- Associated Press - Monday, May 15, 2017

DALZELL, S.C. (AP) - On a recent cool morning north of Dalzell, Jackpot, a 13-year-old quarter horse, was eagerly grazing on some fresh green grass as Dr. Sarah Blackwell prepared to do some dental work on the chestnut gelding.

Blackwell went over the horse, checking his coat and listening to his heartbeat with a stethoscope before administering a sedative so she could “float” the horse.

For city slickers who don’t know, “floating” a horse means grinding down sharp points and extra growth on the horse’s teeth. Even for horses whose teeth match up well top and bottom, the teeth must be occasionally ground down because they grow continuously, much like a rodent’s.

After the horse was sedated, Blackwell and the horse’s owner, Chase Walston, removed the horse’s bridle and put on a speculum to keep the horse’s mouth open.

“Horses are not like small animals. You have to take them off food before you sedate them,” Blackwell said. “With horses, it would be 24 hours before their gastro-intestinal system would be empty.”

First rinsing the horse’s mouth of half-chewed grass, Blackwell examined the horse’s mouth for problems.

“He’s doing very well,” she said. “He only has a few points that need to be flattened down.”

Blackwell used a large dental drill to grind down the areas on the teeth that might cause a problem for Jackpot. The whole process was done in less than half an hour.

Blackwell said she has always wanted to be around animals.

“Ever since I could talk and walk, everything has been all about animals,” she said. “Most kids want to be rock stars or princesses; I wanted to be an animal doctor.”

The young veterinarian is originally from Matthews, North Carolina, she said, right outside of Charlotte. She attended North Carolina A&T; and majored in animal science, before going to veterinary school at Tuskegee University in Alabama. She did her large-animal internship at North Carolina State.

Now she can be seen driving her bright pink Ark Veterinary Services truck throughout the area.

“I started this business with an award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that allows vets who serve in underserved areas to be forgiven their student loans,” she said.

The area she now practices in includes the area from Sumter east to the Atlantic Coast in South Carolina and Union and Mecklenburg counties in North Carolina as well.

“That’s a lot of area,” she said. “Over 200,000 beef, many small ruminants in the area, but no full-time vets.”

The bright pink truck is hard to miss, but it is more than an eye grabber, she said. It is practically a traveling veterinary clinic.

“I am a full-service practice,” Blackwell said. “Everything from surgery, maintenance, ultrasound, microscope - everything I need is on the truck.”

She said that because she hasn’t been in business for very long, a lot of her calls are “last resort” because they just found out about her.

“People haven’t had the opportunity to call me for routine work,” she said.

A lot of the commercial farms have their own veterinarians on contract, she said, so a lot of her work is on “backyard farms,” with 30 or 40 animals.

Lori McKelvey, who lives in Darlington County near Lamar, said having a mobile veterinary service available is invaluable.

“When I lived in Pennsylvania, we had a mobile veterinary service for large animals,” she said, “but once I moved to South Carolina there wasn’t any available. When I saw Dr. Blackwell’s ad, I called her immediately and I am glad I did.”

Horse owners have often had to load their animals on trucks and drive them to get such things as vaccinations, McKelvey said.

Dr. Blackwell comes out to my property to give my new horse a checkup and some vaccinations,” she said. “I think she is great.”

Ashley Crowley, who said she has a “menagerie” of horses, goats and pigs near Alcolu, said she had Dr. Blackwell come out and float her horse’s teeth.

“She has a great bedside manner. She shows up on time and is very knowledgeable,” Crowley said.

Among the most unusual calls were one for a camel and a couple of kangaroo calls.

“I do have experience with kangaroos,” she said. “I worked in Australia for a while and at Kentucky Down Under in Kentucky.”

What about snakes?

“I actually own a snake,” Blackwell said. “I would see a snake in a heartbeat.”

She said she thought she would become a zoo veterinarian but found practicing on livestock more appealing.

“A lot of wildlife stuff is very regulated,” she said. “I stick with livestock.”

When she was young, wanting to grow up to be a veterinarian, did she know she would be doing such things as sticking her arms inside of cows?

“I knew that was a possibility,” she chuckled. “The cows appreciate this arm instead of a burly man’s arm.”

She says she travels hundreds of miles every day, usually accompanied by her dog, Maximus.

Blackwell has a lot of stories she can tell.

“Night and day, it always starts off with rainy, cold and dark,” she laughed.

She said she likes to tell the stories that end well, such as that of a goat that was struggling to give birth.

“She went into labor that morning and it was already evening,” she said. “I wasn’t too hopeful, but we got two goat kids out of it.”

Blackwell said she finds the work very rewarding but not always easy.

“I pulled my fair share of sleeping in stalls with animals,” she said.

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Information from: The Sumter Item, https://www.theitem.com

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