Wednesday, September 13, 2006

NWT--Lutsel K'e Team

Letter from Lutsel K'e.
What an amazing trip!  I'd like first to give a HUGE thank you to our sponsors that made this trip  both financially and organizationally possible.  There were a few people that put in so much hard work for us and for this we are very grateful.

Our group of four C.A.A.T. members;  veterinarian Ken, technician Jennifer, and amazing assistants Corinne and Steve, spent six days in the community of Lutsel K'e.  This is a community of the Dene native tribe on the shore of Great Slave Lake.  The community contains 300-450 people (depending on who you ask) of which, approximately 1/3 are children.  Lutsel K'e has a school (kindergarten to grade 10), a community hall, a new arena, a fire hall, a four bedroom seniors housing complex, a CO-OP store, a church, an RCMP office, the nursing station (where we were housed), and various houses.  And of course, many dogs.  
The one hour flight to Lutsel K'e from Yellowknife gave us a great opportunity to see the landscape up close.  The rocky terrain has been carved by glacier movement and there are areas where the rock looks like waves.  The flora consists mainly of spindly trees and muskeg.  There's yellow lichen that grows quite prolifically. 
The fire hall became our 'clinic'.  We set up shop and had our first patient at 3pm - "Myah" whose mom was a Springer spaniel and whose dad was a black Lab.  Our clippers did not work at all; this was so frustrating and time consuming having to scissor then cut the hair with a disposable shaving blade.
The breeds of the dogs up North aren't what we expected.  We had packed for mainly large Husky size dogs.  The majority of dogs we saw were less than 40 lbs.  What surprised me was the number of 'Wild Shih tzus of the North'.  Unfortunately, their hair coats are not conducive to the climate and we saw many Shih tzus who were badly matted and had burrs and grass awns stuck to them.
We were told that dogs at one time served a great purpose in Lutsel K'e.  They were used for transportation and survival.  Unfortunately, with the majority of people relying now on their ATVs and snowmobiles, the dogs have seemed to become a possession instead of a valued part of the family unit.  We saw many dogs that were tied up at all times with no access to fresh water.  

A few old traditions still remain.  One of these is Dog Island.  During the summer months when the ice is off the lake, a small group of community members keep their dogs on a few of the smaller close-by islands.  When the lake water freezes enough, the dogs are returned to the village.  I believe I'm remembering correctly to say that by doing this keeps the dogs in shape by allowing them to roam free on the island instead of being tied up in town.  We were taken on a boat tour by Constable Brent and his fiancĂ© Sherry.  We went past one of the dog islands.  We could see two male dogs tied up to a cable, an untied bitch and five puppies.  I'm not sure why the males were tied up.  It seems to contradict the purpose of dog island if the dogs aren't allowed to roam free.
Most of our surgeries were done in the first three days.  In total we neutered twenty males, spayed seventeen females and vaccinated/dewormed sixty-four dogs and one cat.   Our anesthetics went smoothly for the most part.  All the dogs, except the few that Nurse Sheryl had already inoculated, were vaccinated against Distemper, Parvovirus, Rabies, Hepatitis and Parainfluenza as well as dewormed and given an application of Advantage.  Every animal we operated on had a bright yellow ear tag placed in their right ear.  It was neat to see the ear tags in the dogs around the village after a few days.  It made me feel like we were doing something worthwhile.  The puppies that had surgery were bouncing around the next day - so much for the strict rest home care recommendations! 
Most of the dogs were thin but not too thin.  A few of the house dogs (while most were outside dogs there were a few dogs that lived inside the houses) were even chunky!  It is much too expensive for most people to be able to ship in kibble dog food.  I saw dogs eating mostly leftovers, wild game and fish.  The teeth on the younger dogs were mainly tartar free.  We didn't see much gingivitis.  However, I did see an interesting pinkish discolouration to the enamel  on quite a few dogs.  Many of the older dogs had tartar, loose teeth, or chipped teeth.  Most of the dogs had clean ear canals as well, except where the ever-present flies had bitten the ears along the edges and one old lab that looked to have a chronic ear infection.  The skin appeared dry and flakey on a lot of the dogs, where as the fur coats were soft and thick.  We didn't see any signs of external parasites other than the fly bitten ears.  
We were able to enjoy some fishing in the Snowdrift River which runs along one side of the community.  Among the fish caught were a Northern Pike and a 10-11 lb trout that Corinne snagged on her line.  We were using a little fish called a Cisco as bait.

