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Grants offer cash to help train northern veterinary staff

Alison Buckland with a dog in Gjoa Haven. Photo: Veterinarians Without Borders
Alison Buckland with a dog in Gjoa Haven. Photo: Veterinarians Without Borders

Veterinarians Without Borders grants that help northerners learn how to care for animals are returning for a second year.

Applications opened this week for a fund that includes a $10,000 scholarship for a veterinary school student and five $5,000 bursaries for students working toward diplomas or certificates.

There are also supports for online pet first aid courses and an online career fair for high school students to promote opportunities in animal health. 

Alison Buckland, from Yellowknife, received one of the bursaries – known as Access to Care awards – in the program’s first year.

Buckland is in the veterinary technician program at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. She has already accompanied Veterinarians Without Borders on a couple of trips to run clinics in the North – for example, serving as a dog trainer on a trip to Gjoa Haven – and has plans to take part in more.



“The pets that we have, they’re there for a reason and we love them. And if they get sick, they’re just as valuable as humans. That’s what I was thinking of when I enrolled,” she said of her decision to pursue a career as a veterinary tech.

Alison Buckland with a dog in Gjoa Haven
Alison Buckland with a dog in Gjoa Haven. Photo: Veterinarians Without Borders

Buckland said she had a hard time finding work after completing her first degree but, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, she began working at the SPCA and met veterinarian Dr Michelle Tuma.

“She introduced the medical side of animals to me,” said Buckland, “and it started becoming, ‘OK, that’s something I could go do. That’s a great career, and then I could come back to the North and easily find a job and have a good, sustainable career here.’ That was part of it.”

But finding the right support, and the money, to study in a veterinary field from a small community is difficult, Buckland said, as is finding an appropriately qualified mentor in the North.



“I want to come back and mentor, once I have enough experience and knowledge to teach people,” she said, “because maybe that will also draw more people to … continuing to help out in the communities.”

“Access to veterinary services in the North is very limited,” said Veterinarians Without Borders spokesperson Laura Eley, “which poses a threat not only to the health of animals but also to their human companions.”

In 2017, a study conducted on behalf of Veterinarians Without Borders found that 54 isolated communities of 100 or more people in Canada’s three northern territories had little or no access to veterinary services.

“Although individuals like Alison, who are interested in animal health, must currently travel outside of the NWT to earn their education, having them return to the community is key to ensuring access to animal care can be maintained,” Eley said.

Applications for this year’s Access to Care awards are open until August 15.

Veterinarians Without Borders said applications will be accepted from any individuals living in the territories, with priority given to Indigenous applicants.