Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Baker Lake, Nunavut: Day 7

After a late night at Sue's party, some team members slept in on Sunday while some battled through the exhaustion and headed to the clinic for 9am. It is worth noting that, though all team members have been traveling since Sunday the 6th or Monday the 7th, and the first day of work was Tuesday the 8th, there has been no day off thus far. Many Baker Lake residents work during the week and are more available on weekends or later in the afternoon on weekdays, so the team is trying to cover all their bases to ensure that any person seeking veterinary access for their animal is accommodated.

Four dog surgeries were performed on Sunday morning, and the dogs were husky crosses belonging to local dog sledder Joe Hicks. It is usually very apparent when working sled dogs arrive at the clinic to be seen. The equivalent of human marathon runners, these athletes of the dog world come equipped with sinewy muscles, sleek bodies, and very high drive. Since many of these dogs never go indoors, the team seeks to sedate them for their surgeries very quickly so that they are not too stressed inside the clinic.

As well as a spay, Dr. Gina performed a surgery to repair a cherry eye on one of the working dogs. Cherry eye is a largely hereditary condition whereby a gland located in the corner of the eye becomes inflamed and everts. The condition is aptly named, as an aflicted dog ends up with a large, cherry red protrusion in the inside corner of the eye. Cherry eye surgery is tricky and has about a 50/50 success rate in the best of circumstances. Given that this can be a very irritating condition for a dog, hopefully this surgery is successful! It certainly has a great shot given that, as is the standard with CAAT veterinarians, Dr. Gina is a fantastic surgeon.

Sunday was a bit of a dismal day, weather-wise. This team has been very fortunate throughout this trip, as the weather has largely been clear and sometimes even sunny. The sight of the endless blue sky peppered with clouds climbing over the vast expanse of red and yellow tundra is a breathtaking one indeed! Sunday, however, it rained. Not too much, but enough to paint the dirt roads with rivulets of reddish-brown mud. The team was intrigued at the start of the trip to find that the dirt here gets it's color from iron deposits in the soil. At this point, it's a normal part of the day to get home and brush off pink crusty mud from one's shoes and pant legs!

In the afternoon on Sunday, some team members headed home for much-needed and much-deserved naps. The rest of the team followed later and, after another delicious meal, retired to bed early. There were several surgeries lined up for Monday morning and everyone wanted to get a good sleep.

Baker Lake Nunavut- Days 5 and 6

Days 5 and 6 were the busiest days for the veterinary team in Baker Lake. Day 5 (Friday, September 11th) saw 16 animals come through the clinic for spay and neuter surgeries, while the tally for day 6 (Saturday, September 12th) was 15 surgeries. Add a few dozen more vaccine, deworming, and physical exams to each day, and the team was swamped!

Surprisingly, there are many, many cats and kittens in Baker Lake, and the team has thus far seen a reasonable number of them! Cats have made up approximately 1/4 of the surgeries performed. On Friday, Dr. Jess's surgical team (the self-appointed "A Team"!) was thrilled to have been able to neuter a massive orange and white tom cat named Sam. Sam possessed the massive facial muscles and thick skin typical of intact male cats, as well as the battle scars which are hallmarks of his pugnacious lifestyle. Many of the young cats and kittens in town very much resemble Sam (ahem), so that particular surgery was a satisfying one indeed! Several more mature males followed and as well as being neutered, they had their many wounds shaved and disinfected.

Friday morning, Caitlin and Laura headed to the local high school to speak to the entire grade 6, 7, and 8 classes about safety around dogs. In the afternoon, Caitlin and Christina walked to the local elementary school to do the same, but with two classes of first K-2 and then 3-5. Remote Northern communities are significantly overrepresented in dog-caused fatality statistics, especially among children. Dogs are often left to roam freely or tied to houses, both potentially dangerous situations as dogs pack together and resource guard their territories. Children up North do not have access to the types of humane education programs that are set up to arm them against dog bites, so CAAT aims to provide this service in each community visited.

