Animal doctoring a busy gig

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

IQALUIT (May 24/99) - When Dr. Heather Priest left her all-consuming veterinarian practice in Ottawa and moved to Iqaluit late last year, she thought she'd open a small mobile clinic and see people and their pets on a part-time basis.

Five months later, she's realized how unrealistic her dream was.

"It's growing. It's been very busy. More and more people are arriving in town, more clients locally are aware of me and clients from other communities in Nunavut are beginning to feel more comfortable contacting me," said Priest, who also holds down a full-time day job as an instructor in the health access program at Arctic College.

The end result? An endless stream of seven-day work weeks and the possibility that Priest might grow her bustling clinic into a full-time practice.

But -- and she's adamant about the but -- she has only considered the idea so far and wants to take the summer to decide. Since she'll be tucked away on Resolution Island doing scientific work, she'll have a few solid months to mull over her choices and Iqaluit's pet-lovers will have a few solid months of sending their pets south -- again.

"By early September, I'll be back on," said Priest, who, despite her hectic career, values her role in the community.

"I certainly do feel appreciated because people seem so glad that I can offer some kind of service. In many cases, the animal would have been put down if someone had not been there to treat them."

While most of her work has focused on offering emergency services to animals and pet-owners in distress, Priest has also seen her fair share of vaccinations and regular check-ups.

Unfortunately though, being a vet isn't always so pleasant.

"Tail amputations are a big thing because of frostbite, especially with cats. Cats really are transported to the Arctic and their bodies haven't quite adapted," said Priest.

She's also had to patch up more than one dog after a nasty fight, many of which she said were caused because people weren't spaying and neutering their dogs and were allowing them to roam free through town.

"There needs to be education on what a responsible pet owner is, not just for the pet's welfare, but for the public's safety and to reduce public nuisance," said Priest.

For those pet owners who've grown accustomed to phoning Priest for medical care, she said that Dr. Floyd, the Montreal vet who's provided service for the last several years, would be available during the summer months and has been forewarned to expect more calls from Nunavut.