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Busy day of spay (and neutering) for High Country Humane's veterinarian
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Cats in carriers line the pre-op, exhibiting a grim stoicism for whatever is in store. Dogs in kennels dot the hallway, yapping either in anticipation or anxiety. And the bunny, that portly, black-furred gent found wandering Kachina Village? He’s nibbling grass spread before him in a separate prep room, a tad skittish because he shares the space with feral cats.

All await the arrival of Dr. Carly Bennett, in-house veterinarian at High Country Humane.

It is surgery day at the Flagstaff shelter, contracted by Coconino County to provide services for stray and adoptable animals, and it looks to be a full slate of spay and neutering — though the whiteboard listing the procedures as of yet remains blank.

As vet techs sort paperwork and start taking the vital signs of the patients, in strides Bennett just past 8 a.m., resplendent in purple scrubs with matching mask and surgical cap. She holds her morning tea in one hand, a smoothie in the other. That’ll do for breakfast. Lunch? Well, Bennett works right through lunch, usually, on surgery days.

Now she’s filling in the blanks on the whiteboard in her distinctive left-handed scrawl.

First, the felines: Four ferals. Diana, a female from HCH. Tommy and Lunchbox, two males brought in from the Ark Cat Sanctuary in Parks. Diesel, a curiously named petite female from Northern Arizona Animal Search and Rescue. And Thunder and Artemis, two females brought in for spaying by a private owner under HCH’s low-cost clinic program.

Then, the canines, all from HCH: Foster care pups Piglet and Cow, and Tanya, all of whose designation is OHE (ovariohysterectomy), and males Blue Jay, Luigi and Mater, ORCH (orchiectomy, aka, neutering).

And at the list’s bottom is Floppsy the rabbit, on tap for ORCH, so he doesn’t breed like a — well, you know the simile — once he's adopted.

Rachel Gibbons, Arizona Daily Sun 

Dr. Carly Bennett examines a 6-day-old kitten held by Dezbah Palmer at High Country Humane Monday morning. The kitten is the only survivor of a litter rescued from a parking lot and is currently being fostered with high hopes for recovery.

Before beginning, Bennett takes a swig from her 24-ounce mug of tea and inputs data on the day’s patients, as the Toshiba boom box softly plays classic rock, Bob Seger’s “Night Moves.” Meanwhile, her vet techs weigh, check temperatures and pulses, then eventually will inject the cats with a pre-anesthetic to lull them into a stupor that not even a Bob Seger ballad could induce.

Why tune to a classic rock station when all the workers are in their 20s and 30s?

“Rock ‘n’ roll!” shouts tech Lydia Arnold. “It gets you in the mood for some spay and neutering!”

Thunder and Artemis, however, will not go gently. Thunder gives tech Ashley Chambers a Clint Eastwood-style squint when taken out of the carrier and put in a pre-op kennel, a thin towel draped over the opening to encourage relaxation.

Artemis, a striking mix color pattern of tortoise shell and seal point Siamese, has major attitude. Arnold kneels and opens the career door, but Artemis scurries to the back, curled and wary. She cannot be coaxed out, so Chambers is called over, and the two unscrew the carrier from the top and pluck the reluctant feline out to do vitals before getting “hit” (vet jargon) with the pre-anesthetic, a prelude to “getting the gas” (more argot) right before surgery.

Bennett notices none of this. She’s on the walkie-talkie with the front desk checking on another case. Arnold walks over to consult, and Bennett asks about Tanya, the Chihuahua, up for spaying.

“How is she?”


Bennett turns and notices Thunder, squinting still.

“Hi, Thunder, what’s wrong with your eyes, bud?” she says brightly to the skeptical cat.

“She squints like that all the time,” Arnold says.

“OK,” Bennett replies with a head shake, then turns away. “Let’s go hit some feral cats!”

