P.E.I. vet students spend summer in the North to offer free clinics for pets

It was the busiest summer yet for the Chinook Project, an initiative from the Atlantic Veterinary College to provide free services to communities in Canada's North.

'You don't really need to have a fancy clinic to get a lot of good work done'

More students participated in the project than ever before. (Chinook Project)

Every year, students and veterinarians from P.E.I. travel to remote areas of Canada's North to provide medical and surgical care to the dogs and cats there. 

The Chinook Project is coordinated by Dr. Marti Hopson, and run from the Atlantic Veterinary College at UPEI.

Mila Profit (right), a veterinary student from Charlottetown, performs surgery in Nunavut in 2016. Veterinarians Without Borders wants to see more outreach done to communities without clinics throughout the territories. (Chinook Project)

It was started in 2005 by two faculty members, who recognized the need in Northern communities for some free vet service, and as a good way to provide training to the students as well.

This was the biggest-ever year for the Chinook Project, according to Hopson.

Two locations in Labrador, one in Nunavut

"We had two complete teams of vets and students visit three different locations, which is more than we've ever done before," she told Island Morning's Matt Rainnie. "Two locations in Labrador and a separate team also went to Nunavut."

The teams set up makeshift clinics in public buildings, including this one in Nain, Labrador. (Chinook Project)
Each place they go, the teams set up a makeshift clinic in a public building, and take as many appointments as they can in the few days they are there.

Hopson, who has coordinated the clinics from the start of the program, said they never know what issues they'll find until they get there.

"In general, there is a lot of disease prevalence there, rabies can be quite a problem, there's positive cases in the wildlife population and in dogs in Northern communities, every year," she said. "Also strictly canine diseases like distemper and parvovirus can wipe out a lot of the canine population, and of course those are things we can easily vaccinate for, and protect the dogs."

Surgeries, spay and neuter, vaccinations

Students do a two-week rotation in the North as part of their fourth year.

Liz Byers spent her time in Labrador, including one clinic set up in a firehall.

Liz Byers, a fourth year student from the Atlantic Veterinary College, helped run a clinic in Sheshatshiu. (Chinook Project)
"We did numerous surgeries, spay and neuter procedures, quite a few medical appointments, vaccinations," she said. "Something that's very useful is just being able to work with limited resources, and just knowing that having a good team and having a good attitude, you can really accomplish a lot that way. You don't really need to have a fancy clinic to get a lot of good work done."

'Rewarding' experience

Mila Profit, a fourth year student from Charlottetown, went to Iqaluit, setting up in the community centre there.

"Everybody that came in our door was so friendly and excited, it was rewarding to see that we could offer this free service for them, especially for people who didn't have very much money to take care of their animals," she said.

"We saw everything from a Chihuahua to a Great Dane, so we got to see quite a few different breeds, which was awesome. They were pretty well-behaved for the most part, even the sled dogs that we went and vaccinated one day."

Members of the Chinook Project included students Mila Profit (left), Liz Byers (centre) and coordinator Dr. Marti Hopson (right). (CBC)

Improvising surgery

Hopson said in Labrador, one dog came in which needed dental surgery, but the team didn't carry any electronic dental tools.

So they improvised, getting in touch with a local stone carver and borrowing tools, wheels and cutting discs.

"Some tools and some diamond wheels," she explained, "which we used to use in animal dentistry but a long time ago, before we had the hi-tech stuff. We're able to remove something like 20 teeth."

370 animal visits this summer

In total this summer, the teams covered 370 animal visits, and over the life of the program they have now seen 1,600 animals.

For more information on the program, including some of the student's personal blogs, visit

With files from Island Morning