'He can make a major impact': Inuvik accidentally gets a local veterinarian

Chris Lam moved to Inuvik in August to be with his fiancée. The next day, word had spread about his skills and he had his first consult.

Chris Lam wasn't planning to work as a vet when he moved north. The community had other ideas

Chris Lam, Inuvik's accidental veterinarian, poses with Bella the border collie cross. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Chris Lam did not come up north to Inuvik thinking about his career.

Although trained as a veterinarian, he was following his fiancée as she started a job as a speech pathologist at the hospital.

But if Lam didn't really have a plan for what he would do for work, the community did.

"Didn't really know what the veterinarian scene was, wasn't really planning on opening a practice at first, but then there was this need that a lot of people expressed," said Lam.

"I was like, well, actually, maybe I can try to do some good here."

Lam, who had been working at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Ont., arrived in Inuvik in mid-August. By his second day in town, word had spread about his expertise and he had his first consult.

"So far it's been around 20 to 30 animals that I've seen."

5 years with no resident vet

It's been about five years since the town has had a resident vet.

Veterinarian clinics come to Inuvik about five times a year, and if there's an emergency, residents call or email their concerns to a vet based in Dawson City, Yukon, nearly 800 kilometres down the Dempster Highway.

Lam is filling the void of seeing animals on an emergency basis, like Mike Gagne's nine-month-old border collie cross Bella, who was recently spayed.

"She had caught one of two of her stitches and pulled them out, and her guts were hanging out," Gagne said.

Lam and Mike Gagne, a satisfied customer. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

He and his wife credit Lam with saving their dog's life.

"If Chris wouldn't have been here, what would have happened was Bella would probably had to be put down," said Gagne.

'He can make a major impact'

John Overell, the Dawson City vet, has already worked with Lam, who helped out during a spay and neuter clinic Overell held in Inuvik last month.

"He can make a major impact because when I'm not in Inuvik I have to do all my evaluations with the owner by distance or through internet pictures. It's not nearly as efficient as having someone there and do a physical exam and examine the dog specifically."

After the clinic, Overell left some supplies for Lam.

"I usually leave supplies there but now I have left even more supplies because I could leave things that only a veterinarian could administer," said Overell.

Both Overell and Arctic Paws, a  non-profit organization that raises money for community vet visits, will continue to be responsible for annual physical exams, vaccinations, spay and neuters.

'I'm here to help out'

Angela McInnes, the chair for Arctic Paws, estimates there are at least 1,000 animals in Inuvik, and says Lam will potentially be able to help many of them.

"He could save, I would say on average, three animals a month. Dogs being hit, animals attacks, broken legs."

Lam isn't sure how long he'll remain in Inuvik, but says he plans to be there until at least next summer.

He encourages people to join the Inuvik vet clinic Facebook group and says he's on call 24/7. For now, he rides his bike or borrows a vehicle to get to the patients.

Lam says working as a vet in the North is a unique but rewarding experience.

"Being in the North I've thought of so many new things that I need to try and work my way around because there is a lack of resources. So you need to think on your toes at all times," said Lam.

But he says seeing animals recover is worth the hard work. 

"I'm here to help out as much as I can."