The two CAAT ladies were armed with an incredibly effective weapon for educating children about dogs: Harley. Harley is a lovely German Shepherd cross owned by Ron Knowling, a man who lives in the community and who graciously offered to have Harley participate in the dog safety talks for the kids. The entire team would like to thank Ron for his generosity, and the secondary and elementary school principals Bill Cooper and Ivan Payne, respectively, for their willingness to have the CAAT team work with the kids. Many of the children ooh'd and aah'd over Harley when they saw him in the gym, but reactions ranged from broad smiles to fearful grimaces.

The kids learned about incidences in which they should not approach dogs and why, as well as some basic dog body language, how to avoid being bitten by a strange dog that approaches (stand like an Inuksuk!), and how to approach and greet a friendly dog (always ask the owner first!). Caitlin and Laura encouraged the kids to think about how they might feel in similar situations (ie. comparing disturbing a sleeping dog to how we would feel if shaken out of a deep sleep at 3am!). Research emphatically suggests that the formation of empathy (the ability to put oneself in another's place) plays a crucial role in the development of pro-social behaviour.

One of the most notable things about teaching dog safety in remote communities is the reaction from the kids when they are asked if any have ever been bitten by dogs. Almost every single hand in the audience goes up, every time. This makes CAAT more and more determined to introduce humane education to remote communities in as many cases as possible.

Both Friday and Saturday evenings were late ones at the clinic, with some team members staying until 10pm to recover dogs. A difficult quandary exists: Does the team stop admitting surgery patients early in the afternoon so that they can be done by 6 or 7 pm, or do they do as many as are presented? Team Baker Lake is such a hardworking, dedicated, and committed group that team members invariably choose the latter option. This has resulted though, as previously mentioned, in some overnight guests both at the staff house and at the clinic location.

Saturday night was the group's first real chance to decompress and chat with some community members outside of work. Sue and community members Bill and Andrea put on a wonderful BBQ and party for the CAAT women at Sue's house. It was a great chance to mingle and learn about what other people do in Baker Lake, and just generally talk about other things besides reproductive organs and clinic schedules! Baker Lake RCMP officer Brent joined us, as well as Mona, Pat (whose dog team was vaccinated that day), Lindsay, Rachel, Bob, and others. Team members enjoyed some good homemade wine and delicious food. Thank you to Bill, Andrea, and Sue for all of your hospitality!

As of Saturday night, the team's totals for surgeries were approximately 50 animals, with many more vaccinated, examined, dewormed, and with other minor medical issues treated. Go Team Baker Lake!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Baker Lake, Nunavut: Days 3 and 4

The first full day of work in the community was Wednesday, September 9th. The team was ready to go at the clinic for 10am and already had several surgery and vaccine patients booked. Though Baker Lake is an Arctic community, the majority of dogs here are not sled dogs- most are pet dogs that live either inside or outside the house. Team Baker Lake members noticed that, in contrast to many other communities in Nunavut, the presence of the ancient pure breed of dog called the Canadian Inuit Dog is virtually non-existent. Canadian Inuit Dogs (CIDs) are still used in the far North to pull sleds, but in Baker Lake, many people seem to prefer pets over working dogs. ATVs have replaced dog teams in many areas, so people are beginning to "experiment" with having dogs solely as companions.

There are approximately 7 dog teams in the area, and most of the dog teams are composed of Alaskan huskies. The term Alaskan husky actually describes a mixed dog used for sledding, and doesn't even have to be a breed mix that includes huskies! Apparently, one of the sled teams here is even made up of short-haired gun dog mixes. The team members are excited to see for themselves when they visit each of the sled dog teams, tethered outside of town on the tundra, to vaccinate and deworm each dog.

On days 3 and 4 in Baker Lake (Wednesday and Thursday), another 20 or so animals (both dogs and cats) were spayed and neutered, and many more were vaccinated. It is always interesting to see the common dog breed mixes in town- in Baker Lake, there are many, many spaniel mixes with lovely floppy ears! It certainly indicates which of the dogs are doing most of the reproducing around here. Satisfyingly, the team has sterilized several mature male spaniel crosses- hopefully the surgery takes some of the swagger out of their step!

