Rez VetYou've heard of rural doctors and rural vets. How about reservation vets? That's what Adrienne Ruby is, and she loves her native clients.
By Susan Lamb
"Ever since I was a child," Dr. Adrienne Ruby says, "I've enjoyed doing things the hard way."
"Hard way" is an understatement. Ruby is the Rez Vet, a mobile veterinarian who makes house calls across the Navajo and Hopi reservations. She operates — literally — from a pickup crammed with vaccines, antibiotics and medical instruments. She's performed surgery on a dog in the Tuba City car wash and developed X-rays under a blanket on her tailgate.
Ruby works three days a week at the DD Veterinary Clinic in Window Rock, but she'd rather be outside — even in rain, chill or blazing heat.
She holds clinics at reservation flea markets, explaining to shoppers how to care for their animals with medicines, bandages and store-bought supplements.
Fifteen years ago, Ruby was a conventional veterinarian in Oklahoma. That's when she spotted an ad for a vet to serve the Hopi Nation.
"It took me a year, but I finally came here to check it out," she remembers. "It's like Oklahoma used to be — the self-reliant people, the 'make do with what you have' way of life." After 10 years as the Hopi veterinarian, she ventured out to serve the remote reaches of the reservations.
"Sometimes when it gets tough," she admits, "I ask myself, 'What am I doing here? Do I think I'm some kind of saint?' And then I realize that, no, I just love the work!
"Working out here," she adds, "I can understand why people's animals are so important to them. I can help them stick to their way of life, stay close to the land."
On her way to vaccinate a flock of sheep, Ruby fields calls about castrating horses and testing livestock for bluetongue. When word gets out that she's in the neighborhood, the pickups roll in, along with requests to vaccinate more sheep. She's always ready to help, even if it means working by headlamp into the night.
As she drives away from the ranch, a policeman pulls her over. She confesses she's having trouble with her taillights.
"Yes, I noticed that," the officer says. He pauses. "I have a little dog," he begins, "and he hasn't been eating like he should. …"
Arriving home, Ruby hears a whimper. It's an abandoned puppy — filthy, dejected and tick-ridden. "At least he's healthy," she muses. "I can probably find a home for him at the flea market in Pinon tomorrow."
Tomorrow: another day, another life to save.