After two weeks’ isolation in Yellowknife, a group of Calgary veterinary students is now working to help animals in the Sahtu.
The students are in Norman Wells this weekend, then will travel to Tulita on Sunday before moving on to Délı̨nę, Fort Good Hope and lastly Colville Lake.
Spay-neuter clinics will be offered for local pets in each community, alongside vaccinations and deworming.
Students from the University of Calgary’s faculty of veterinary medicine have been travelling to the Sahtu each year for more than a decade.
Dr Susan Kutz, who leads each trip, acknowledged the Covid-19 pandemic made this year’s visit harder to get off the ground.
“We didn’t actually think we’d be able to get the program going. We had to make that decision last September and the way Covid had taken over our world at the time, I honestly didn’t think we’d be able to do it,” Kutz told Cabin Radio as the group prepared to leave isolation in Yellowknife.
“But just before pulling the plug on it, I contacted the Sahtu communities and talked to leadership in each community.
“Unanimously, they all said yes, please do come – do the 14-day quarantine but please do come. So we did it. And so far, so good.”
Fourth-year students on the trip said they had no qualms about two weeks isolating in Yellowknife to earn the opportunity to work in the Sahtu.
“All of us have pretty-much dreamed of this rotation since the start of vet school,” said student Chelsey Zurowski.
“We feel very lucky to be here and ready for the challenge, even though we’re a little bit nervous.
“I’m really excited to see the way of life and to experience the culture of the Sahtu. I’m looking forward to being able to learn about the way of life and hopefully incorporate community medicine into my practice in the future.”
Emily Dorey said she and fellow students were determined not to “stay within our comfort zones and only deal with one particular culture” in Canada’s south.
“I think it’s really important while in school that we step out of that and get to see the wealth of culture that Canada brings,” Dorey said, “and be able to go back to the south with a different view of society as a whole – and know how to interact with people of different cultures and communities.”
Yellowknife’s Dr Michelle Tuma is alongside the students for the trip, as she has been for a number of years. Also travelling to the Sahtu is NWT wildlife veterinarian Dr Naima Jutha.
Alongside routine work like spaying and neutering, Kutz said students on each year’s trip find themselves providing a broad range of care.
“There are always a few little things that come up,” she said.
“One of the things we commonly see is dogs who need a good grooming.
“There are some dog breeds that have continuously growing coats and, because they don’t have access to a groomer, they get pretty matted up. So we will often do what we call a medical groom: they don’t look pretty when we’re done, but we take care of the mats.”
Student Maddy Anderson said she was excited to apply lessons from the Sahtu toward her future career.
“I’ll be working in semi-rural Alberta, with a lot of different communities and cultures. It’ll be wonderful to get some of that experience and be able to bring that to my practice back home,” she said.
“As veterinarians, we’ve been training for a long time,” said Kelsie Paris, who isolated with Dorey, Zurowski, and Anderson ahead of the trip.
“Now we have a special set of skills that a lot of communities in the North, and all over Canada, don’t have access to.
“To be able to provide that kind of service to communities in need is something I really want to be a part of.”