A medical team from the Winnipeg-based Tuxedo Animal Hospital saw about 80 furry family members and performed more than 30 surgeries during its annual visit to Rankin Inlet this past week.
The group was comprised of Dr. Jonas Watson and animal health technologists Jennifer Dakin and Erin Dack.
Dr. Watson was making his fourth trip to Rankin as part of Tuxedo’s long, working relationship with local pets and their owners, which is now well into its second decade.
And, while there are often special wildlife guests needing attention, such as an injured owl or orphaned caribou, family pets are the primary focus of the visits.
Watson said, these days, using the Internet to stay in contact with clinic organizer Page Burt has allowed for big improvements in the level of care Tuxedo provides.
He said Burt is now able to send photos and videos of any furry client needing medical attention, for example, and that has improved the delivery of care dramatically over the years.
“Now, during the rest of the year beyond our short annual visits, we can do a lot of work remotely through that kind of correspondence,” said Watson.
“And while there has been some improvement to the overall health of the pets we see in Rankin, there continues to be a portion of the population – and this is true of all remote locations, not just Rankin – who, for a variety of reasons, are not able to provide veterinary care to their pets.
“So, as long as that’s the case, dogs will continue to catch infectious vaccinable diseases and reproduce unabated because it’s not always financially feasible for people to be able to get their animal ‘fixed.’
“One good thing that helps with that in Rankin is that Page (Burt) has a fund available to provide financial support to families who can’t afford veterinary care themselves.”
Watson said the lack of access to proper veterinary care in remote areas across Canada – and the consequences in terms of pet overpopulation and animal health – is especially irritating to him.
He said many communities need programs in place, supported by government agencies or grassroots operations, to ensure pet owners are able to get the care their animals need.
“If you live in a far-flung part of Northern Canada, with a pet that needs to see a vet, you have to buy a plane ticket to take it down and I find it incredibly frustrating to know there are animals unable to get the care they need.
“I try to service many remote communities throughout Nunavut and Manitoba to the best of my abilities, but, in Manitoba alone, there are 65 First Nations communities.
“Veterinarians can’t get to these communities very easily and, even when they can, there are many people who can’t afford the services they provide.
“So, really, policy makers need to step up and support some kind of program that allows for the provision of veterinary care to people who simply don’t live in close proximity to a veterinary clinic.”
Watson said as long as people, especially youth, can provide the basic needs, it’s a wonderful thing for them to have pets.
He said the human-animal bond is great for young people while growing up, and it allows them to develop into better-adjusted adults.
“It’s not the fault of pet owners that they live somewhere veterinary services are not readily available.
“Rankin Inlet is fortunate we come-up here once a year and that makes a big difference.
“But Rankin is an exception within Nunavut because, to the best of my knowledge, there’s a veterinarian in Iqaluit and that’s it.
“There are many, many parts of this territory that simply don’t have any sort of veterinary services available and there are unfortunate consequences to the animals that live in those communities because of that.”
Describing Rankin as a fairly-developed community where people care for their pets, Watson said, year after year, the conditions requiring treatment the visiting animal health-care professionals see in the hamlet are fairly similar to those they see in the south.
He said common conditions in the local pet population are obesity, ear infections, periodontal disease and arthritis in older animals.
“In less-served and more-remote communities, we see more troublesome things like bad-parasitic overloads, starvation and vehicular trauma.
“Basic preventive care that makes a big difference includes vaccinating and deworming your pets, spaying and neutering them, and, throughout the lifetime of your animal, trying to keep it lean and not overweight or obese.
“All of these things go a long way towards helping your pet live a long and healthy life.”