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Baker Lake, Nunavut and the Canadian Animal Assistance Team (CAAT)
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photo: C. Robinson
Baker Lake, Nunavut and the
Canadian Animal Assistance Team (CAAT)
by Chris Robinson
CAAT Executive Director
CAATs goal is to work with communities that see a need and to offer veterinary services that would otherwise not be available. We want to know what the local community members feel is needed. We offer to share our knowledge of animal health and how it relates to human health. Owners who want to take advantage of that knowledge and the service when it is offered at no cost are welcome to avail themselves of what is offered.
The health of the animals, the health of the people and the health of the community are intertwined. There are several internal parasites (worms) and diseases (rabies being the most critical one) that dogs can carry and pass on to humans. These are addressed through the services CAAT provides.
This September, after five years of annual visits to Baker Lake, Nunavut, CAAT completed its series of clinics to the community. CAAT team members observed many changes to the animal health status between its first visit to this northern hamlet in 2009 and its fifth visit this year. It was evident that the dogs were generally healthier and in much better body condition, and there were much fewer puppies than before the program started.
For the clinic this year our main focus was on vaccination and education (we did do some sterilizations as needed as well). CAAT was able to provide services for all the sled dog teams as well as to go door-to-door in order to cover the entire hamlet while there. During the door-to-door visits, the feedback from the community members on a one-on-one basis was invaluable. Knowing what the people felt about our visits was very important. Some still didn’t believe in vaccinating or sterilizing and that is always going to be the case (just like some in the south). However, most community members with whom our team spoke commented that having their dogs vaccinated and de-wormed made them healthier and it was easier to keep weight on them through the harsh winters. One of the sled dog team owners expressed his change of attitude with the team. The first two years that we were in the hamlet, he felt that sterilization of his sled dogs was going to make them less driven, lazy, less effective sled dogs. His sled dog team’s performance was very important to this man and he needed to weigh his decision to sterilize based on that. Through discussions with our veterinarians and technicians over the years, he decided in the third year to start to sterilize a couple of dogs he no longer wanted to breed. As of 2013, most of the team is sterilized. The owner is very selectively breeding his dogs. While the obvious benefit was to have fewer puppies being born, he observed that there were other unexpected benefits that became evident to him. His observations were that the sterilized dogs were more focused on their jobs, they were much less likely to fight and they were much more effective workers. He admitted that this was a surprise to him and he was very glad he decided to have the surgeries done.
This kind of response and sharing of knowledge is exactly what we hope for. Discussing the benefits of what we offer, allowing individual owners to make their own educated decisions based on that information and seeing the positive outcome has been beneficial to all.
The goals of this five-year project were:
1. To successfully introduce veterinary services to a place that previously had no services and to have the services be welcomed by the community members.
Community members went from wondering why the vets were there to eagerly awaiting their return each year.
2. To improve the general health and welfare of the animals in the community and reduce the overpopulation of the dogs and cats to a level that would be sustainable with occasional visits from a small veterinary team.
The general body condition of most of the dogs in the community has improved. The statistics from 2009 to 2013 show a decreasing demand for sterilization surgeries and an initial rise, then steady demand for vaccinations. The community animal health care status is at a level where there is no longer a need for a large veterinary team annually.
3. To raise awareness of basic animal needs with community members.
The feedback from owners was consistent. The majority of owners understand the importance of and the benefits that routine vaccinations have made to the health of their dogs and they are eager to continue to provide that care through veterinary services annually. Owners who have had their dogs sterilized see the difference sterilization has made to their dogs health. Community members, both those that do and don’t own dogs, have seen a dramatic reduction in puppies being born and the number of dogs in the community.
The local animal welfare organization, The Buddy Fund, was instrumental in bringing CAAT to the community, assisting its team with local needs and promoting the clinics each year. They will continue their work in the community and will bring in individual veterinarians as needed to sustain the level of care and veterinary services. The Canadian Animal Assistance Team will remain involved in an advisory capacity for future veterinarians working in the community of Baker Lake.
Ed: Visit the CAAT website to learn more about its animal wellness initiatives and please consider donating to support its good works.