A shelter vet's rewards and challenges

Bennett, who turns 35 this month, has been a veterinarian for eight years, having completed her undergraduate degree at Northern Arizona University before attending vet school in Dublin, Ireland. Her first vet job was at Kaibab Vet Clinic in Flagstaff, where, among other duties, she regularly performed procedures on shelter dogs and cats brought in from the Coconino Humane Association. When HCH opened in 2018, Bennett was hired as the area’s only full-time shelter veterinarian, a job she jumped at accepting.

That’s because Bennett has a long history in and affinity for shelter work. While at NAU, she volunteered at Second Chance, the precursor to HCH, at first cleaning kennels and walking dogs. But she progressed from there.

“I’ve done every job you can think of — receptionist, kennel tech, vet tech,” she said. “I worked at Flag Animal Hospital, then again at Second Chance in the mobile clinic. I’ve just always wanted to be a vet.”

Yet, it takes a special type of veterinarian to specialize in shelter medicine. Often, she sees animals in distress, medically and emotionally. Some don’t make it. Some must be euthanized. Many, though, thrive and find permanent homes. And while Bennett may occasionally encounter a duck with a hook in its beak, or a stray snake in need of care, mostly it’s a steady parade of cats and dogs that keep her busy.

“I fell in love with (shelter medicine) because I have the ability to focus on the good,” she said. “Sometimes we have a tendency to focus on all the bad stuff that happens at the shelter, but when I really look at my daily life, it’s more good than bad.

Rachel Gibbons, Arizona Daily Sun 

Dr. Carly Bennett sutures up the incision made on a female cat after surgery to be spayed at High Country Humane Monday morning.

“For example, it’s (hard) losing a parvo puppy, but then you turn around and say, ‘Look, this dog came in hit by a car and is doing fabulous, and we’re going to be able to save it and send it home.’ You really have to have the ability to focus on the good stuff. A lot of people look at shelter medicine and think, well, you’re not allowed to do anything and it’s kind of lower quality. Honestly I get to pursue, diagnose and do whatever I want with our shelter animals more than having an owner walk in (to a private practice) and say, 'I have this much money, so you can only do A, B and C but not D.'”

Bennett, seemingly blessed with boundless energy, schedules three surgery days per week and spends the rest of her time checking on new arrivals with issues and tending to animals awaiting adoption. It can be a grueling schedule and, despite her sunny outlook, not every dog or cat survives.

It’s a fact of life for a shelter vet, but she combats the heartache of lost life with memories of successes.

It helps, she said, that she lives 45 minutes away in Parks — where she tends a 5-acre spread with partner Keith Hayes, overseeing a menagerie of animals — and can “decompress” on the drive home.

“Mental health in the veterinary world is big right now,” she said. “Vets as well as their techs burn out, and compassion fatigue is huge. Some days I feel it more than others. I think I’m able to take that moment, deal with it and move forward. That’s how I’ve always dealt with these things and I think that’s why I’m in this position now.”

The reward, she says, comes from the successes. One she fondly remembers involved a “cute little terrier I named Pinecone” who had been attacked by another dog on the Navajo Nation.

“She was in severe shock when the people brought her in, so I actually thought she wasn’t going to make it,” Bennett recalled. “We put her in my office for the evening. By the next day, she was still hanging in there, but there were huge wounds all over her body that weren’t closable. We had to treat them openly. She lived in my office for a month.”

In time, Pinecone recovered and, Bennett said with an arm sweep, “as soon as we made her adoptable, she just flew out the door.”

Smooth as an assembly line

No such emergency cases on this morning, though. Bennett snaps on her pair of surgical gloves — she will go through a whole box in a day — and waits for the techs to finish shaving the genital area of Lunchbox and Tommy, already fully sedated with a gas mask affixed. For male cats such as these two, Bennett doesn’t even have to transfer them to the operating theater.

Snip, snip, snip. Tie up that spermatic cord neatly. Clean up the area, though little blood is involved. And, voila, neutering is completed in less than a minute.