The Dene language has a few interesting letters in its alphabet.  I don't see any on my keyboard but I'll describe a few.  There's a letter that is the top part minus the period of the question mark ( ? ).  I didn't find out what sound it made.  There are the letters o, d, and g that have horizontal lines through them.  Marci cho means thank you.  Sa is the word for sun and eenaa is the word for mother. 
We popped into the CO-OP store a few times as it was the only place that had a bank machine.  I jotted down a few of the prices.  $8.00 for a 2 L. carton of milk. $9.89 for 950 mls of Mayonnaise.  $3.39 for a can of French style green beans.  $9.99 for a 1.36L can of tomato juice.  $6.99 for a 1kg bag of frozen green beans.  $5.49 for a 950ml bottle of Sunlight dish soap.  Needless to say groceries are very expensive on the whole!  Nurse Sheryl said she felt diabetes would be a big problem in about ten years as the people are moving away from the traditional lifestyle of eating and exercise.  In such a small town, it amazes me how many people ride on their ATVs to go such a short distance.  A few people have their groceries flown in from Yellowknife. But at $1 a lb for freight and a 5% packing fee on top of the price of the groceries it still makes food and supplies expensive.  Once a year a large barge ships in a lot of the bigger items (i.e. building materials and furniture) and supplies. 
Lutsel K'e has an amazing artist by the name of John Rombough.  I really liked his artwork and was so appreciative that he stopped by the clinic one day to show us some of his wares.  Three of us are now the proud owners of a piece of John's artwork.  Nurse Sheryl makes another kind of artwork she calls fish scale art.  She dyes then dries fish scales and glues them onto rocks, wood, and bones in the shapes of flowers.
One of the highlights for us carnivores was a meal cooked by Nurse Brenda.  We had caribou meat in an onion sauce along with the wild shaggy mane mushrooms we picked on the village outskirts.  Caribou meat is so tender and mild tasting.  Yum yum!  Nurse Brenda said a lot of the people in the community boil their meat and fish.  Corinne and I also got to taste fire-cooked fish eggs.  There are teepees around the village used to dry meat and fish. 
Lutsel K'e has dog shooting days.  The people are given a days notice to keep their dogs tied up.  On dog shooting day, any dog found at large is shot.  There is a $50 bounty on each of the dogs shot.  I hope that our yellow tagged dogs will be exempt from being shot.  We tried to tell people that the tags meant that these dogs have been spayed/neutered and that other than a reason of a behavior problem these tagged dogs shouldn't be shot. I understand that dog shooting days are a financially economical way to deal with the large dog population problem.  However, we heard stories of wonderful friendly dogs getting shot.  Another area that needs addressing is the behaviour of the children around the dogs.  This would be a great educational service for the community for the next group going to Lutsel K'e to try and initiate.
I think our entire group had their eyes opened to another part of huge and wonderful country.  I can only express my own excitement of the trip but I think it would be shared by all in our group.  Lutsel K'e is an amazing land and the Dene people are an amazing people.  I hope we were able to plant a few seeds that will grow into a solution for the dog problem in Lutsel K'e.  
Lastly a special thank you to the owners of the following dogs.  You trusted a group of white strangers with your dogs and I hope you know how thankful we are to be given the responsibility to help you with your dog problem.  Without your participation, our project wouldn't have been the success it was.  Myah, Zeus, Browny, Scruffy, Duke, Memphis, Weasel, Airhaw, Angel, Sleepy, Winter, Tolson, Socks, Trigger, Cheeta, Spike, Nuts, Tess, Dakota, Candy, Garfield (the cat), Melody, Dodger, Chub Chubs, Princess, Penny, Sacho, Sasha,  Rex, Butch, Scooter, Killer, Lucky, Otis, Shadow, Delgah, Puppy, Boxer, Champ, Whitey, Beethoven, Raven, Spark, Melo, Gizmo, and the many unnamed puppies. 

- Jennifer Rabie, Registered Animal Health Technologist, Summerland, BC

Thursday, September 07, 2006

NWT--Days 7 & 8

DAY SEVEN: September 3, 2006

Today was our rest and relaxation day. After breakfast, we drove to a First Nations village, Dettah, just east (I think) of Yellowknife. Doug gave us a tour, including the cemetery and showed us where the ice road is in the winter, on the lake. Fascinating cultures in the communities we have lived in, worked in, and visited over the past week.

