LODGE GRASS - In communities on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations, homeless pets roaming the streets are a common sight.
A team of veterinarians from across the country recently visited Lodge Grass, volunteering their time to help.
Pets are often viewed as members of the family.
"My dogs are my life, like my babies," said Lodge Grass resident Isiah Littnest. "They’re my other kids."
But on Montana's tribal lands, the word "pets" can have a different meaning.
"There are these community dogs that are sort of shared. It’s different than what we typically think of in a suburban or a city environment," said Dr. Tarek Isham, a veterinarian with The ElleVet Project, on Tuesday. "But part of the mission is definitely just education and getting it out there."
The rural locations of the reservations mean veterinarians like Isham are hard to find.
"We recognized that there’s a need. There’s a lot of dogs, a lot of cats, a lot of stray dogs, and then a lot of just diseases and health issues that you don’t really see elsewhere in the US,” Isham said. “(There are) a lot of stray dogs and not a lot of veterinary care. When you have a lot of stray dogs, you get the fleas, you get the ticks, you get the parasites. We see mange. A lot of them aren’t spayed and neutered, so they’re making more all the time."
It's one reason The ElleVet Project, a no-cost mobile veterinary clinic, added some stops in Montana to its tour.
“This is my second year working with The ElleVet Project. We do a lot of work on the reservations in Montana and the Dakotas,” Isham said. “We travel all over the country and Mexico and Nicaragua too, we work there. The condition of the dogs here on Crow and Northern Cheyenne is, I don’t know how to put this lightly, but it is one of the worst that we’ve seen in our travels."
Isham is from the Livingston area but dedicates some of his spare time to The ElleVet Project. The nonprofit was launched in March 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A number of local pet rescues have spent time doing similar work on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations, especially after a pack of stray dogs killed a Lame Deer man in December 2021.
"There’s the very serious public health risk of having a lot of unvaccinated dogs that may or may not be aggressive," Isham said. "So just being out here and giving the rabies vaccines is just huge in my mind."
According to Isham, the schedule is available online.
“Keep an eye out for the Spay Montana trips, keep an eye out for ElleVet. We work for another nonprofit called Our Vets, and there we do equine work," Isham said. "We just did our first equine clinic in Crow Agency a few weeks ago. So just keep an eye out and we’ll be back."
To learn more about The ElleVet Project, click here.
The clinic will visit Crow Agency on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., then visit Lame Deer on Thursday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and again on Friday at the same time.
"I was employed for 13 years, and the place of my employment got shut down and now I’m unemployed. So we can’t always afford to go somewhere else to get their shots, but it is very important that they have their shots so that they’re healthy," said Rebecca Pine, a Lodge Grass resident, on Tuesday. "So I’m even thankful to God for having these guys coming down here and doing what they do to help us in the community to keep our babies healthy."