The procedure is slightly more complicated and time-consuming for the females. It’s obviously more invasive and requires three layers of internal stitching but, still, a routine spaying takes Bennett no more than five minutes, six, tops.

“I’ve gotten a lot faster with experience,” she says, scalpel poised over the supine figure of the black cat, Diesel, paws banded to the table in the unlikely event she’ll stir during surgery.

Meanwhile, back in pre-op, the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” is wafting, as Arnold carefully opens Artemis’ kennel, a needle holding the pre-anesthetic in hand.

Suddenly, Chambers and another tech yell out, “VACUUM,” as they start up the loud machine to hoover the shaved fur from the cats on the pre-op table. "Vacuum" shouts are required, because the loud noise might freak out a cat being handled by a tech. But Artemis is cowering, not pouncing, now. Arnold tries to coax her out, but it takes Chambers coming over to steady the shaky Siamese before the injection can be given.

Artemis’ buddy, Thunder, finally has stopped squinting after his injection. In fact, her pupils are dilated like saucers, and she occasionally stumbles around, showing the shot’s effects. Artemis, though, refuses to fall asleep, staring daggers from inside the kennel. Maybe the strains of “Proud Mary” from the radio are keeping her up.

“Oh, she’s fighting it,” Arnold says, as Chambers scratches Artemis behind the ear. “Just go to sleep now.”

In minutes, the roommates are suitably out of it, shaved and put under, all the while the Eagles are singing “Heartache Tonight.” Artemis is carried by the techs into the operating room, where her heart rate, blood pressure and temperature are monitored and oxygen and anesthetic are pumped in via tubes.

In six minutes, the incision is closed and the procedure done. Artemis is carried back to the kennel to recover, and now it’s her buddy Thunder’s turn. By the time Thunder returns, Artemis still has not awakened. Chambers and Arnold rub Artemis’ paws, flip her occasionally from side to side. In the middle of Heart’s chorus on “Crazy for You,” Artemis’ eyes blink open and she groggily comes to.

“OK, girlfriend,” Arnold praises her, while a tech blurts out “VACUUM” after the first dog, Piglet, is shaved down and prepped.

Dezbah Palmer, the lead vet tech, walks in cradling a 6-day-old bottle-fed black kitten, so tiny that it fits in Palmer’s palm. The kitten has an abscess and its foster “bottle baby parent” is concerned this one, like two others from the litter, might not make it. Bennett inspects the wound and order an antibiotic for the “bottle baby,” then asks Palmer how the foster people are “holding up,” since this is the family’s first experience nursing newborn kittens.

“So cute,” Bennett says.

Back to work. Piglet’s been spayed, and Cow is all prepped. Tanya, the Chihuahua, still is yapping and angry, but soon she will be sedated and the procedure carried out. By 1 p.m., Artemis and Thunder are recovered enough to be taken home, and the rest of the cats back to their respective organizations.

As the day wears on, the rest of the dogs and Floppsy the bunny are fixed and, injected with the 24-hour pain medication all the patients are given in recovery, are ready within 24 hours to be adopted. What happens after that is out of Bennett’s hands, but she hopes they all will find homes.

No doubt, her 45-minute drive home will be peaceful — and, perhaps, free of classic rock.

US economy gains momentum
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WASHINGTON — A much-awaited economic boom coming off the pandemic recession appeared to edge closer to reality Thursday with fresh data showing the pace of layoffs dwindling, consumers spending freely and manufacturing rebounding.

The latest barometers point to a U.S. economy that's steadily regaining its health as vaccinations accelerate, business curbs are lifted in many states and more people are willing to travel, shop, eat out and otherwise resume their spending habits. Though many Americans who have lost jobs or income are still suffering, hopes are rising that the benefits of the recovery will spread further in the coming months to groups of people who have yet to benefit.

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits tumbled last week to 576,000, the Labor Department said Thursday, a post-COVID low and a sign that layoffs are easing.

