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Image by Cayetano Gil


Albert Foot, Assiniboine Sioux Tribes story teller, explained that when all of the beings on earth were formed, the creator noted that one being on earth was pitiful.  That one, man, could not catch his own prey; he used weapons to hunt and he needed fire and clothes to keep warm.   The creator turned to the animals and asked that one animal step up to befriend the pitiful one.  While the other animals looked away, the dog wagged his tail nervously and volunteered to be a friend to man.  The creator said that the pitiful one was arrogant and would not appreciate his friendship, but the dog didn’t change his mind. The creator said that the pitiful one would leave his friend go hungry even when he himself had plenty to eat…the dog still didn’t change his mind.  


The creator again asked if the dog was certain, and the dog said, “I will be his friend, because you have asked that it be so.”


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In any place with free roaming animals, high-volume spay/neuter is the foundation of humane population control.  

Without an adequate number of surgeries and without a springtime strategy for preventing litters, the impact will be greatly diminished. Free roaming dogs are an integral part of Native American culture and history. However, their large numbers have ballooned out of control and pose a danger to people in the community. Preventing future litters is the only humane way to provide a safe and caring environment for these dogs and those living around them.

Effectiveness requires assessment and appropriate planning. In all states except Alaska, the state veterinary board is recognized to not exercise authority over tribal sovereignty. Visiting veterinary programs are part of the solution to these unique circumstances. Flexibility is the key to finding success in spay/neuter programs on reservations. 

All successful remote area spay/neuter programs (tribal or non-tribal) are based on:

- A needs assessment that reflects the number of free-roaming and/or intact animals
- The strength of animal control ordinances and local cooperation,
- Other local resources to include volunteer organizations to assist at clinics and with transport of pets belonging to homes without vehicles.

Six basic types of spay/neuter programs serve Tribal Lands.

- High volume spay/neuter services in which one or more experienced veterinarians provide M*A*S*H or mobile services. The actual services should be based on an assessment of population, the reservation size, and an estimate of free-roaming pets.
- Teaching programs in which veterinary students visit a reservation in order to gain practical experience while also providing a benefit to reservation households. These are often annual services, an average of 40-50 surgeries are completed per day in this model. Additional volunteers may be needed for transport and other support.
- Vacation programs in which veterinarians travel in order to help animals, often near a tourist destination and sometimes in remote locations.   These programs may provide wellness in addition to spay/neuter services and could possibly bring high visibility to local animal welfare issues. These programs may not include high volume spay/neuter so the needs assessment should be balanced with the expected outcomes.
- Faith based services in which veterinarians visit reservations in order to provide large and small animal services while sharing a religious overview or social purpose. Spay/neuter may not be a large part of their goal; helping food or other agricultural animals might be the priority. Hosts must determine if these programs are a good fit for their needs, if it will reduce the number of unwanted dogs, and if it meets the intentions of animal welfare funders.
- Non-profit services that bring a combination of large and small animal veterinary services to reservations. These may increase education or improve animal care giving practices. High volume spay/neuter may not be a part of their goal, agricultural animals might be the priority. Hosts must determine if the program meets their needs and the intentions of funders.
- Individual veterinarians who, through their personal conviction and dedication, devote a portion of their time and personal resources to providing veterinary services on tribal lands. These people are heroes.

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If not on a federally recognized reservation each veterinarian must hold a license or have temporary licensure in the state in which they are practicing. Additionally, if not on a federally recognized reservation, students may not perform surgeries unless otherwise authorized through their curriculum.

A tribe that is developing a spay/neuter program and the coordinator of a visiting service should communicate directly in order to decide if the identified program is a good fit. Excellent communication is key. A preliminary needs assessment and an understanding of what to expect from the host and the visiting team should be discussed beforehand. 

If you are interested in learning more about our programs or resources for your community please contact us.

To support the operation of our programs please consider a donation. 

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