For the 1st time ever, Vets Without Borders visits 2 Baffin communities

A team of volunteers from Veterinarians Without Borders came for a welcome visit to Kimmirut, Nunavut, this week, and many residents did not miss the chance to see them.

The vet team, which included two vets and two vet technicians, said appointments were booked almost two weeks before their arrival, with 22 appointments on day one.

The appointments have been for a wide range of services, from spaying and neutering surgeries — with the consent of owners — to vaccines, especially rabies, along with grooming, deworming and routine health checks.

“As long as it’s within our capabilities, then we’ll definitely provide anything that anybody asks for,” said Michelle Tuma, the northern Canada liaison for Veterinarians Without Borders.

A team of vets with Veterinarians Without Borders visited Kimmirut on March 14, 2022 and stayed for most of the week. The community of about 426 people has no local vet service and residents have to travel to Iqaluit if they want health care for their pets. (Submitted by Marieke Van Der Velden)

She says the team only comes to communities by invitation, and this is the first time the team has been to Kimmirut.

“We’re not here telling people that they need to have their dogs spayed or neutered, that they need to have their dog vaccinated,” she said. “We are just here to provide the options for them if they want it. So every single animal that we see is with owner consent.”

Tuma, a veterinarian, owns and operates Northwest Territories Veterinary Services and has been doing mobile clinics in remote communities since 2015. Through Veterinarians Without Borders, she’s been able to expand her work.

“It really allowed so many more communities who do not have assets and vet services … to finally have that clinic in the community,” she said. “One of the focuses that we try to … bring to light is about health, the concept of ‘one health.'”

She explained animal, environmental and human health are all interlinked and that a “healthy environment will create healthy animals, and then we’ll have healthy humans.”

“That’s really, really important as well, when we’re talking about companion animals, such as dogs,” Tuma said.

Ningeolaa Killiktee, left, and Karen Ross, are among the community volunteers who helped fundraise to cover the cost of flights, meals and accommodations for the vet team. (Submitted by Karen Ross)

In the case of Kimmirut, which has not seen vet service in the community for years, the clinic was much needed, say some residents. The closest vet to the hamlet of around 426 people is in Iqaluit, about a 35-to 40-minute plane ride away.

“The need was definitely here for the vets as there hadn’t been any vet for quite some time,” said Karen Ross, a teacher in the community. She is also among the community members who helped bring the vets to the hamlet.

“It’s not possible — or [it’s] very expensive — for community members to take their pets out to Iqaluit to get any sort of medical attention.”

Ningeolaa Killiktee, a bylaw officer in Kimmirut, said there hasn’t been any pushback from residents, and that many pet owners have been looking forward to the visit.

“A lot of people are super excited to get their dogs fixed,” she said. “And [to get] their vaccinations. The feedback is going pretty good from the community.”

While the services from the vets were free, community volunteers, including Ross and Killiktee, raised over $5,000 to help pay for the vets’ flights, meals and accommodations.

Thursday is the last day for the vets in Kimmirut, but it isn’t the only stop on the vets’ itinerary.

The team will be visiting Qikiqtarjuaq next and will stay there until March 22.

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