And sales at retail stores and restaurants jumped 9.8% in March, the biggest gain since last May, when the economy first started to rebound from the virus' initial blow. With U.S. household savings high, economists are optimistic that the faster spending is sustainable.

At the same time, factories are humming again. In March, the Federal Reserve said Thursday, manufacturing output increased 2.7%. Many economists expected a larger gain after output had fallen in the midst of February's unseasonably cold weather. But shortages of raw materials and parts, from lumber to semiconductor chips, probably slowed factory production.

Wall Street responded to the encouraging news by notching more milestones Thursday, as a broad market rally pushed the S&P 500 to an all-time high and the Dow Jones Industrial Average crossed above the 34,000 mark for the first time.

The S&P 500 rose 1.1%, with technology, health care and communication stocks accounting for much of the upward moves. Only energy and financial companies closed lower. Bond yields fell.

The S&P 500 rose 45.76 points to 4,170.42, surpassing its previous record high of 4,141.59 set on Tuesday. The Dow climbed 305.10 points, or 0.9%, to 34,035.99. 

The Nasdaq composite added 180.92 points, or 1.3%, to 14,038.76, while the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies picked up 9.35 points, or 0.4%, to 2,257.07.

"We are really kicking into that next gear now," said Adam Kamins, senior regional economist at Moody's Analytics. "Things are moving more decisively in the right direction than at any time in the past year."

The pace of weekly applications for unemployment aid is now down significantly from a peak of 900,000 in early January and has dropped below the 700,000-plus level where it had been stuck for months.

A total of 16.9 million people are continuing to collect unemployment benefits, down from 18.2 million in the previous week. That decline suggests that some of the unemployed are being called back to jobs. But the large number of ongoing recipients also points to the harsh impact of the pandemic on tens of millions of households.

Trillions of dollars of government stimulus, including $1,400 checks that have gone to most adults, as well as higher savings that many households have managed to build, have fueled more spending. Auto sales soared 15% in March, according to the government's retail sales report. Purchases at electronics and appliance stores jumped more than 10%. Sales at clothing stores soared 18%.

Warm weather in March, after ice storms in some states had held back consumers in February, likely drove more retail spending. Restaurants and bars reported a 13% increase in sales, the most since last June. Most states have allowed more indoor dining, and outdoor dining likely picked up as well.

Among the consumers who are stepping up their spending is Teresa Golden of Renton, Washington, who said she used her first two federal stimulus checks to catch up on rent and bill payments. With the most recent check, she said she spent $500 on Levi's jeans, Old Navy clothing and shoes from Finish Line. An additional $500 went to restocking her pantry with items that will last a while — ketchup, sugar, spices and Clorox wipes, among other things.

"I finally caught up on my bills and could go on a bit of a spending spree," said Golden, 49, who works in accounts receivable at a school system.

Thursday's encouraging news follows a report earlier this month that employers added a healthy 916,000 jobs, the most since August, during March. The unemployment rate fell to 6%, less than half the pandemic peak of 14.8% in April of last year.

Kamins, the Moody's economist, noted that data from Google's mobility tracking service shows that Americans are increasingly venturing out to shop, visit restaurants and go to movie theaters and other entertainment venues.

Even so, travel to worksites hasn't picked up as much, a sign that many people — mostly in white-collar professions — are still working from home. A result is that lower-income workers in large cities are likely still struggling, because many downtown restaurants and coffee shops haven't yet reopened or, if they have, are seeing far fewer customers.

Most analysts have grown bullish about the economy's prospects for the coming months. They include Fed Chair Jerome Powell, who expressed his belief in an appearance last Sunday on "60 Minutes" that the economy is at "an inflection point" and appears poised for a boom.

Northland Prep’s Chase Hamilton (22) arrives in a cloud of dirt at third base just ahead of the ball Thursday afternoon during a game against Scottsdale Prep at the Continental ballfields in Flagstaff.

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Leupp will return to remote learning Monday in response to Navajo stay-at-home order
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Leupp Elementary School will be returning to remote learning on Monday.

