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LAME DEER -- There was an order to the chaos on Wednesday morning at Lame Deer High School, as dozens of dogs and cats were spayed and neutered.

On the first of a two-day free clinic, animals underwent surgery inside the high school's shop room. Two vets and more than 30 volunteers worked in an assembly-line fashion, prepping the animals, operating on them and then gently massaging them until they came out of the anesthesia. Some of the animals had owners and some were brought in as strays.

The group planned to do it all over again on Thursday with another batch of animals.

The clinic, under the auspices of the Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force, kept veterinarians Mark Francis of Hardin and Diane Scollard of Absarokee busy. As soon as they stitched up one animal, another one was placed on their surgical tables.

Dogs and cats waiting for surgery remained inside kennels. Those animals still under the influence of anesthesia lay on blankets, their fur rubbed by volunteers to help them wake up.

Wacey Spang, a junior at Lame Deer High School, sat massaging a still-sleeping redbone hound. Spang and other members of the school's FFA group came to help out.

Rubbing the dogs stimulates their muscles back to where they're feeling better, he said. Besides, it's fun.

"I like getting to hold these dogs," Spang said.

The spay and neuter clinics are important on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation because so many dogs roam free in towns such as Lame Deer, Busby, Ashland and Birney.

Strays are a major source of breeding multiple litters of unwanted puppies and kittens. And even some dogs that have owners are allowed to run free in town.

"People will start to raise a dog and then let it do its own thing," said Jesse Martinez, an environmental technician with the tribe's Office of Environmental Health. "And when you live downtown, that's a problem."

Martinez estimates that 70 percent of the animals are brought to the spay and neuter clinic by owners and 30 percent come in as strays.

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A survey on the reservation showed that more than 90 percent of the people who were asked agreed that stray dogs are a problem. The clinic is one way to deal with that, Martinez said.

He estimated that about 45 dogs and 100 cats are spayed or neutered in a day. Aside from his official capacity, Martinez also volunteers with the recently formed Critter Committee, whose goal is to advocate for animals on the reservation.

On Wednesday, members of the group were selling items in a room separate from the clinic to raise money for future projects.

Long-term, Martinez said, the group would like to build an animal shelter. But first, he'd like to see an animal control officer hired to help with the animal problem.

The group of about a dozen members meets the first Wednesday of the month, said Sis Elliott, chairwoman of the committee. Elliott, who has been involved in the clinics for a long time, would like a shelter for strays and hurt dogs, rather than the present system of keeping them in homes.

Elliott helps a little with the problem of too many dogs by taking two puppies a month to the Montana Women's Prison for its Prison Paws for Humanity dog training program. But she knows clinics such as the one this week are the best way to control the pet population.

"We hope to have two more before fall sets in," she said.

Francis, as he stitched up the incision of a black lab mix, said the reason he takes part in such clinics is simple.

"Because it needs to be done," he said. "And people can't afford private-charge clinics."

He also thinks it's the most humane thing pet owners can do.

"I always tell people if you really love your animal, the best thing you can do is get them spayed or neutered," Francis said.

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