We then continued on to Cameron Falls, where we hiked over very rocky terrain for about thirty minutes to see the magnificent waterfall. We stopped and spoke with a couple visiting from Brampton, Ontario. They have come a long way also.
At 3:00 pm the four remaining team members flew in to Yellowknife from Lutsel K’e, and our reunited team spent the rest of the day and evening sharing stories and experiences. The Lutsel K’e team – Ken, Steve, Corinne and Jennifer - had been fishing over the last couple of days and brought back several large trout they had caught. Doug and Candy barbequed the fish for our dinner tonight and were able to put some away in their freezer for another time also. A prominent native artist also lives in Lutsel K’e, so that team was able to purchase some of his artwork. Ken brought back a four foot high rack of caribou antlers he had “found” in the community. It will be fun getting that back to Vancouver Island tomorrow.

Jennifer has been keeping a daily journal of her team’s time in Lutsel K’e and has graciously offered to do a write up of their week working and living in that community. We will post it to the blog ASAP.

Our flight leaves for home tomorrow morning at 7 am. It is now close to midnight and we all need to be up and leaving for the airport by 6 am. It will be a short sleep.

We have been able to see the Northern Lights several evenings this week – very impressive to say the least.

DAY EIGHT: September 4, 2006

Our day began at 4:45 am with the smell of fresh coffee brewing and the sound of Doug moving about in the kitchen. The sunrise was gorgeous as we drove to the airport. We had no trouble checking in all of our luggage and medical supplies at the First Air ticket counter. Several of our team were searched at security though and even had “Chapstick” confiscated.

The flight from Yellowknife to Edmonton was smooth and uneventful. Jennifer asked the flight attendant if she could speak on the microphone. She gave First Air a huge thank you for the donation of flights to our team and making it possible for the eleven of us to do the work we did in the North. The entire team clapped and cheered at the end. Upon arrival at the Edmonton airport we had a team photo taken in front of First Air’s sign.

Liz, Jennifer and Donna settled into the comfy leather chairs in the departure area to guard everyone’s luggage as the rest of the team took the shuttle to West Edmonton Mall. We had a seven hour layover in Edmonton. We read, did crossword puzzles, Soduku puzzles, played cards, ate, talked and slept. The rest of the team returned to the airport by 2:30 at which time we checked in at the Westjet counter, boarded our plane for home and flew out of Edmonton at 5:00 pm, arriving in Vancouver at 5:05pm. Five minute flight. One hour time difference.

Goodbyes were exchanged in Vancouver, with all team members expressing their thankfulness and appreciation for the wonderful experience and adventure in the Canadian north. It has been a very rewarding and wonderful week. We are confident that what we accomplished in the Northwest Territories will make a noticeable difference in the communities in which we worked. We are confident the dog-bite incidence will decrease, as well as the numbers of stray dogs and owned dogs will be decreased. The health of the community will also be improved as there will be a decrease in the transference of parasites and possibly rabies from the dogs to the humans. We are very grateful for the opportunity to assist our country in whatever way we can, and are very proud of the great work we accomplished in the Northwest Territories. We have been invited to return next year to work in other communities in the north.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

NWT--Day 6

DAY SIX: Sept.2, 2006

Lorraine flew home to Kelowna this morning. Before Doug took her to the airport he dropped the rest of the team in downtown Yellowknife for a couple of hours to explore and shop for souvenirs.

We left town after lunch to drive out to Rae-Edzo. Along the way, we stopped and climbed up on the rocks to have our photo taken by Doug, next to an inukshuk which was there already.

Arriving in Rae at the garage, we found the doors locked so we spent the next hour or so tracking down the keys, and also having the opportunity to drive through the community once again and take photos. We were approached by a very famous local artist by the name of Archie Beaulieu, who wanted us to vaccinate and deworm his thirty-three sled dogs. He brought us some of his very valuable prints to show us, and several of us ended up purchasing a print to take home. He is an amazing artist and we felt very privileged to be able to meet him and purchase a signed painting. He cut us a good deal on the paintings in exchange for helping him with his dogs.

Unable to find any more dogs to operate on, we packed up our equipment and drove home to Yellowknife, and to bed before midnight for the first time all week.

Monday, September 04, 2006

NWT--Day 5

DAY FIVE: Sept 1, 2006

A couple of important points from yesterday I had forgotten to write about. Firstly, a news crew from APTN (Aboriginal Public Television Network) showed up at the garage where we were working to film and interview us for a news report. More publicity for CAAT and for the difference our teams are making here in the north. We’ve been told that CBC North television is also coming today for a news piece on us also.