The news came from the Flagstaff Unified School District Thursday afternoon in response to a “direct notification from the Office of Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.”

Last week, Nez extended a stay-at-home order for residents of the Navajo Nation, citing the threat of new variants of the COVID-19 virus that have been identified in northern Arizona and tribal communities.

“The stay-at-home order is reinstated to help lessen the spread of COVID-19 and the variants here on the Navajo Nation,” Nez said last week in a statement.

Navajo roads also remain closed to visitors and tourists.

In posts to FUSD’s website and social media, FUSD leaders said resources to support students during the period of remote learning will be prepared for students to take home on Friday.

There will also be no Safe Learning Center onsite services during the time this executive order is in effect.

Food service will return to the grab-and-go program operating on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Leupp Elementary School from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Meals will include breakfast, lunch and supper at no cost.

Additionally, a bus stop food service for Bird Springs (10:25 to 11 a.m.) and Tolani Lake (11:30 a.m. to noon) will also be available.

This change only applies to students enrolled at Leupp Elementary School. FUSD students who live in the Navajo Nation but attend school in other Flagstaff Unified School District schools, however, may attend in-person learning, and bus services for those students will continue.

The move comes after FUSD returned to in-person schooling on March 22.

Since returning to in-person classes, there have been several instances when students, staff and even entire classes have had to quarantine after an exposure to a COVID-19 positive individual. For example, a class at Marshall Elementary School was quarantined less than a week after returning to in-person instruction. Then the next week, an exposure at Sechrist Elementary School led to yet another round of quarantines.

New Mexico leads US Southwest in broadband needs
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico has the highest percentage of residents in the Southwest without adequate broadband internet service, a problem highlighted by the Biden administration as it looks to infuse more than $2 trillion into infrastructure projects nationwide.

The administration released details about each state’s needs for everything from internet access to highways, affordable housing and drinking water projects.

In New Mexico, the federal government estimates that 22% of residents live in areas where there’s no broadband infrastructure that provides acceptable internet speeds. Nearly 70% are in areas where there’s only one such internet provider.

The coronavirus pandemic highlighted connectivity problems over the past year as schools turned to remote learning and other services were forced to go online only.

About one in five New Mexico households do not have an internet subscription, according to the administration's summary.

Around the Southwest, the percentages of households without subscriptions are much lower — ranging from around 9% in Utah and Colorado to 13% in Arizona and 14% in Nevada.

Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a New Mexico Democrat who chairs a congressional subcommittee that has been focusing on the digital divide, recently introduced legislation with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina that would reimburse schools for installing Wi-Fi on buses.

Luján also introduced a measure that would authorize $5 billion for a program that makes low-interest financing available for broadband infrastructure projects.

Luján said at a hearing last month that the goal should be “100% connectivity" with fast, affordable internet nationwide. He told the story of a New Mexico middle school student who had to sit in the sun all day to connect to Wi-Fi and ended up with heatstroke.

Luján told The Associated Press in an email Monday that bridging the divide, tackling the homework gap and promoting digital equity are longstanding priorities.

“Broadband has quickly become an essential utility, making it possible for students to learn, doctors to provide life-saving care, and businesses to keep their doors open during this pandemic," he said. “Sadly, in too many communities across our state, we’re falling short of connecting every New Mexican.”

The state-by-state needs outlined by the Biden administration indicate a massive backlog after years of repairs being deferred and delayed. Most states received a letter grade on their infrastructure, with the highest grade of C-plus going to Georgia and Utah.

New Mexico did not get a grade, but the summary indicated that its 207 bridges and more than 3,800 miles of highway are in poor condition and costing drivers $767 per year on average.

Over the next two decades, New Mexico’s drinking water infrastructure will require an estimated $1.4 billion in additional funding. More than half of residents live in places where child care is hard to find, and 126,000 renters are spending more than 30% of their income on rent due to a lack of affordable housing.