Three Nunavut communities prepare for mobile veterinary clinic visit
The Canadian branch of the non-profit organization Veterinarians Without Borders will soon deploy a team to Kimmirut, Qikiqtarjuaq and Igloolik on Baffin Island to provide care to animals in need — a rare service in Nunavut, where there are currently no veterinary clinics.
The teams of veterinarians and veterinary assistants will visit the three communities from March 7 to 24.
"We're able to do both spay [and] neuter surgeries, or other surgery-type care, at the same time as doing appointments for vaccines and animal health check-ups," said Marieke Van Der Velden, the Northern Canada program manager for Vets Without Borders.
The organization has been offering mobile clinics since 2019 in Nunavut. Over the past four years, teams have visited Gjoa Haven, Taloyoak, Kugluktuk and Kimmirut, among others.
Van Der Velden said she expects their services to be in high demand during future community visits.
"Last year, when we were in Kimmirut, we were very busy. We had a lot of surgeries," she said. "We're expecting a lot of appointments for booster vaccines this year in Kimmirut and Qikiqtarjuaq."
She said in 2022, the mobile clinics saw 89 and 67 animals respectively in these two communities, mostly dogs.
As for Igloolik, she said that community hasn't had a vet visit for a couple years.
"We are expecting a very busy clinic there as well," she said.
In Nunavut, this type of service is far from commonplace. The lack of veterinarians across the territory forces many people to care for their pets themselves. Instead, they have to travel south to get a consultation at a veterinary clinic.
Bailey Waldner, a teacher from Igloolik, owns two dogs, the youngest of which is two and a half years old and has never been seen by a vet.
"We've had to do what we can, when we can," she said.
A few months ago, she called the organization directly to ask them to visit the community. She volunteered to raise the necessary funds to bring a team onsite and orchestrate the appointment.
Their visit is especially necessary, she said, in the run-up to this year's massive Nunavut Quest sled dog race from Igloolik to Arctic Bay.
By April, more than 300 sled dogs could be coming into the community, she said.
"The more dogs that we have vaccinated against parvo, distemper, all of those other nasty viruses, the less likely we are to have it spread within the town," she said.
Animal first aid training
In addition to its mobile clinics, the Canadian branch of Vets Without Borders is offering virtual first aid training to residents of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories for the first time this year.
Van Der Velden noted there is a shortage of veterinarians across the country, but especially in the North. In the N.W.T., there are three veterinarians, all in Yellowknife; in Nunavut, there are none.
"We've really found the need to build the capacity of local people who want to pursue those studies," said Van Der Velden.
The training, which is structured in 15 modules, focuses on such topics as what medications can be given to certain animals and how to respond to minor injuries.
Among the participants is Natasha Peyton Kuliktana, a 12-year-old from Kugluktuk in western Nunavut.
"I just usually love helping animals," she said.
When a Vets Without Borders team came to Kugluktuk two years ago, she volunteered to comfort dogs before and after their operations.
"My first dog, his name was Max. He had gotten really sick from parvo and he had to get put down," she said. "Since then, I've wanted to become a vet."
She hopes one day to organize veterinary clinics in her community.