Thursday, September 10, 2009

Baker Lake, Nunavut, 2009

DAY 1

*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.

1 comment:

Ted Tidwell said...

I hope that our animal clinics in Toronto were represented in this amazing group of scientists.

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