Vet Tech Jessica Ginter, left, and Dr. Michelle Tuma prepare a nervous patient for surgery during a VWB/VSF clinic in Fort Liard NWT.
In 2017, a study conducted on behalf of VWB/VSF found 54 remote communities of 100 or more families in Canada’s three northern territories with little or no access to veterinary services. In those communities, animals tend to live shorter lives, dying from causes that are either treatable or preventable. There is also a very real health threat to people. In some communities, the inability to control dog populations puts humans, particularly children, at risk from dog attacks. As well, unvaccinated dogs can transfer diseases, including rabies, to humans.
For more than a decade, VWB/VSF has supported other organizations, primarily Canadian veterinary colleges, in their efforts to provide veterinary services in remote northern communities. In 2017 and again in 2018 VWB/VSF brought together experts, community leaders, stakeholders and organizations working to provide veterinary services in the north to discuss coordination and best practices for northern animal care and to map a direction forward. In 2019, VWB/VSF began offering its own veterinary clinics.
VWB/VSF’s efforts to improve animal care in the North have been greatly assisted through generous funding from PetSmart Charities of Canada, travel assistance from Aeroplan, through a valuable partnership with the Northwest Territories SPCA, and through support from individuals, businesses, non-governmental organizations, foundations, and government agencies.
There are some core principles that guide this program.
- Like all of VWB/VSF’s work, the northern program is built on a “One Health” model, acknowledging that animal and human health, and environmental sustainability, are inextricably linked and must be approached holistically.
- The people with the most at stake and the best understanding of the issues are members of the communities involved. Community partnerships are essential to success.
- Improving animal health in remote communities requires consistency and a long-term commitment.
- There are private veterinary clinics operating in Canada’s north. VWB/VSF will ensure that its efforts do not affect those businesses, and where possible, those hardworking and knowledgeable veterinarians will be consulted about the work.
- Increase access to veterinary services through volunteer run temporary clinics in remote, underserved communities. In 2019, volunteers traveled to Taloyoak, Fort Liard and Wrigley to spay/neuter, vaccinate and care for domestic animals in those communities. Plans are underway to visit those and other communities in 2020.
- Facilitate coordination and collaboration among current veterinary service efforts in northern communities involving northern partners, including communities, local and regional governments, and existing veterinary service and animal care providers, to ensure long-term sustainable animal health and veterinary services in these communities.
- Develop best practices and regulatory frameworks, in partnership with northern indigenous communities and relevant regulatory bodies, to ensure that animal health and veterinary service delivery is appropriate from veterinary, cultural and ethical standpoints.
- Explore options for telehealth, community animal management workers, and linkages with clinics in southern Canada to support community’s animal health needs.