Nfld. & Labrador

Happily gone to the dogs: Veterinarians visit Sheshatshiu with Project Chinook

Three veterinarians and five vet students from the Atlantic Veterinary College at UPEI were set up in the hockey arena in Sheshatshiu this week.

This year marks the 3rd time the Chinook Project has come to Sheshatshiu

Veterinary student Alexandra Soengkono, Dr. Cora Gilroy and band manager Greg Pastitshi were part of this week's Chinook Project visit in Sheshatshiu. (Alyson Samson/CBC)

A northern Labrador community went to the dogs this week, as a team of veterinarians and vet students from the Atlantic Veterinary College at UPEI set up in the community's hockey arena.

The group is with the Chinook Project, a program that brings essential veterinary care to remote communities in Canada's north.

Dr. Cora Gilroy is on the faculty of UPEI, and was one of three vets who were part of the clinic in Sheshatshiu. She said the project benefits everyone. 

"We learn so much from our interactions with the people in the communities … learning about the culture and helping the animals in this area," Gilroy said.

"The program is beneficial for the community — but also so much so for the veterinarians and students who are coming on the Chinook Project. It's a great learning experience."

Up to 12 surgeries a day

Volunteer Dawna Lee told CBC it's the third time the team has visited Sheshatshiu.

"We started in 2014, which has been really wonderful that we've been chosen as a location," said Lee.

The services provided by the Chinook Project are free.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for the community to get services that maybe people otherwise couldn't afford or aren't aware of," Lee said. 

We learn so much from our interactions with the people in the communities … learning about the culture and helping the animals in this area.- Cora Gilroy

Lee said the team performs up to 12 surgeries a day.

"So this allows the dogs to get spayed or neutered, which controls the dog population, and it also decreases diseases and, say, dog bites that may occur," she said.

"The male surgeries are really quick, and that's less invasive, so we can have a really high turnover of males. It's the female surgeries that take longer because it's more invasive, [with a] deeper anesthetic that they use, and there's only one machine in there to do it."

Dawna Lee is a volunteer in Sheshatshui. (Alyson Samson/CBC)

Lee added the days can be long, but are rewarding.

"We're open 9 a.m., and we leave here around 11 at night. So it's a long day — but it's what it takes to get it done." 

Greg Pastitshi is band manager in the community, and is pleased to see positive results in Sheshatshiu from the project.

"It seems to be good results. We've seen less dogs around the community — and people seem to spend more attention to their dogs," he said.

"What we've been doing is trying to get as many dogs vaccinated, so we don't have to worry about if the dog has its vaccination or not."

Tonya, Mary and Jessie-Annenasta Selma were happy to bring their dog to this week's clinic. (Alyson Samson/CBC)

Logistics in a hockey arena

Senior veterinary student ​Alexandra Soengkono was part of this week's visit.

She said a lot of teamwork is involved to organize a vet clinic — especially the logistics of working inside a hockey arena.

"Luckily here in Sheshatshiu as well as in Nain, we've been here before. Not necessarily the same location every year, but we've had other veterinarians on the project who have been here before — so their input was very invaluable in trying to set up the clinic," she said.

Soengkono said the team brainstormed about the planning — and the challenges. 

This is a wonderful opportunity for the community to get services that maybe people otherwise couldn't afford or aren't aware of.- Local volunteer Dawna Lee

"So, one of the major things that we have to think about is stuff like lighting, the heights of tables, having enough tables, that sort of thing," she said.

"We kind of MacGyver'd quite a few things. The volunteers here have been incredible in offering us different materials, they've been excellent and really helpful in that regard."

Soengkono said it's been a great experience.

"To learn how to work with so little, and make it function in a way that we can be as efficient as we have been. I've been really proud of our team for that."

The vet team set up a free clinic this week to spay, neuter, vaccinate, and deworm northern dogs, in addition to other veterinary care. (Alyson Samson/CBC)

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With files from Alyson Samson