This past April, I was fortunate to put my veterinary medicine experience to use in volunteer work on a Zuni Indian Reservation in western New Mexico. The program in which I did my volunteer work is called Native American Veterinary Services (NAVS). NAVS is a division of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Foundation. Through the efforts of volunteer veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and other assistants, NAVS provides free veterinary care for Native Americans living on reservations throughout the United States. There are two trips each year, one each in the spring and fall. Participants, spend 1-2 weeks at the reservations depending on their individual allowance.
The morning after our flight we drove to the clinic site. The site was on the outskirts of the local town. Upon arrival, we saw a prefab mobile unit and a shed — these were to be our clinic. This was a far cry from the pristine modern buildings many of us were used to working within but we knew it’s not the looks that count so much as the work that was to get done. After check-in and introductions to the other volunteers, we all got to work setting up the clinic and getting ready for the week of work ahead of us. We had a team of seven veterinarians, six veterinary technicians, and about six other assistants. We were running a spay/neuter, vaccination, and medical treatment clinic for dogs and cats.
Additionally, we had the opportunity to provide medical care for horses, sheep, and cattle off-site. On Saturday, our first full day of clinical, an unexpected blizzard meant rescheduling, our first trip to vaccinate 40 sheep and 20 horses. Our surprise at the blizzard turned to relief when we saw the weather forecast would be nice the rest of the week with a high on Tuesday of 80 degrees and sunshine.
For the rest of the week, we either teamed up and went onsite doing work on the local sheep and horses or stayed at the clinical site working on all the animals brought to us. The Zuni people love their pets and were extremely appreciative of the work we did and the care we provided for their animals. Without the work of NAVS the animals on this reservation would have received little or no medical care. As unsettling as this might seem, it meant all the work we did took on an even greater importance to each of us.
The entire NAVS experience is something I will always cherish. Being able to help the Zuni people, their pets, and their community through doing the work I love was truly a privilege. To me, veterinary medicine is a profession of the “Heart.” My volunteer experience in Zuni is one of the best examples of “Heart” that I have witnessed. The
caring and commitment of the 20 plus volunteers was amazing. The love the Zuni have for their pets, and the gratitude of the Zuni people for our efforts was beyond touching. To top off the experience we all knew our work made a difference in the lives of many animals. The memory of this week is a gift I will always carry with me.
Thank you to NAVS, the Zuni people, and the veterinary profession for making this experience possible.