On day 3, Dr. Gina and her team spent the day at the vaccine table, while Dr. Janet and Dr. Jess and their teams were in surgery. Several tough surgical cases meant that many team members stayed at the clinic until very late. On the night of day three, two of those cases stayed as pampered overnight guests at Casa CAAT. Spot is a young and sweet female spaniel and Girl is a beautiful, graceful German Shepherd/Husky mix. Girl in particular swiftly wormed her way into the team's heart, with her liquid brown eyes and earnest expression.

Team member Dee was up several times during the "sleepover" night, checking on Girl and Spot and ensuring that they were comfortable. Every day on this project, each team member proves their compassionate and unceasing commitment to animal care and welfare time and time again. Thankfully, Girl has a very good home here in Baker Lake. Thus, the team can rest easy knowing that with continued veterinary care provided by CAAT in future trips, she should have a long and healthy life.

Please stay tuned for more news of the CAAT Baker Lake project! Thank you for reading and please remember that CAAT is not able to provide veterinary care in remote communities without financial assistance from generous donors. Thank you so much for your continued support, in whatever form it takes!

Baker Lake, Nunavut: Day 2

*Note: The Canadian Animal Assistance Team would like to thank Calm Air for donating two FREE flights to CAAT Baker Lake team members. Calm Air, we would be unable to serve remote Northern communities without you- THANK YOU for your commitment to helping us continue to provide veterinary care in the great white North!

After a good night's rest in their cushy digs, team Baker Lake was ready for action on Tuesday morning (September 8th). The team agreed to spend the morning unpacking the supply cases and setting up the clinic, and then officially open to the public starting at 1pm. After a team meeting at the house, everyone set off to the "clinic" site, a classroom in the Nunavut Arctic College here in town. The weather was cloudy and incredibly windy on the first work day, and team members were certainly grateful for all of the extra winter clothing that they had packed!

Community members Sheila Sweetwater and Mona Autut have been instrumental in booking surgeries and vaccination appointments for the CAAT team. Mona especially has spent hours assisting with everything from fundraising to communicating with owners to ferrying dogs and cats to and from their houses pre-and post-surgeries. Team Baker Lake loves Mona, and her smiling face is a pleasure to see every morning!

On Tuesday, Dr Janet, Julie, and Christina spent a busy afternoon working the vaccine table while the other two teams, composed of 1) Dr. Gina, Vanessa, and Caitlin and 2) Dr. Jess, Laura, and Dee, worked the two surgery tables. All in all, over 20 animal were vaccinated and four surgeries were performed. Not too bad for only half a day's work! One of the dogs was a graceful and elegant Irish Wolfhound; pretty much the last breed the team expected to see in a remote Arctic community! One very exciting development from the day was the invitation for team leaders Gina and Caitlin to speak on the local radio station about why CAAT is visiting Baker Lake. The radio time would also afford community members an opportunity to phone in and ask any questions relating to animal care.

After arriving at the radio "station" at 7pm, Gina and Caitlin waited nervously to go on the air. When it was finally their time to shine, they took turns describing spay/neuter surgeries, vaccinations, deworming, and some ailments common in Northern dogs. After speaking for around 45 minutes, the two women were suddenly inundated with phone questions. Community members asked questions ranging from how deworming works, to whether crushed egg shells would kill internal parasites (no!), to why should they spay and neuter their animals. Gina and Caitlin were indebted to the wonderful Vera Avaala, who acted as Inuktitut translator. Vera was a great sport, considering she was subjected to a crash course in basic veterinary terms prior to the radio show!

Later that evening, upon visiting Sheila Sweetwater to check on her post-surgical dogs, it was learned that she had been flooded with phone calls to book appointments. It appeared that the radio show was a success! Gina and Caitlin then headed home to join the rest of the team in having some good hearty laughs before heading to bed in preparation for the first full day of work.

Please note that we are still working on uploading photos. Thank you for your patience!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Baker Lake, Nunavut, 2009


*Note: Our sincere apologies- due to a glitch in the computer system, we are unable to upload photos at this time. Please bear with us, we are hoping to have some up and ready soon!

