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We Roamed and Rambled

Rounding out a summer of field clinics, Dr. Eric Davis reflects on his time on the road

Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association

  • A caravan of HSVMA-RAVS staff and volunteers makes the journey back home. HSVMA

  • Windi Wojdak, RVT, spends some quiet time with one of the kittens. HSVMA

by Dr. Eric Davis, DVM

It was already dark as we drove the truck and trailer down the dusty path across the high Nevada desert. The lights illuminated swirling clouds of fine white dust, billowing over the sagebrush. An occasional jackrabbit scurried off into the dark. Brilliant stars covered the sky; there was no city light pollution here.

Clamoring down Highway 50, also known as "The Loneliest Road in America," it was easy to reflect on another long summer of field clinics on the Indian reservations out west.

Our crew of dedicated veterinarians and veterinary technicians had traveled through the giant redwood trees and snow to the Hoopa reservation in northern California, treated dogs for distemper in the White Mountains of Fort Apache, and performed surgeries on horses in the prairie breeze of the Dakotas.

We had worked in communities in the Badlands of the Pine Ridge Reservation, taken breaks to swim in the Grand Coulee lake in the Palouse hills of Washington, listened to the waves of the Pacific Ocean crash as we cared for people's pets on the wooded beaches of the Olympic Peninsula, and driven miles on gravel roads to reach the most remote reservations in the Great Basin.

In the process, thousands of dogs and cats were spayed and neutered, and many more received the only physical exam and vaccinations that they had ever had in their lives. Owners were respectfully educated, puppies found homes, horses were humanely castrated, mangled limbs were amputated, pain was relieved, ticks were removed, skin diseases treated, and an endless stream of routine and emergency care was provided to animals who would never see such care otherwise. And of course, it was all done with love and at no charge.

There were also nearly 400 veterinary students who got to help, got to learn, and got to see things and interact with people they would have completely missed in their education, if not for their time with us. Based on past experience, many will have their lives changed by this experience, and they will certainly be more skilled practitioners, at the very least.

Precious cargo

As the diesel ground up the grade toward Reno, I also had some time to think about my travel companions—six tiny kittens and a dog. The kittens had been abandoned at one of the community centers along the way and were going to be fostered by Windi Wojdak, our head veterinary technician and USA Programs Director. They were riding in a carrier, which was sitting on the back seat of the crew cab pickup.

Though initially very weak and suffering from diarrhea, they were now gaining strength and vigor very rapidly. They had been with us all week, as Windi directed their care, which included regular feedings, fluids, and oral medications.

As I drove, the kittens played rambunctiously—climbing the bars of the carrier, meowing for food, and finally sleeping peacefully in a heap; a cycle that repeated itself every two hours. They were on their way to adoption at the San Francisco SPCA.

There was also Potato, the puppy that our anesthesia technician, Erin Ludwig, had adopted. He was sleeping with his head on my knee, his front feet stretched out on the iPod that provided the soundtrack for the last drive of the summer.

I'm pretty sure that as we headed into the night, it was Woody Guthrie coming through the speakers, summing up another season for HSVMA-RAVS:

"I've roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me."

Thanks to all the staff, volunteer technicians, volunteer veterinarians, and students who went on this adventure this year. You did great work, and I hope we can do it again.