In Rural Alaska, “Use What You Can Find”

Eileen and Ashley Moses hold their pets inside the Elim Fire Hall

Veterinary services are rare in bush Alaska. A new organization has stepped in to help, making the best of scarce resources. In the community of Elim, volunteer producer Lauren Frost caught up with these “itinerant veterinarians” to document them providing basic pet care services that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Their story is the subject of a recent episode of Story49.

Alaska Rural Veterinary Outreach (ARVO for short) is only 4 years old. ARVO’s team of veterinarians fly to remote Alaska villages to take care of whatever animal needs they can. It was ARVO’s first visit to Elim and the first time this group of vets worked together. The crew took residence in the village’s fire hall, the best space available. The Elim fire hall is only one room, which meant that the appointment check-in table was just a few feet from the operating table. In typical, rural Alaska fashion, they adapted.

One of the most common procedures done that day was spaying and neutering. Pet overpopulation is a big issue in small Alaska villages, especially given the popularity of dogs throughout the state. In this Story49 episode, listeners take a “front row seat” as the vet narrates a dog spaying procedure. Later, a vet treats a pet injury using a broken spoon as an improvised splint. When on assignment in rural Alaska, the vet explains, “you use what you can find.” It’s a sentiment familiar to anyone who’s spent time in the Alaska Bush.

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ARVO veterinarians prepare a table for surgery inside the Elim Fire Hall.

ARVO vets prepare a table for surgery. Photo: Lauren Frost, KNOM.

Elim Fire Hall, exterior

The Elim Fire Hall. Photo: Lauren Frost, KNOM.