Animal welfare organizations in rural Montana face large distances, few veterinarians.
It’s a Saturday morning and nonprofit Spay Montana is holding a spay-neuter clinic in a Crow Nation tribal building. The organization provides free and low cost services in areas of need across the state.
Crow tribal member Rochelle Fighter stands with her 13-year-old daughter watching a veterinary technician sedate one of their cats for surgery.
Fighter says she and her family adopted two kittens while her children were attending school remotely from their home in Fort Smith.
“And next thing we know, we have multiples,” she said.
An article published last year in veterinary science journal Frontiers estimates COVID-induced U.S. veterinary service changes in 2020 and 2021 created a deficit of more than 2.7 million spay-neuter surgeries.
Meanwhile, animal welfare organizations in rural America’s “care deserts” are combating animal overpopulation with few to no veterinary services.
Wendy Anderson runs Tobacco Valley Animal Shelter in Libby and says the organization has access to one vet who does spay and neuter services in Lincoln County on top of handling the majority of all vet care.
“We get maybe one or two spay-neuter appointments per week, which is of course not even close to what we need,” said Anderson. “What we need to do is transport the animals all the way to Idaho to get the services we need.”
Back at the Crow Nation clinic, Spay Montana founder Sandy Newton says the organization faces its own challenges recruiting staff, while also seeing more people from various socioeconomic backgrounds seeking low-cost services.