I’m thrilled to share that in my pursuit for more gratifying work in animal welfare, I’ve hopped on board with an amazing organization, Soul Dog Rescue, to help with fundraising and communications. Back in mid-October I went on a mission trip to Shiprock, NM to volunteer and observe at one of Soul Dog’s spay/neuter clinics.  I knew it was going to be a jam packed trip, and boy was I right!

Soul Dog Rescue is a non-profit animal rescue based out of Denver, CO. From the moment I met founder, Shelby Davis, I was quite impressed with the grassroots operation Shelby and her organization run. Shelby and her team of vets, vet techs and volunteers visit various reservations in Navajo Nation to run weekend-long free & low costs pay/neuter clinics. (Holy alliteration!)

The Culture

Native American reservations are notoriously low-income areas, fraught with compounding factors like unreported crime, inter-tribal conflict and alcoholism.  Health care for animals simply isn’t a priority, yet the population of stray animals is rampant.

I’d never been to Colorado or New Mexico, so before I went, I researched a bit about Shiprock and Native American life.  I might be a middle class, midwestern white girl, but I taught English in a low income school. I know enough to predict some cultural differences and how easy it can be to pass judgment.  One thing that struck me is that the majority of companion animals on The Rez are outside animals. So much so, that one could easily mistake a dog roaming a parking lot as a stray, when it may simply live across the busy 4-lane road. This article in The Salt Lake Tribune provides some great insight.

Where I come from, having outside animals just doesn’t really happen, but it is quite common for our neighbors across the river in East St. Louis, IL. I remember a conversation I had in 2015 with my friend, Chris Boortz from Best Friends Animal Society. Chris, too, is a former educator in low income schools and we discussed how easy it is to project our values on others, particularly in the context of pet care. But really, it’s about helping people get the resources they need so that they can be good pet owners. That said, providing pet owners with low cost options for health care, food, shelter and more is how we can accomplish that. I love that my friend, Natalie Creamer at Gateway Pet Guardians here in St. Louis and Shelby at Soul Dog coordinate this type of outreach.  We could all stand to be a little less judgy and a little more helpful.

The Clinic

I don’t know how Shelby does it. She operates these clinics twice monthly, and on the surface, it is pretty chaotic. She drives the Soul Dog van (acquired through an ASPCA grant) loaded with vaccines, anaesthesia, collapsible wire crates, blankets, towels, pet food and one of those thingies you use to sterilize surgical instruments from Denver to the specific reservation.  My guess is that she will easily drive 8 hours, one-way. Along with the team of vet techs and volunteers, they unload and set up. Most pet owners have signed up to have their animals sterilized and or vaccinated, but there are always a few walk-ins. Despite the chaos of check-in, Shelby maintains a professional and polite disposition, which is an an accomplishment, in and of itself.

As animals are checked in, one of the vets starts physical examinations on the animals, techs begin administering vaccinations to those who need them and the early birds are prepped for anesthesia. Once under the anesthesia, the animals go to one of the operating vets for the quick procedure. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.

The animals are then carried to the post-op recovery room (a spread of blankets), where vet tech students monitor vitals and keep animals warm until their body temperatures are back to normal. Then, the animals are returned to their crates to sleep off the anesthesia.

At the end of the day, pet owners come in waves and we release the pets to them, showing them the animal’s surgical site and providing them with care instructions. That, in a nutshell, is my observation of the clinic. The work is tedious and exhausting, but tremendously rewarding.

Over the course of two days, about 125 dogs and cats were steralized. I don’t know the breakdown, but by spaying and neutering these animals, suffice it to say that literally hundreds of thousands of stray and unwanted animals will not be born.  Great work, Soul Dog Rescue!