Veterinarians Without Borders looks to increase work in territories

·4 min read

Laura Diamond-c used to worry every day about her little kids as they walked past stray dogs on their way into school in Fort Liard, N.W.T.

"To me, that was a very dangerous situation for the little kids," she said.

It's one reason why Diamond-c decided to form a committee with a few other community members to convince the NWT SPCA to start a drop-in clinic in their hamlet.

The NWT SPCA connected them to Veterinarians Without Borders to see if they would be a good match for a northern pilot project.

"The neuter program worked really well," said Diamond-c. "There's no dogs at the school now."

'There was nothing for years here'

Last year, Veterinarians Without Borders came to Fort Liard for the first time to host a week-long drop-in clinic in the community warehouse. The organization helped more than 30 stray dogs through vaccinations or neuters.

The non-profit, known for its international work, started thinking about deploying volunteers to Canada's three territories in 2017. Three years later, the organization is looking to increase its drop-in clinics in Fort Liard and Wrigley, N.W.T., and Taloyoak, Nunavut, and to create partnerships with a handful of other communities.

The organization will also be investing in new telehealth options to keep communities connected to veterinarians when their not around.

All this is happening with the help of a $123,000 donation from PetSmart Canada.

Diamond-c said the clinics gave pet owners more options for what to do with their animals in critical care.

If your dog was injured or hurt, the only option you had was to put it down or drive for hundreds of miles to get them to a vet. - Laura Diamond-c, Fort Liard, N.W.T. resident

"There was nothing for years here," Diamond-c said. "If your dog was injured or hurt, the only option you had was to put it down or drive for hundreds of miles to get them to a vet."

There is a need for more veterinary services in the North, according to a 2017 study commissioned by Veterinarians Without Borders. The study found that 54 communities in the territories with more than 100 people had little or no access to veterinary services.

'Very difficult' to provide care in remote communities

John Vanleeuwen, a veterinary professor at the University of Prince Edward Island and volunteer Veterinarians Without Borders board member, said there are many similarities between working in Canada's territories and working abroad.

"You have to bring things with you because they're not physically available where you're going," Vanleeuwen told CBC.

"We do have often language and cultural differences that you have to work with and adapt to."

Submitted by Michelle Tuma
Submitted by Michelle Tuma

Michelle Tuma, a veterinarian from Yellowknife, has delivered all of the drop-in clinics for Veterinarians Without Borders. She said this type of work is important because it's "very difficult" for pet owners in remote communities to get the care they need.

"It's impossible for some pet owners because if they're living in a fly-in only community, it costs a lot of money to fly themselves out, and also their animal," Tuma said.

Training local animal workers

Veterinarians Without Borders also trains local animal care workers.

This allows a local worker to provide basic care to the animal when the veterinarians are not around, Tuma said. For more complex cases, community members can connect with a veterinarian over an app where they can get them medical advice and, in some cases, step-by-step instructions on how to solve an animal's problem.

But to Diamond-c, that's not enough. She's hoping to get a permanent clinic set up in Fort Liard.

Right now, she is taking in stray dogs and puppies at her home, but wants to give them a sanitary place to wait before getting neutered.

"I know that people are really interested in having vets come here every year. I'm sure they would want something a little more stable," Diamond-c said. "A lot of people here really do care for their pets."

Fort Liard's clinic would ideally be staffed with some of the hamlet's young people, Diamond-c added.

Veterinarians Without Borders will also be hosting a virtual summit in September with community members and industry to create a set of policies on how to deliver a good standard of care to animals in all communities.