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Spaying Cats & Dogs on the Rosebud Indian Reservation

The Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota includes some of the poorest counties in the United States. The Reservation has many traditional tribal members and a 70% unemployment rate. Economic and social marginalization has resulted in tragic circumstances for both people and animals. Similar to other reservations, the stray dog and cat problem at Rosebud exceeded levels found in any non-reservation community. Animals suffered from mange, starvation, freezing temperatures and cannibalism, and recently as three years ago, the tribal council hired people from off-reservation to shoot dogs without collars. The shootings seriously distressed tribal members, including those charged with hiring the shooters. In desperation, some people tied rags around the dogs’ necks to save them, an effort that did not address starvation, illness or reproduction. Intensifying the crisis, there were three to five serious dog bites every week, mostly of children, which resulted in two to four dissections per month to check for rabies.

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In 2002, the director of the Tribal Health Administration, Anita Whipple, initiated contact with a number of animal organizations to aggressively develop a comprehensive, humane solution to these issues. Anita developed both short term and long term goals for the new program. For the short term, she arranged a series of high volume spay (and pet care) clinics and asked Friends of Animals and Arkansans for Animals, among others, for assistance. In fact, if not for emergency help from FoA, the first high volume clinic for this year would not have been possible.

Anita had asked Arkansans for Animals to help arrange the first clinic to be held in April to halt this year’s “baby season.” Arrangements had gone beautifully, with three terrific vets had agreed to participate in the clinic. Two are from Arkansas, Drs. JoAnna McManus and Barbara Page, who work in our mobile clinic with technician Dian Ladner. The third, Dr. Brent Pitts of Oklahoma, brought his own clinic and technician and offered to do an extra clinic in an out-lying community. Vaccines had been donated by Jeff Morrison, a representative of the vaccine company, and there would be a mange dip tank for all dogs.

Everything looked perfect until the week before the clinic. A grant from the Two Mauds Foundation had paid for the surgical supplies for the clinic that could not be supplied by the Indian Health Service, but the hoped-for funds from another foundation needed to move the surgical personnel to the Rosebud Reservation, were denied. No one involved could stand the thought of yet another promise to the Indians being broken. The Bureau of Indian Affairs had recently seized the new animal shelter that Anita had worked so hard to create in an abandoned jail on the reservation, a year’s work obliterated. The U.S. Army had taken promised equipment for the proposed animal clinic and sent it to Iraq.

Priscilla Feral said FoA would help once again, as it had offered in every animal emergency in Arkansas and many other places.

The clinic was a huge success. Many females were pregnant or in heat, 375 animals were sterilized and hundreds of births avoided. Animals had porcupine quills removed, infections treated, fleas, ticks and mange killed, and arthritis, diabetes and neurological problems treated. More than 1,000 dogs were vaccinated, as were cats. he Tribal Health Administration was also able to stop a distemper outbreak before it killed all the dogs and much of the wildlife in and around one community.

Anita Whipple and her team in the Tribal Health Administration personally contacted each community, and even went door-to-door on the reservation to explain the reasons for the new programs. She published articles on basic pet care in the tribal paper and in the schools, created a temporary animal shelter, hired an animal control officer, and established a permanent animal clinic for visiting veterinarians. Nearly 2,000 animals have been sterilized and 4,000 were vaccinated in the last two years. Dog bites and rabies exams have dropped precipitously. The whole program has been developed by Indians for Indians and has created great changes, new attitudes, new expectations and new hope on the reservation. It has been a privilege to watch and be a part of such an effort.