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which was removed the next day. Photo courtesy of The Chinook Project
The Chinook Project Goes to Cambridge Bay
by Marti Hopson, BFA, MMus, DVM
The Chinook Project is a unique endeavor to provide veterinary care to areas of Nunavut, Canada. In 2005, Dr. Jane Magrath, an English professor from the University of Prince Edward Island, visited Nunavut’s Baffin Island and decided something should be done to improve the health care for dogs in that region. The Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre (SJDAWC) at the University of Prince Edward Island, under the coordination of Dr. Alice Crook, provided funding for a two-year project. The SJDAWC is a strong force, both nationally and internationally, funding over 100 projects in companion animal welfare.
For two years I have had the great privilege of obtaining my Nunavut veterinary license and volunteering to go North to set up temporary surgical clinics. In 2006, Jane and I flew with five students into Kimmirut, a small isolated town of 450 people on Baffin Island. There, we vaccinated 60% and neutered 25% of the dog population. This past summer the group was in Cambridge Bay for the solstice, where we vaccinated over 120 dogs and cats and performed surgery on over 40 animals. A local group, 'Diamonds in the Ruff', helped organize our stay. This group finds homes for unwanted dogs and raises money to help care for animals. Our makeshift clinic was in the woodworking classroom of the local high school, and our surgical light was a goose necked desk lamp that someone shone over my left shoulder during a particularly difficult surgery. The logistics of estimating, ordering and transporting every needle, syringe and surgical instrument over so many miles are staggering. Still, the hospitality of local residents and the cultural exchanges provided were invaluable. Traveling by boat, past icebergs, sampling freshly caught Arctic char, or sliding down mountain snow chutes in late June are experiences not soon forgotten. During a community feast of muskox stew and bannock, several elders sang traditional songs of the area. One local resident remarked that she had never seen these elders perform for outsiders in this way.
We were struck by the difficulties a northern dog faces. Often they are well fed and well cared for, but rabies and distemper are common and fatal. Entire teams of dogs can be wiped out, with no help available. While doing a 'house-call' to vaccinate a team, we found a decomposed dog carcass, still on its chain, having died of what is assumed to be distemper. We are hoping that encouraging vaccination, making the vaccines available and training bylaw officers or health professionals to administer the vaccines will have an impact on reducing the number of deaths from these horrible diseases. Of course, overpopulation is an issue, even though most dogs remain on short chains because of bylaw regulations. Roaming dogs can be seized and, if unclaimed, will be killed.
Amarok’s tumour prepped for removal. It took over 100 sutures to closeOne memorable day saw us travel to Mount Pelly. Several families have fishing cabins there on the shore. We vaccinated and dewormed a dog team, later sharing with the team's owner tea made from lake ice. Amarok (the Inuktitut word meaning 'wolf') is a ten-year-old husky cross who has been the lead female of the team. We were told she had a mass on her side, which had been there for years. On examination, I found it was the size of a small dinner plate! We offered to remove the mass. The surgery took all morning, but Amarok recovered well. Over 100 stitches were needed to close the gaping hole in her side after the aggressive resection. Once she was awake, she was able to spend the night in a garage, but was back out on the tundra the next day. Luckily, she tolerated wearing the old T-shirt we provided, which kept her incision clean. On returning to PEI, we analyzed the mass to discover it was a spindle cell tumor, a malignant growth. Hopefully, it will not recur. Through a recent email, we heard that Amarok was doing well, and acting 'like a young pup'.
the hole left behind! Photo courtesy of The Chinook Project
It is important to note that this venture brings together veterinary sciences and the humanities. Jane Magrath will gather creative essays from all participants in a multi-disciplinary publication. The Chinook Project is now an official credit rotation for veterinary students, and we are applying for further funding to continue to visit other communities each summer. Pfizer Animal Health has been very involved, providing free vaccines and other drugs. The Chinook Project will give all involved a once in a lifetime veterinary and cultural experience. For more information please contact: Lisa Miller, Jane Magrath, or Marti Hopson.
Marti Hopson, with Amarok, the day after surgery.
Photo courtesy of The Chinook Project