Saying Goodbye to Delano

January 15, 2009

by Eric Davis, DVM

The HSVMA Rural Area Veterinary Services (HSVMA-RAVS) team started going to the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota back in 1996. Our veterinary aid program had been successful at the neighboring Rosebud reservation and was asked to start a similar program at Pine Ridge.

A difficult life

The demographics for Pine Ridge tell a story of need: the poorest reservation in the U.S., a male life expectancy of 40 years, an 85 percent unemployment rate, and so on. The site of the Wounded Knee battlefield, Pine Ridge has never been an easy place for humans or animals. Our work on this reservation has always been a challenge, due to the extent of poverty and lack of facilities, but from the start we had at least one dedicated local volunteer—his name was Delano No Neck.

When Delano was a teenager, he showed up at that first clinic in the old gym and asked if we were there to help the dogs. His physical appearance, learning disability, and health problems made this young man's way through a difficult world that much harder. Delano had never been anywhere other than the reservation.

However, he loved animals and showed up every day—washing instruments, cleaning cages and bringing his brand of appreciation to the students and veterinarians who volunteered. He never asked for anything, except veterinary care for his own dogs and a chance to be useful.

Our dedicated volunteer

Delano and volunteer
Delano No Neck and volunteer Kristen Nau taking time out for a photo at a field clinic.
Kristen Nau

As time passed, the Pine Ridge clinics became a yearly affair, under the direction of Dr. Susan Monger, Director of HSVMA-RAVS International Program. Delano continued to show up and help, year after year, for 12 years running. In that time, he helped hundreds of students and veterinarians and cared for thousands of dogs and cats.

A couple of years ago, Dr. Monger and some members of her team gave Delano a ride home, taking him to a rundown trailer he shared with his grandmother and several dogs.

The trailer was completely decorated with photos sent to him by HSVMA-RAVS volunteers. One after another, they chronicled a proud and smiling Delano with teams of students and veterinarians, working together to help the animals of Pine Ridge.

Last summer, when we pulled into the same old gym that lies in the center of Pine Ridge, there was Delano—ready to greet us and do more than his share. A long line of reservation residents had already formed with their dogs and cats, patiently waiting for physical exams, vaccinations, or surgery and a chance to have one of our eager volunteers talk to them about the health of their animals.

All the while, a smiling Delano went bustling around the clinic, holding a dog here, cleaning a cage there, or scrubbing instruments in the kitchen. Every so often he would give one of the volunteers a hug—just because he wanted to.

Saying goodbye

At the end of the clinic, the team gathered to say good bye to Delano and present him with an official "HSVMA-RAVS" scrub top. Delano was beaming, and everyone left looking forward to another clinic in 2009.

Dr. Monger and Delano
Dr. Susan Monger and Delano No Neck with his official "HSVMA-RAVS" scrubs top.
Kristen Nau

We didn't know that it would be the last time we would ever see our dear friend and colleague. In December, we were notified that Delano, who was prone to seizures, had died suddenly. The last one was just too severe.

For all of those who had worked with Delano, the news came as a very sad end to a valued friendship that meant a lot to all of us. We are now setting up a scholarship in his honor, which will one day help a young person from the reservation attend college and study veterinary medicine.

We know that Delano wanted to see the animals at Pine Ridge improve and maybe become a veterinarian himself. He, like so many young people on reservations, never got the chance. Yet, the kid from the "rez" managed to do a great deal to further the cause of animal welfare in a hard part of the world—and he did it with dedication that should inspire us all.

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.