On Monday, September 7th, a team of nine veterinary professionals from all over Canada embarked on an expedition to the great white north. Specifically, the team headed to Baker Lake, the only inland community in Nunavut, and one which is aptly referred to as the "geographic centre of Canada". Nestled in a beautiful and remote landscape of vast tundra and shimmering lakes, the community of Baker Lake is home to around 2000 people, as well as approximately 250 dogs and around 20 cats that are in desperate need for veterinary care.

After flights from their respective hometowns, seven of the nine team members met with great excitement (and exhaustion!) at the Winnipeg airport for the two flights which would take them to their final Arctic destination. The remaining team members, Gina and Julie, would arrive in Baker Lake later that evening. CAAT is sincerely grateful to First Air, "the Airline of the North", which has been exceedingly generous in subsidizing team member flights not only to Baker Lake, but also to previous communities in the territory. The Eastern Arctic is one of the most expensive places to fly in the world, so as such, the help is much appreciated. Thank you, First Air!

Team Baker Lake consists of the following nine lovely ladies:

Gina Bowen, DVM (Team Co-leader)
Caitlin McLagan, Veterinary Assistant and Humane Educator (Team Co-leader)
Julie Scharf, Veterinary Technician
Vanessa Forster, Veterinary Technican
Dee Brown, Veterinary Assistant
Janet Walter, DVM
Christina Pham, Veterinary Assistant
Laura Sutton, Veterinary Technician
Jessica Grandish, DVM

After a flight in a small plane to the coastal hamlet of Rankin Inlet, the team graduated to an even *smaller* plane called a Beech Craft which holds only twelve people, including the pilots! The group had to lose some of the baggage, as the pilot informed them that the tiny plane would not take off unless it was lighter. Most definitely, the team's two gargantuan medical supply cases had a little something to do with that!

The arrival in Baker Lake was marked by a bumpy landing and friendly welcome from Sue McIsaac, the team's host for the duration of the visit. Sue moved to Baker Lake 10 years ago from Ontario to work in library services, and has a warm smile and a huge heart. She and her loyal dog Bandit have welcomed many local stray and unwanted dogs into their homes before finding them soft places to land, and when Sue became concerned about the lack of access to veterinary care for the animals in the community, she discovered the Canadian Animal Assistance Team. The rest, as they say, is history!

As the first team co-leader to arrive, Caitlin received a briefing from Sue about the situation in the community and some of the obstacles that the group would be up against. Nunavut is a rabies-endemic area, and the main vectors for the deadly virus are wolves and foxes. Since both species frequent both the community and the surrounding area, sled dogs and pet dogs are at risk of becoming infected through a bite by a rabid animal. Recently, a rabid wolf came into town, killed a dog, and bit a person. As a result, many other dogs that may or may not have been exposed to the virus were shot, and the person who was bitten underwent a prolonged course of post-exposure prophylaxis. There is quite a bit of confusion about what rabies is, what the vaccine is, and how it is to be stored and administered. One of the team's goals is to increase the knowledge base in the community so that members can cope effectively with future incidents involving rabid animals. Education, as always, is to be a crucial part of this project.

Nearly all of the dogs in the community are unvaccinated, but the team hopes to remedy this. As well as rabies, Northern dogs can suffer from Distemper virus, Parvovirus, tapeworms, ear infections, eye infections, wounds, and malnutrition, among many other things. Though dogs anywhere can experience these hardships, those in remote communities are generally unable to access regular or even occasional veterinary care. While in the community, the CAAT team seeks to provide spay/neuter services, vaccinations, deworming, and basic care of wounds and infections. They also hope to address questions and concerns of community members, relating to any aspects of animal care ranging from nutrition to parasite control.

After the team had settled in and eaten a wonderful home-cooked meal (complements of Sue!), some members began to turn in. Half the team is staying at a government house in town, and the other half is staying with Sue. Gina and Julie arrived at around 9pm and completed the team. The team was nervous yet excited, and determined to work as hard as possible to make a difference for the animals and their owners in Baker Lake.


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