Flying vets gives Igloolik dogs shot of good health

Story by JANE GEORGEThey’re members of team of 11 volunteer veterinarians, technicians and assistants in Igloolik until July 23 where they’re helping the community’s estimated population of 500 dogs and at least one cat stay healthy.At the request of the hamlet, the Canadian Animal Assistance Team is armed with enough vaccine to protect the entire dog population against the life-threatening illnesses of parvovirus, rabies and distemper.Sled dogs in Igloolik have apparently been falling ill with distemper since the annual Nunavut Quest sled dog race earlier this year.Early symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, and mild eye inflammation that may only last a day or two. Symptoms become more serious and noticeable as the disease progresses.”The majority of dogs that get distemper die,” said Elizabeth Bartlett, one of three veterinarians now in Igloolik.Bartlett admits administering vaccinations to sled dogs which have never received veterinary care is likely to be challenging- but if the animals aren’t vaccinated they risk death or serious infirmity. That’s because even when dogs survive distemper, they are more likely to suffer from neurological problems.Distemper has been nearly eradicated in southern Canada where dogs regularly receive vaccinations which protect them against the illness.The vaccinations CAAT provides also protect against a bacteria called leptospirasis, an infectious disease that can be transmitted to humans from domestic animals. Characterized by jaundice and fever, leptospirasis causes heart and liver cysts in people.The CAAT team plans to visit sled dog teams on the land and set up a mobile animal hospital in the former nursing station where local residents can bring in their pets. There, the team will have all the equipment they need to neuter and spay dogs or cats on request.However, the vets are not expecting to receive many requests to neuter male sled dogs.Donna Lasser, CAAT’s executive director and a veterinary technician, said when CAAT was in the South Pacific island of Fiji where dogs are used for hunting, many owners were reluctant to have their male dogs castrated because they were worried it might affect the animals’ hunting prowess.Fiji is just one of the far-flung places CAAT’s group of Canadian veterinarians and veterinary technicians have visited since the organization was founded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.In September and October 2005, CAAT sent 82 volunteer veterinarians, technicians and assistants to the Gulf Coast to assist in the rescue efforts of the thousands of animals. In addition to aiding in the aftermath of disasters, CAAT also wants to work with local governments to ensure that animals are included in community disaster evacuation plans.Last year, CAAT went to Rae Edzo in the Northwest Territories, which has the highest number of dog-bite injuries in Canada. This year, CAAT has been to Guyana in South America and plans to go to northern Ontario, Peru and Mexico by the end of the year.CAAT, a registered charity, is supported by donations. For the July visit to Nunavut, the hamlet of Igloolik and the local stores agreed to look after the team’s lodging and food, First Air provided heavily discounted airfare from Ottawa to Igloolik and donated Aeroplan points covered the rest of the team members’ air travel.The only community in Nunavut that now has access to regular veterinary care is Iqaluit.


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