Also yesterday afternoon, several First Nations girls stopped by the garage, curious about what we were doing. They were very interested in watching the surgeries, bombarding us all with many questions, helped with holding animals and later delivering animals to their homes. Perhaps this is a start towards changes in attitudes here toward the treatment of their dogs. We realized that we need to begin setting aside time on each spay and neuter project to perhaps visit the elementary schools and begin to educate the children on how to approach/or not to approach dogs, proper feeding and handling of their dogs, etc, and hopefully the incidence of dog bites and therefore the shooting of dogs will be eliminated.

Today, unfortunately, was a day of emotional lows. We arrived in Rae by 1 pm and had a bit of lunch. CBC North told us they were going to come to interview us today, so we were hopeful we would have some dogs to operate on. However, we were having trouble finding and rounding up dogs that we hadn't already spayed/neutered. We have put a brightly coloured plastic tag (“No shoot tags” they came to be called) in each dog’s ear while they were under anesthetic, to show clearly that they had been operated on, dewormed and vaccinated. We have been surprised that the numbers were certainly quite less than we were told when we were planning this project. We were told later, by one of the townspeople, the reason for this. The day before we arrived to work in the community at the beginning of the week, the community’s chief administrating officer gave the order to go out and collect and shoot every dog which was running loose in the community. “Clean up the town” they were told. This explained the shortage of dogs in the community. This news was very hard to take. The people had taken care of the situation in their own way. Somehow communication and trust were not as good as we thought.

The first dog which was brought in gave us some anesthetic difficulties and challenges and we nearly lost her. She was very much in heat and was exhibiting some cardiac irregularities once she was given her injectable anesthetic. We decided not to go ahead with the spay and let her wake up instead. It is difficult to do field surgeries as we are doing because we are unable to do bloodwork to check organ function on the dogs before anesthetizing them, so risk of anesthetic complications or even death is increased.

We had a small Papillon-type dog whose heart stopped beating during her spay and we were unable to bring her around, despite desperate attempts to revive her. It certainly put a darker cloud over the rest of our day. Again, if we could have done bloodwork on her before anesthetizing her, we perhaps would have refused to operate on her or would have been able to change our anesthetic protocol somewhat.

We must remain encouraged that we have influenced the attitudes of many of the children who watched and helped us. When we first arrived on Tuesday, one of the public works’ foremen, Gary, had a very rough and tough exterior, complaining to us about the dogs in the community and how much he hates dogs. By the end of the week and his observing our ways with the dogs, we had talked him into taking a dog home with him. He would walk in to the building we were working in and would bend down and start petting and talking to the dogs. It was pretty amazing to see the attitudes change throughout the week.

CBC North appeared mid-afternoon and interviewed us while we worked. It will appear on CBC Arctic satellite channel this Tuesday evening, Sept 5 on the 6pm evening news.

We were hoping to see buffalo while in the north. Thus far on our hour long drives we have observed three fox, two wolves and many many ravens. We arrived home tonight at about 10:30 pm, had a bite to eat and went to bed.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

NWT--Day 4

DAY FOUR: AUG. 31, 2006

After a good night’s sleep, we started out the day by stopping in at Doug’s government office and meeting all of his co-workers, while Doug picked up more Rabies vaccine. The NWT government has provided all Rabies vaccines. We traveled on to Rae-Edzo, arriving at 11 am. Doug immediately went out searching for dogs he could catch and bring in for us as the team set up and prepared for the day’s surgeries. There was a funeral today in the community so we quickly realized the day might go slowly as most of the community would be attending the funeral and unable to bring in their dogs.

The dogs which were brought in to us today seemed mostly to be females, and turned out to be complicated surgeries – mature spays, in-heat spays – which were time consuming. All went well though, and we plugged away until 10:30 pm, a total of 21 dogs operated on today.

Doug received a phone call from the team in Lutsel K’e, requesting that they be allowed to stay there until Sunday and work. They report that people are lined up at the door with their animals, unlike in Rae where Doug has to go out and look for them and catch them. Lorraine, the freelance journalist, flew back from Lutsel K’e today and joined us, reporting on the team there and all they are doing. A report will be posted on the website at a later date by Lorraine about Lutsel K’e. Doug will arrange the flight changes for the four other team members to remain on in that community.

Arriving home at 11:45 pm, we had a quick bite to eat and crawled into our sleeping bags.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

NWT--Day 3

DAY THREE: August 30, 2006

With a 6:30 am wake-up time, we were ready to head out by 8:00 am, eager to get back to work in Rae-Edzo. Shortly after our arrival at the community Public Works building, Doug went out, catch pole in hand, to round up some dogs to bring in for us. Apparently the community doesn’t come alive until around 11 A.M. every morning, so we were keeping our fingers crossed that Doug would have some success with dog-catching. We didn’t need to doubt his determination or abilities because in a very short time he was back, dog or two in tow.

