Nunavut's only vet service says humane society's free clinic nips at its profits

Nunavut’s only vet service and its humane society are at odds for what’s best for the territory’s cats and dogs.

Humane Society says some people can't afford to get their pets spayed or neutered

A cat photographed at the Winnipeg Humane Society. The owner of Nunavut's only veterinary animal hospital said the Iqaluit Humane Society's free five-day clinic is hurting business. (CBC)

Nunavut's only vet service and its humane society don't see eye to eye about what's best for the territory's cats and dogs.

On Tuesday, representatives from both sides presented their arguments to Iqaluit's city council about an upcoming free vet clinic put on by the Iqaluit Humane Society. 

The Iqaluit Humane Society ran a similar free clinic in 2016. 

NunaVet owner Leia Cunningham told council it caused last-minute cancellations and no-shows at her business.

In her presentation, she called the free clinic a "patch" approach to animal health in Iqaluit and suggested it could put NunaVet out of business. 

Leia Cunningham, owner of NunaVet, (left) sits with Janelle Kennedy, president of the Iqaluit Humane Society, to answer questions after their presentations to city council on Tuesday night. (Michael Salomonie/CBC)

Cunningham said the circumstances are different in Nunavut in response to the suggestion that free clinics are offered regularly in the south. 

"We're dealing with a 100 per cent owned Inuit business — the only one of its kind in the entire territory," she said.

"We need to feed and foster that business." 

Humane society helps different clients, president says

Iqaluit Humane Society President Janelle Kennedy doesn't feel a five-day free clinic is enough to put the business in jeopardy.

Kennedy said the clinic will mainly spay and neuter pets, but it will also offer vaccines and wellness treatments.

The people who rely on the clinic don't go to NunaVet, she said.

"The social, economic reality in Nunavut is that a lot of people cannot afford [a vet]," she said, adding the closure of the free clinic doesn't mean those potential clients will then go to NunaVet. 

Janelle Kennedy, president of the Iqaluit Humane Society, says she is concerned by NunaVet's financial troubles. (Travis Burke/CBC)

She said funding for the non-profit comes strictly from donations. 

Kennedy said the humane society has spent around $20,000 at NunaVet, and that they are concerned about NunaVet's financial situation. Since NunaVet opened, pets are sent down south less often for treatment, and Kennedy wants that to continue.

But she said that at times, the society has had to wait months for surgeries at NunaVet. 

Council won't stop clinic

Cunningham said she wants the free clinic targeted specifically at low-income families and elders with pets.

Furthermore, she said she wants to work with the humane society to offer free or low-cost clinics to Nunavummiut, instead of having the humane society bring in vets from down south.

Her business is five years old, but said that even with growth, the business is struggling financially.

Cunningham said she has "a very high overhead and a significant financial investment in NunaVet, so we do have to charge for our costs."

Leia Cunningham continues to grow her business. Last year she purchased more blood diagnostic equipment to avoid sending samples down south for analysis. (Michael Salomonie/CBC)

"I know that the community wants to support me as their local veterinarian," she said.

"But at the same time you can't compete with free and I can't blame people for going to access free services."​

City council was sympathetic to Cunningham's concerns, but won't stop the free clinic. 

The clinic runs Jan. 29 to Feb. 2.

With files from Michael Salomonie