Soldiers help Tribes fight rabies
June 20, 2011
ANADARKO, Okla. - After her mother decided to keep an abandoned dog which had been dumped near her mom’s Oklahoma farm, Kay Burleson brought it to the rabies vaccination clinic June 4 at the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes Complex in Anadarko, Okla.
In addition to the free shot, Burleson knew she could find out more about the black-and-white Brittany by talking with the Army veterinarian and veterinary technician because at a previous clinic they had answered questions about her horses.
Burleson was one of about 130 pet owners who brought their dogs and cats to the rabies clinic, which is a joint venture between the Fort Sill Veterinary Treatment Facility, U.S. Public Health Service Indian Health Service in Lawton and local American Indian tribes and nations.
“The Soldiers are very knowledgeable, very courteous and helpful,” said Burleson, whose late father was a retired major. “It’s great that they do this service, and I come out here every year.”
The VTF staff is doing the rabies clinic at several reservations in southwest Oklahoma this summer, said Capt. Jarod Hanson, Oklahoma Branch Veterinary Services chief. Some of the tribes receiving services include the Apache, Comanche, Delaware and Fort Sill Apache.
The tribes provide the vaccines and all supplies and are also responsible for the advance publicity of the clinic.
The PHS acts as liaison between the Army and the tribes, and it also transports the Soldiers to the reservations, said PHS Lt. j.g. Dusty Joplin, IHS environmental health officer. The Army provides the veterinary care and authority to sign the rabies vaccination certificates.
Rabies is a virus that affects an animal’s central nervous system; one of its symptoms is severe salivating, and it is virtually 100 percent fatal, Hanson said. It can be transmitted to h u m a n s through the bite of an infected animal.
Rabies is a concern in Oklahoma, Joplin said.
“The state has a pretty high rate of rabies, mainly in skunks. In eastern Oklahoma, right now they’re having problems with rabies in raccoons,” he said.
Many of the pets that receive the rabies vaccinations are from rural homes and farms, Joplin said. “A lot of the animals probably would not get vaccinated if it weren’t for this service. This is a good rabies prevention method.”
Fort Sill has been performing the rabies clinics since the mid 1990s, Joplin said. An active-duty veterinarian and one or two Soldier veterinary techs run the clinics, which last between four and five hours.
The animals aren’t always happy to see the veterinary folks, but generally there aren’t any problems, said Sgt. Claire Sitzes, VTF noncommissioned officer in charge.
The owner usually holds his or her dog while it gets its shot. Sometimes the animal doesn’t even have to get out of the vehicle " similar to a drive thru. If a dog appears agitated or aggressive a Soldier will hold the dog while another Soldier gives the shot.
“We do bring muzzles just in case, but usually we don’t need them,” said Sitzes, who has administered hundreds of shots. She has been bitten only once and that was when a dog jumped out of a car.“The bite didn’t break the skin.”
As for cats, it’s always a two-Soldier job, she said.
“We don’t want any cats running away because we are outside,” she said.
Joplin takes the rabies certificate information and enters it into an IHS database. He finds the records helpful as he investigates the reported five to 10 dog bite cases per month at the Lawton and Anadarko Indian hospitals. Any dog involved in a biting that does not have a rabies vaccination is quarantined for 10 days, which is long enough for rabies symptoms to appear.
Melvenia Domebo, Wichita Tribe community health representative, coordinated the rabies clinic at Anadarko. She said she believes the community takes advantage of the service which is available to American Indian pet owners.
“We get between 130 and 145 animals vaccinated whenever we have a clinic,” she said. “The pet owners are very appreciative, and they are glad that the tribe and Soldiers provide the service.”