Thursday, April 03, 2008

Humane Education in Iqaluit Nunavut

Iqaluit Humane Education 2008

Barb Ashmead and Kristine Riggins, as members of the Canadian Animal Assistance Team, were invited to Iqaluit, Nunavut, from March 7-17, by the newly formed Iqaluit Humane Society. The society had received a grant to teach children how to be safe around dogs. The Humane Society members also wanted to learn how to become “community vaccinators” in order to reduce the incidents of canine disease in the area.

We left Vancouver Island when the temperatures were 10 C and arrived in Iqaluit to -35 C, quite a shock for “Islanders”. Nostrils and eyelashes quickly froze together and glasses froze to the face. Who knew?? Thank goodness they had “northern parkas” waiting for us upon arrival.

The Territory of Nunavut has the highest incident of dog bites in all of Canada with most bites involving children. The Capital City of Nunavut, Iqaluit, with a population of 7,000 people, has 2,700 dogs, many of which roam the city unleashed and unconfined. When speaking to the children in the class rooms we would ask how many had experienced dog bites, often one third to one half of the classes raised their hands.

Craig Naherniak, BC SPCA General Manager of Humane Education, generously donated the “Bite Free” education materials we brought to Iqaluit to teach the children how to safely approach dogs and what to do if dogs continue to act aggressively. During our 10 day stay in the city we spoke to over 650 children, ranging in ages from 4 to 18. Included in this number were inmates of the young offenders institution and teenagers from the youth club. The Bite Free DVD was a big hit with all ages of children as well as the teachers. All the education materials were left with the Iqaluit Humane Society so they can continue to educate the children on how to be safe around dogs. This program will hopefully reduce the incidents of dog bites in their community.

The Humane Society has plans to produce their own northern more “culturally sensitive” film in the future. Many of these children had never seen trees, so when asked to “stand like a tree” while being approached by an unknown dog, we felt some of them might not relate to this analogy. We therefore changed some of our pictures and materials to say “stand like and inukshuk” and “lay like a seal”, rather than a “log”. It seemed to make more sense to the younger children.

Iqaluit is a wonderful community to visit, especially during winter. We were fortunate enough to be there during the dog sled racing season and watched their amazing “Inuit sled dogs” race across the ice during a 3 day event. We experienced the “celebration of the seal” where local culture was demonstrated. Throat singing, a seal skin fashion show and “country foods” were all available to be tasted and experienced.

When the schools were not in session we were asked to train the Humane Society members to vaccinate dogs, train dogs, safe dog handling and answer any other questions regarding dogs. The incidents of parvo and distemper are incredibly high in Iqaluit, however, with the newly trained “community vaccinators” the cases should be reduced.

We met some wonderful, dedicated people who are trying to help dogs and make a difference in their community. It was an honour to be invited to such a vibrant city, so far from home, yet still part of Canada. We hope to be invited to back soon.

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