We worked non-stop throughout the day until 7:30 pm, stopping only in shifts for a lunch break, and even though there were several complicated and time-consuming surgeries (pregnant and in-heat spays), we managed to complete 18 spays and neuters today. We had contact this morning from our five team members in Lutsel K’e and were assured they were doing very well, were working hard and getting much accomplished also. They will be joining us this Friday, and we will travel together to Rae-Edzo on Saturday and perhaps Sunday to continue spaying/neutering in this community.

The NWT government (Health Authority) has provided us with enough Rabies vaccines for all of the animals we see this week. Wyeth Animal Health generously provided us with Distemper/Parvo combination vaccines and also some cat vaccines if we need them for this project. Bayer Animal Health provided us with deworming and flea medication for which we are so very grateful. Other than being slightly dirty, the dogs here are in amazingly good shape. We are seeing many German Shepherds and Shepherd cross dogs, lab crosses, a few Huskies, and some puppies yesterday which looked similar to Corgi crosses. Even a small poodle was brought in by its owner yesterday for vaccinations.

The surgeries are going very well – no problems whatsoever with the anesthetics or the recoveries of the dogs. Thus far, the project is very successful. There just aren’t enough hours in a day to get to all of the dogs in this community. We are making a difference here though, for both the dogs and for the safety and health of the people. It is very rewarding. We wish we could stay for two weeks and help more, but the funding only allowed for one week.

Arriving back at 9 pm to Doug’s home, we had our dinner and headed for our sleeping bags and a well-deserved sleep.

Friday, September 01, 2006

NWT--Day 2

DAY TWO: Aug. 29,2006
Our day began at 6:30 am with a wonderful breakfast prepared by Doug, showers, organizing of medical supplies for the day, and with saying ‘see you soon’ to five of our team members – Ken, Corinne, Jennifer and Steve and Lorraine. This team boarded an Air Tindi flight to Lutsel K’e, a community of approximately 450 people on the eastern end of the Great Slave Lake. They will be spaying, neutering, deworming and vaccinating the dogs in this remote community for four days, and will then return and join the other six team members for the last two days of our stay in the north. And hopefully get some fishing in also.

The remaining six team members headed north 110 km to begin our first day of work in Rae-Edzo. We had our first glimpses of the NWT terrain – many rocks, short trees and numerous small lakes.

After a short tour of the town of approximately 1300 people and a quick lunch, we set up our clinic in the Public Works building, concrete floors surrounded by wall to wall tools and equipment. The workers were wonderful, bringing us anything we needed and asked for, such as tables, lights, paper towels, etc. Doug helped to round up dogs, both stray and owned, and brought them in to us one by one. We worked steadily for four hours and spayed/neutered/vaccinated/ dewormed/cleaned ears/trimmed nails on eleven dogs. All of the dogs received a long-acting antibiotic injection before surgery end and recovered smoothly and without complications. One of the dogs that we spayed had an upper molar which was so covered in tartar and so decayed that part of the gum was very inflamed and worn away. The tooth was slightly loose, but having no dental instruments with us, we looked around the garage we were working in for a pair of pliers to pull the tooth. The pliers kept on slipping off the tooth and so Doug picked up a pair of vice-grips and handed them to us. They did the trick! The tooth came out with all three roots amazingly intact. It is truly amazing what one can do if one gets creative and resourceful. We sutured up the empty socket and woke up the dog.

The highlight of the day was observing Barb suddenly come flying through the outside door, holding on to the collar of a large, black dog, and literally knocking the dog to the floor and smoothly landing on top of him, pinning him to the ground. He had been sedated outside and was just not willing to let his body give in to the sedation. We all cheered her rodeo-like approach to dog-wrangling. Quite impressive she was.

As we drove back to Yellowknife at the end of the day, over the extremely bumpy pavement, we observed one important fact - the yellow line down the middle of the highway isn’t there to divide the road; the drivers drive down the middle of the road and sometimes completely into the other lane. Only when they see a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction do they move over into their proper lane. It can be a little unnerving to experience this.

We have not been able to observe the Northern Lights as yet, due to the overcast conditions since we arrived on Monday evening. We have been told that on a clear night, they are quite beautiful and alive this time of year. We are all hoping to experience this before our time here is complete.

--Donna Lasser, Team Leader


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