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KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– Veterinarians and vet students at the University of Tennessee are packing for a different kind of spring break.

The group, led by Dr. Eric Davis of UT’s College of Veterinary Medicine, will leave March 21 for a 22 hour drive to the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota. They’ll spend a week vaccinating, spaying and neutering the reservation’s large population of dogs and cats.

Davis said rabies and other animal diseases are a significant problem at Rosebud, where preventive health care for animals is a luxury most people can’t afford. The community of 18,000 numbers 10,000 dogs among its residents. Only 1,000 of these are vaccinated. Wild dog packs roam the area, and dog bites are common. Five cases of human-contracted rabies were treated last year at the Rosebud hospital.

This is the group’s third visit to the reservation. In the months ahead, UT volunteers will also travel to Zuni and Navajo reservations in New Mexico, to Guatemala, and to Venezuela.

The UT students and vets set up makeshift animal clinics in any space available. They turn community centers into operating rooms and use milk crates to house recovering patients. Vaccines are donated by pharmaceutical companies.

“The conditions are rustic,” Davis said. But he estimated students gain more surgical experience in a week than in their entire vet school careers. During the December trip, students and veterinarians performed operations on 200 dogs and cats and vaccinated nearly 900 animals.

“This may not put much of a dent in the animal population, but it should increase interest in providing veterinary care,” Davis said. “These people really want to take care of their animals. The resources and knowledge we provide are genuinely appreciated.”

 The trips are organized by Remote Area Medical, a Knoxville-based organization that coordinates volunteer health care providers to provide services in isolated areas.

 Contact: Dr. Eric Davis (423-974-5586)