Tuesday, September 15, 2009

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!

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