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The Chinook Project: Caring for animals in Canada’s North
December 22, 2015
Veterinary care is difficult—often impossible—to obtain in remote northern communities in Canada. But for the past ten years, teams of veterinarians and veterinary students from the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) at UPEI have been heading north to give free veterinary care to animals in some of those communities.
The Chinook Project was founded in 2005 by AVC professor Lisa Miller and then-UPEI English professor Jane Magrath. With financial assistance from the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre at AVC, the first Chinook Project trip took place in the summer of 2006.
Since that first trip, 52 fourth-year veterinary students, 15 veterinarians, and two veterinary technicians have cared for over 1,400 animals at 16 mobile clinics held in ten locations in Canada’s North. They have performed 728 spay and neuter surgeries, given countless vaccinations and doses of dewormer, treated numerous medical conditions, and educated hundreds of people about animal care and welfare. Most of their patients have been dogs, but they also care for other animals, including cats and the occasional rabbit.
Because of the lack of veterinary services in many areas of the North, communities there are often overrun with dogs, with attendant issues of parasites and disease outbreaks. In turn, these problems result in issues such as aggression between dogs and towards people, and neglect and abuse of the animals. Larger centres like Iqaluit and Yellowknife have veterinary services, but people living in smaller communities have to fly their animals to these cities at great cost.
Now coordinated by Miller and Dr. Marti Hopson, the Chinook Project responds to requests from northern communities for veterinary services. Teams of veterinarians, students, and veterinary technicians spend three to 10 days in the communities, providing essential veterinary services. Under the guidance of veterinarians, the students work long hours, performing surgeries and other veterinary services in temporary clinics set up in firehalls, community centres, schools and other venues. They also go out into the countryside to care for sled dogs, which are usually kept outside community borders.
The students gain valuable experience practicing veterinary medicine during their time with the Chinook Project, but they get other benefits as well. They get to know the people and, through them, the culture of the North. The communities they visit often arrange formal events such as feasts, drum dancing and community games nights, and informal activities like iceberg sightings and hikes. As part of their learning experience, the students hone their writing skills by keeping personal journals and writing blogs about their experiences.
Getting the veterinary teams to the North is no easy task. Hopson, who has travelled north with Chinook almost every year, spends many hours, dealing with every aspect of the trip—from arranging transportation and accommodation to getting supplies needed by the veterinary teams. She works closely with people in the communities that the Chinook Project teams will visit.
Sending people and supplies to the North would not be possible without the financial assistance of the many sponsors and donors who support the Chinook Project. Among the major sustained donors are the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Rathlyn Foundation, Ann McCain Evans, Zoetis Animal Health, Air Labrador, Boehringer-Ingelheim and Iams-Eukanuba.
Planning is well underway for the 2016 Chinook Project. Veterinary teams will visit Nain and Sheshatshiu, Labrador, and Iqaluit, Nunavut. For more information about the Chinook Project, please visit chinookproject.ca
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