HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark., June, 9, 2011 -- A tiny chestnut brown Chihuahua mix slowly opened its eyes and let out a pitiful groan as if to say, “What just happened?”

With a gentle touch and a sweet caress, Army Reserve Spc. Michelle Millien, a veterinarian technician, reached down and wrapped the shaking dog in a soft white towel and whispered in its ear, “It will be alright.”

Soon, the dog was fully alert and ready to go home " albeit, a little sore, but ready to go.

The little puppy was just one of the patients at St. John’s Episcopal Church in downtown Helena-West Helena, Ark., where members of the 431st Civil Affairs Battalion, Little Rock, Ark., and 4220th U.S. Army Hospital, Shoreham, N.Y., were holding a spay and neuter clinic as part of Joint Task Force Razorback, an eleven-day Innovative Readiness Training event located in the heart of the Arkansas Delta Region.

By the time the event concludes, 103 dogs and 85 cats will be spayed and neutered by appointment at no cost to their owners or the event sponsor, the Humane Society of the Delta.

“We’ve never had anything like the Army to come in and say, ‘we just want to do it for free,’” said Kate Freres, Humane Society of the Delta director.

Freres said that while spay and neuter clinics they hold throughout the year are free to pet owners, the Humane Society of the Delta is left to absorb the costs.

“We have to either pay for it or get grants for it. It’s free to the community, but it’s not free to us,” she said. Freres added that most of the grants are for organizations with shelters but the organization is struggling just to build a shelter.

She said the monetary and financial burden is great since there is only one veterinarian in the county and there is no money for an animal shelter. On average, she said a neuter costs approximately $100.00 while spays can run from $150 to $200 depending on the size of the animal.

Additionally, Freres said they have been running a very successful out of state transport animal rescue service with nearly 330 animals rescued strays off the streets or abandoned by their owners.

“It’s a good feeling to be able to do something for other Americans,” said Maj. Kristie Souders, a veterinarian with the 4220th. “It’s nice to go to other countries and help them out but I think it has a special meaning to be able to do something for somebody else in our own country.”

Souders, who is civilian veterinarian in downtown Manhattan, said this annual training is much different than some she’s previously attended.

“We’re getting a lot of training ourselves and the interaction with the Air Force [Reserve] and the Navy [Reserve]. It’s a much larger group than I’ve worked with on other AT’s (annual training sessions).”

She added that this type of training event is good for the American people because it lets them see another side of the military.

“I think a lot of them probably didn’t know we had a veterinarian component as far as our mission,” Souder said. “It let’s them see that we care about the community.”

Freres couldn’t agree more.

“I want to cry because someone said they’re going to come here and provide free spays and neuters for eleven days,” Freres said. “It was breathtaking when I walked in here yesterday and saw all these men and women in uniform. I felt like family was here to help us.”

Page last updated Fri June 10th, 2011 at 07:10