Workshop examines sustainable vet services in remote Canadian Communities

July 14, 2017

Workshop coordinated by Veterinarians without Borders-Canada looks to strengthen sustainable veterinary services in remote Canadian communities

The workshop included panel discussions as well as extensive dialogue among participants. 

A workshop examining the issue of animal care in remote, underserved communities in Canada has exposed both the complexity of the issue and a remarkable level of consensus among community leaders and organizations providing veterinary service to those communities.

The workshop was convened by Veterinarians without Borders/Vétérinaires sans frontières (VWB/VSF) and was held in conjunction with the annual conference of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association in Charlottetown, PEI. Ann Ratt, a councillor with the Lac La Ronge Indian Band in Saskatchewan, and Gerald Anawak from the Nunavut Department of Health, offered an assessment of the animal care situation in their communities and how it relates to public health. The group also heard from Dr. Duane Landals of the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. Susan Kutz from the University of Calgary, Dr. Marti Hopson from the University of Prince Edward Island, Dr. Jordan Woodsworth of the University of Saskatchewan, R.J. Bailot from the Alberta Spay Neuter Task Force, Dr. Catherine Filejski from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, and Dr. Richard Herbert from Christian Aboriginal Infrastructure Developments. All of those individuals are directly involved in providing veterinary services to underserved remote communities, such as health and wellness exams, vaccinations, dewormings, sterilizations, and health and welfare management advice.

The workshop participants voiced general agreement on a number of key points.  For example, there was complete agreement that community leadership and support are essential elements.  Where indigenous communities are involved, participants agreed that outside organizations need to do a better job of cross-cultural training for all volunteers. 

Continuity was identified as another important determinant of success for volunteer animal care programs.  The relationship between the University of Calgary and the communities in the Sahtu region of the Northwest Territories was identified as a good example.  Volunteers have been consistently visiting those communities for 10 years, resulting in the majority of dogs being vaccinated and a significant portion being spayed or neutered. One result of this continuity is that the lifespan of community dogs has tripled since the start of the program. The relationship between the University of Saskatchewan and the Lac La Ronge Indian Band is another example of a successful, long-term partnership.

Because of the high cost of moving teams, supplies and equipment to remote communities, the idea of training local people as community animal health workers was also seen as a promising approach and adjunct to providing continuity of basic animal care in remote communities.  That is a strategy that VWB/VSF has employed extensively in its programming in under-served communities in Africa and Asia. Participants were particularly excited about the prospect of community animal health workers supported by emerging technologies such as veterinary tele-health systems.

However, funding, community partnerships, communications, current policy, and regulations have hindered the widespread and coordinated implementation of sustainable animal care services in remote communities, and need to be addressed in order to achieve animal and public health goals.

Workshop participants heard about some of the mistakes that well-intentioned, but poorly informed volunteers can make.  Some animal “rescue” organizations were identified as a particular source of conflict, with the perception that they sometimes were “stealing” community dogs.  The need to identify “owned” dogs, through micro-chip or tattoo methods, and to keep medical records for each individual animal, was also considered an important service in order to prevent the inappropriate “apprehension” of identified dogs that are owned and cared for, while reinforcing the appropriate concern over dangerous unidentified wild dogs. Medical records on owned and identified dogs would also prevent unnecessary vaccinations or procedures.

A comprehensive report is currently being assembled from information gathered through the workshop.  The ultimate goal would be to make animal care and veterinary services available to many more communities, to identify funding sources (eg. through private-public partnerships) to make that possible, and to establish some level of coordination and continuity among the organizations involved in this effort.

The workshop was made possible through a generous grant from PetSmart Charities of Canada, and support from CVMA and Aimia.

For More information:
Chris Braeuel                                         
Executive Director, VWB/VSF
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