This blog was contributed by VWB/VSF alumni northern volunteer, Nicole Geddes.
As part of VWB/VSF's Northern Animal Health Initiative, the spring clinics recently wrapped up across Northwest Territories and Nunavut. During these clinics, veterinarians and veterinary technicians joined team members from VWB/VSF to work with remote northern communities, via community liaisons, to provide temporary veterinary clinics, offering spay/neuter surgeries, general wellness check ups, vaccinations, and more.
Check out Nicole's thoughts on her recent volunteer placement in the North:
I learned valuable lessons while travelling with my team to remote communities in Northern Canada. A key aspect of my success was keeping an open mind throughout my volunteering experience.
Throughout my time in the community, I connected with many people who deeply valued and cared for their pets. We were frequently approached by community members who were eager to share stories about their pets with us. One individual revealed that his dog had saved his life, which highlighted the love and devotion he had for his companion.
A community member with his dog in Kugluktuk
I feel very lucky to be part of a profession that helps to foster and strengthen the bond between people and their companion animals. It was an incredibly rewarding experience to provide the care and support needed by both pet owners and their pets in these remote communities.
This experience gave me a deep understanding of the importance and value of fostering connections and building trust through initiatives and educational events. I had the opportunity to develop relationships with stakeholders in the community, build networks, and increase my understanding of the barriers that Northern Canadian communities are facing. Through this process, I learned the value of effective community engagement, and how to create an environment of trust and collaboration to ensure long-term success.
I was surprised by the distinct individuality of each community we visited. It was interesting to see the contrast as we transitioned from the small community of Lutselk'e, in the Northwest Territories, which has a population of around 300 people, to Kugluktuk in Nunavut, with approximately 2,000 residents. Exploring these diverse communities provided me with a deeper appreciation for their unique characteristics and allowed me to gain a better understanding of specific challenges each individual community is facing.
Visiting the local school in Kugluktuk to do a presentation on our work (Caleb, Tash, Vanessa, Nicole, Tannicka)
Travelling to these different communities not only broadened my perspective, but also highlighted the importance of flexibility and adaptability in delivering veterinary care to remote underserved communities. Each community has its own set of circumstances and resources that influence our approach to providing accessible veterinary care.
My favourite memory was of our neighbour's dog in Lutselk'e who we called "Buddy". Buddy would join us every morning to walk to the school where we set up our remote clinic. When we came home, Buddy was always waiting for us with a wagging tail. I would go out for walks in the evening and Buddy would join me, always sticking by my side. During our evening walks, he would run ahead and do laps around the area we were walking in then run back to me. Which I later realized was him doing his bear checks to keep me safe!
A picture of me and "Buddy" in Luseltk'e
During my time in Kugluktuk, I had the opportunity to work with Tash, a student with a strong aspiration to become a veterinarian. Witnessing Tash's passion and dedication on a daily basis was truly inspiring. Despite the obstacles she faces, Tash remains focused on a career in veterinary medicine. I look forward to staying in touch with Tash and following her journey towards becoming a veterinarian. The Veterinarians Without Borders' program plays a vital role in allowing individuals like Tash achieve their goals, and it was truly remarkable to be part of her journey.