nearly midnight. 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. Anesthesia and surgery were new to me, but I had studied and practiced surgical skills before coming on the trip. The RAVS doctors tested us on surgical skills on the first night, cautioning we would be more nervous than we expected during the test, and BOY were they right! Passing was a great relief.

The surgery veterinarians guided me through the surgeries, gently correcting, suggesting alternatives, explaining the procedures, and taking over when needed. The RAVS anesthesia team is run by exceptional registered technicians and, like the veterinary surgeons, they taught and challenged me in a safe, supportive environment. The seven days flew by, and as we packed the big trailer for the last time and said goodbye to new friends, they all told me they hoped to see me again on another RAVS trip – but only if I bring Jory!


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Anna Sarfaty is enrolled in the Class of 2017 at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.