Sunday, October 18, 2009

Baker Lake- Day 9

The last clinic day in Baker Lake began with a few surgeries. While Janet and Julie diligently worked on sterilizing the last few animals, the rest of the team began the arduous task of clean up. Since a classroom was used as a clinic site, it was imperative that every last trace of dog and cat smell was vanquished from the air!

Tuesday was the slowest clinic day, as it appeared that everyone who wanted their animals seen had arranged for this in the past week. There were a few more vaccines and exams, but other than that, the team chattered excitedly about the town caribou feast which was to be held that evening at the community centre. Later in the afternoon, Jess, Christina, Laura, and Caitlin headed out to a dog team situated about 5 km outside of town. Their owner, Oscar, wanted the 17 dogs examined and vaccinated. Wolves and barren land grizzly bears are frequent visitors to his family's cabin out on the tundra, and one of his dogs had been injured several weeks prior by a wild animal (the dogs are not able to interact with one another as the way they are tethered does not permit this).

The mini-team worked with the dogs over the next 30 minutes or so, while the Arctic sun dipped over the land. The ladies marveled at the small lagoons composed of melted ice, which were bathed in a pink glow from the setting sun. Laura performed a wonderful feat of true "dog whispering", calming a terrified dog who was determined to protect her haunch of caribou from us. Laura spoke soothingly to her, and assured her that we were not interested in taking her meat from her. Finally, Laura was able to slip a muzzle on her, which allowed Dr. Jess to safely administer the vaccine which could potentially save her life someday. Way to go, Laura!

Later on, the tundra adventurers arrived back in town to join the rest of the team at the caribou feast. It appeared that the whole town had arrived to celebrate an evening of good "country food" and fun games. The caribou was roasted and then distributed among three giant barrels, and people could help themselves. There weren't many leftovers!

The highlight of the feast for the CAAT team was the presence of the children. The kids were fascinated by the presence of digital cameras, and were eager to take as many pictures as they could of themselves and their friends. In addition, they enjoyed braiding hair and creating new hairstyles for the CAAT women. Then, a couple of team members joined in an Inuit game, the object of which was to carry a small dried bean between one's knees across the floor to a small cup, and drop it in. Laura and Caitlin joined the adults of the community in some friendly competition, soon losing out to those with more experience! The team returned home later that evening tired and ready for a good sleep in preparation for the next day's adventure- their last day in Baker Lake and a trip out onto the land with Vera Avaala.

Baker Lake- Day 8

On Monday morning, the team was greeted once more by a barrage of dogs and cats awaiting surgeries. Six of the dogs belonged to Nicki, a 15 year old Inuk teenager who lives and breathes dog sledding. Her dogs are much-loved working animals and, though she is a young woman of few words, Nicki soaks up dog care information like a sponge. One of her husky crosses has four young puppies, who are about 4 weeks of age. The pups were too young to do much with, but Dr. Jess examined each of them and gave them a dose of wormer. Much fuss was made when Nicki announced that she wanted to give the babies away, and a few members had to really deploy the willpower to give them back to their mum!

Many team members headed out onto the tundra to vaccinate sled dog teams. Dr. Jessica swiftly became the sled dog vaccination champion! Working with her faithful "A Team", consisting of Dee, Laura, and honorary member Christina, she examined and vaccinated both Joe's and Victor's teams. In some Arctic communities, the increased use of ATVs has rendered the necessity of keeping sled dogs obsolete. That said, dog team is still the preferred method of long distance travel for many. Unlike ATVs, dogs don't break down or run out of gas when one is hundreds of kilometres from the nearest town in an unforgiving landscape.

Back at the ranch (or, in this case, the clinic in the Arctic College), the rest of the team continued with intake for surgeries and vaccines. One three-month old Lab mix arrived with an excruciating ailment- she had been unable to resist the tempting smell of a piece of bait fish outside of her owner's house. The catch? The fish was already on the hook when she chewed and swallowed it. The result was that the hook had firmly embedded itself through her soft palate, upper lip, and tongue. Gina located some bolt cutters from a local resident and, after the puppy was sedated for the procedure, she was able to remove the hook in several parts from the pup's mouth. These are the sorts of cases that are extraordinarily satisfying for the team, as without veterinary intervention, the pup would surely have died a very painful death. After an injection of long-acting antibiotics, the puppy returned home with her grateful owners.

Monday evening after work, Janet and Caitlin set up next door in the library in preparation for a vaccine information session for interested members of the community. They hoped that dog sledders in particular would make use of this opportunity to learn more about the benefits of administering vaccines to their dogs. Unlike dogs kept as companions either in or outside of homes, sled dogs are typically tethered together out on the land, ranging from just outside of town, to several kilometres away. This means that they are subject to increased vulnerability to wild animals attacks, and the ever-present risk of rabies infection.

Various dog sledders came to the info session to learn more about vaccines, and to ask questions. Janet and Caitlin discussed rabies, distemper, and parvovirus, among other diseases covered by vaccines. Many of the attendees were surprised to learn that, for instance, rabies virus is not airborne. It is the team's hope that increasing the knowledge base of the community will help somewhat to avoid the confusion and fear surrounding a rabies incident, such as the one that occurred most recently. The casual meeting allowed people to ask questions about not only vaccines, but deworming and sterilization procedures. CAAT seeks to provide ongoing information over the next year to residents of Baker Lake, until a team returns next fall to resume the work started on this trip.


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