New veterinary resources for pets in Navajo Nation

Brown puppy with a cast on his leg
Soul Dog Rescue and Nuzzles & Co. team up to provide spay/neuter and wellness resources for pets with the help of a grant from Best Friends.
By Sarah Thornton

Having regular access to spay/neuter and wellness resources not only keeps pets healthy, but it also keeps them in their homes with the people who love them. So, when Best Friends Network Partners, Soul Dog Rescue and Nuzzles & Co. saw an opportunity to provide those resources to help pets and their families on a more consistent basis, they jumped on it.

Bringing pet resources back to Kayenta

Several years ago, the animal shelter and clinic located in Kayenta, Arizona, shut down. Previously, Nuzzles & Co. had partnered with the shelter to bring in vaccines and food, as well as provide transport for homeless pets to find families. But when the doors closed, those resources were lost.

[Best Friends grants help bring vet care to Navajo Nation]

“It’s always been a goal for Nuzzles & Co. and for Soul Dog to have somewhere on the reservation where we could just have people working (to) help every single day,” says Lindsay Ortega, executive director of Nuzzles & Co.. “The opportunity came up for Soul Dog to rent the building … and we decided that we wanted to partner with them on that.”

A grant from Best Friends Animal Society provided funding to get the joint project started — upgrading and remodeling the building, as well as bringing in necessary tools and equipment to the newly-formed Western Agency Spay/Neuter Clinic and Pet Resource Center.

According to Michelle Weaver, director of sanctuary outreach and animal engagement for Best Friends: “(They are) not only bringing spay/neuter and wellness resources to the community more consistently, but they’re also supporting the Kayenta animal control and helping with pet retention resources and scheduled owner surrenders. That way, pets don’t have to go into the shelter.”

Open five days a week, the resource center has two local vet techs who each day provide wellness services: vaccines, deworming and microchipping. There is also a pet food pantry available to those who need it.

“I think that the food is a huge piece of it,” Lindsay says. “We’ve had people who come to us and say (they can’t feed their pets) and we say, well, let us help you with food … If we can help with food, vaccines, microchipping and wellness, it enables them to keep their pets in the home.”

They also hold large-scale spay/neuter clinics every month and have a veterinarian who comes in regularly to help triage and provide other necessary vet care. “It’s a lot,” says Lindsay, “but we’re more than happy to do it, and we’re so proud that the Kayenta township is allowing us to be down there and (partnering) with us to help the community.”

Keeping pets and people together

Since reopening the doors of the old shelter and clinic building that were closed for so long, the new resource center has helped countless people and their pets, many of whom have nowhere else to turn.

“We had a gentleman come in to one of our spay/neuter clinics,” Lindsay says, “and he didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know if he should have his dog euthanized or (relinquish his pet) to the shelter to be euthanized.”

The dog in question had mange with very little fur and extremely itchy skin. The pooch was in rough shape, but the condition was fully treatable with just antibiotics and medication. The resource center veterinarian was able to administer the first dose, and they sent the man and his beloved pup home with the rest of the necessary medicine. “And that enabled this gentleman to keep his dog in his home,” Lindsay says. “He loved this dog. He just didn’t know what to do, and he didn’t have the money to pay for a vet visit.”

[Insight on pets of the Navajo Nation]

Another woman brought in a cat struggling to urinate, something that could be life-threatening without proper medical treatment. But she didn’t have a car that could get her to a veterinarian and she didn’t have the money to afford the care. She was able to take her cat to the vet at the Western Agency Spay/Neuter Clinic and Pet Resource Center and return home safely.

“Having the resources down there is such an extreme help,” says Lindsay, “because people love their animals. The Navajo people, they really hold animals in high regard … it’s just a lack of resources.”

There are still many pets that Soul Dog Rescue, Nuzzles & Co. and the new resource center can help. As the facility gains momentum, volunteers are coming in to help and they’re already looking at ways to expand available resources in Kayenta and to neighboring communities — because we all love our pets and want them to be happy and healthy, with us.