VETERINARIANS WITHOUT BORDERS: SAHTU CLINICS 2015
Zoetis sponsored this year´s program by donating products (Dexdomitor, Clavamox, and Revolution) and sending a qualified Veterinary Doctor colleague who shared her knowledge and skills with these communities in need. Veterinarians Without Borders sponsors many projects throughout the world, including two initiatives in the northern reaches of Canada. This year, Dr. Carolyn Hours traveled to the Sahtu region in the Northwest Territories, serves a group of 5 isolated communities located along the southern edge of Great Slave Lake, which are exclusively accessible by plane except during the coldest winter months when transport is possible via the « ice highways ». Below Dr. Hours shares her personal account of this experience,
The extreme remoteness of these northern communities helps explain the lack of access to even the most rudimentary veterinary services, such as vaccination and sterilisation. And, as rabies and parvovirus are relatively frequent among the canine population in the north, the risk of transmission to human populations—passing from wild animals to domestic animals to humans—is high. It goes without saying that the absence of a sterilisation program causes a rapid expansion of the canine population, leaving many uncared for dogs free to roam at their will. The result? Human populations live in fear of attack by aggressive dogs.
Since 2008, two professors from the University of Calgary, Drs Susan Kutz (Parasitology) and Frank van de Meer (Virology), have organised an annual veterinary clinic with the help of 3 final year veterinarian students. The goal of the program is to vaccinate and deworm local canine populations, and provide sterilisation clinics, general consults, and home visits in the communities of Norman Wells, Tulita, Deline, Fort Good Hope, as well as Colville Lake (the most isolated of the destinations, located only 50km from the arctic circle!).
Back row, left to right: Jessie (student RVT), Dr van der Meer and the 3 students of veterinary medicine: Jessie, Kylie, and Andrea. Front row, L to R: Tanya (RVT) and Dr Kutz
Education plays an important role in the expedition. During evening workshops and presentations in schools, Dr Kutz and her team speak about the importance of proper veterinary care, canine behaviour, and the right diet (a locally shared view holds that a dog should be “thin”).
The equipment required for the expedition—including sterilisation and anesthesia equipment, the veterinary pharmacy, and everything else that will be needed (bandages, fluidotherapy, cages, etc)—is transported by a convoy of three Northwest Territory government pick-up trucks.
Since its creation, a number of companies have sponsored Dr Kutz’s program and for a second consecutive year, Zoetis participated by donating products (Dexdomitor, Clavamox, and Revolution) and by under-writing the presence of a Zoetis staff veterinarian.
Dr. Carolyn Hour, Zoetis experienced first-hand how rewarding it was to be part of this annual journey:
I had the great privilege of participating in this northern adventure, supporting the veterinary students during surgery as well as lending expertise during clinical consults and home visits.
The first community I visited was Colville Lake, a grouping of 150 people on the shores of Colville Lake.
In the 1960s, this community experienced a hunting-related economic boom and a number of families from Fort Good Hope, including the missionary Bern Will Brown, established a permanent settlement, which included the creation of a school and a church, « Our Lady of the Snows ». Mr Brown and his wife Margaret—to this day, an active member of the community, raise a pure breed race of white Huskies, the « Colville Lake Huskies ».
During our visit we were able to vaccinate and deworm 100% of the canine population. Dr Kutz’s team provides these patients with basic and anti-rabies vaccinations following a 1-year protocol. A 3-year protocol is judged un-practicable due to the number of wandering dogs and the frequent change of dog ownership (which, confusingly, is often accompanied by a change to the dog’s name). Ovariohysterectomy is a hard sell in this community in which children want to have puppies. Sterilisation of males is, for the moment, inconceivable. Nevertheless, our team was able to spay 4 females from our temporary clinic in the village gymnasium.
Despite an evolution over the years in the acceptance of veterinary services, Colville Lake remains the most fixed in its ways. The home visits allowed the team to check up on limping dogs or animals with other conditions that might otherwise never receive treatment.
Our next destination, the last stop on the tour, was Fort Good Hope, home to almost 500 people. In Fort Good Hope, we set up our clinic in one of the classrooms at the Chief T’Selehye School, which provides schooling from primary through to post-secondary (junior and senior high) levels and prepares students for technical training.
The cases and the animal population were more varied in Fort Good Hope compared to Colville Lake. They included: the castration of a small cat, the dental intervention on a Chihuahua, the ablation of a sebaceous cyst, dog castrations, and some ovariohysterectomies. Students were allowed to observe the various procedures throughout the day, helping promote the importance of veterinary care for the wellbeing of animals.
The outcome of Sahtu Vet Clinics 2015 was positive for Dr Kutz and the team. There was a remarkable increase in the number of surgeries, especially in the community of Deline. Another bonus was the growing proportion of the population who seemed better sensitized to the needs of their animals and now look forward to the annual visit from the veterinary team. For the veterinary students, this trip was an enriching experience that allowed them to practice their clinical and technical (surgical) skills while developing communication skills by interfacing with animal owners and participating in community meetings (in classrooms and at community events).
The experience was equally enriching for me. It allowed me to measure the impact that our sponsorship can have on the wellbeing of animals, which is our primary preoccupation at Zoetis, a pharmaceutical company, which is strictly animal oriented. The trip was also an occasion for me to discover another Canadian reality, that of communities that are isolated for more than half of the year, living in an extreme climate and balancing modernity with ancestral ways.
As I admired the northern lights over Colville Lake, it was impossible not to be won over by the natural environment, as beautiful as it is wild. Faced by the immensity of the silence in this region, this Inuit proverb captured that feeling:
« The only masters are ice and time »