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Arctic Paws works to fund vet clinics
Spay and neutering key to population control

Kassina Ryder
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012

A group of volunteers in Inuvik aims to start a mobile veterinary clinic that will deliver badly needed spay and neuter services to nearby communities.

NNSL photo/graphic

Raven Firth hugs Yak Yak, an Inuvik resident's dog, after her surgery on May 5. Firth and her mother, Angela McInnes (not shown), are volunteers with Arctic Paws, a non-profit organization in Inuvik. - photo courtesy of Tanya Sooley

Angela McInnes, a member of Arctic Paws, a volunteer organization in Inuvik, said the group entered an online contest through the Aviva Community Fund that will award up to $150,000 to organizations that receive the most votes. The winners will be announced on Jan. 29.

McInnes said the goal is to build a mobile clinic that will travel to communities to spay and neuter animals, as well as provide vaccinations and other services.

This will help reduce the need to kill unwanted puppies and dogs when populations get too large.

"Right now the only choices they have is to destroy the puppies when they're born ,or later when they become a nuisance," she said.

The causes of the North's stray dog problems are often misunderstood, McInnes said. The high cost of transportation coupled with the high cost of living make veterinary services unaffordable.

Earlier this year, Arctic Paws fundraised enough to bring vets from Calgary to Inuvik for two spay and neuter clinics.

Even with reduced veterinary rates and donations from local airlines, one 10-day clinic costs $15,000.

People in outlying communities wanting to send dogs to the clinics would have paid up to $800 return airfare for a large dog, as well as $300 for spay services.

McInnes said while many people would like to have their pet fixed, costs are prohibitive.

"It's quite expensive, they don't have the money to do that," she said. "You don't have a spayed dog not because you don't care, you simply cannot afford to get it spayed."

Moe Grant, another Arctic Paws volunteer, said money collected from individuals who can afford the clinic is used to help others who can't.

"That money gets rolled back in for someone who can't afford it," she said. Community members support the idea.

"We did 77 surgeries in that first clinic, which has had a big impact on the puppies that were going to be born," Grant said.

The mobile clinic would operate under this same rule, she said.

Grant said Inuvik once had a permanent veterinarian, but now the nearest vets are in Yellowknife, or in Whitehorse or Dawson City, Yukon.

Arctic Paws, along with the Beaufort Delta SPCA in Inuvik and the town's bylaw officer, have partnered with the NWT SPCA, Aklak Air, Canadian North and First Air to ship unwanted dogs to Yellowknife or to rescue groups farther south.

But, McInnes said even these efforts can't keep up when new puppies are born so often.

"If you're having puppies every six months, it adds up," she said.

Clinic set-up

McInnes said a prefabricated clinic, which looks like a large camper vehicle, costs between $125,000 and $145,000. It would be equipped for five-day clinics, the first three days of which would be entirely dedicated to surgeries. Up to six dogs could be spayed or neutered every day. The remaining two days would be for other services, such as vaccinations.

When vets visited Inuvik, they would drive the clinic to other communities in the Beaufort Delta by ice road in the winter, or via the Dempster Highway. Grant said these efforts will also help prevent rabies and parvovirus.

"There are lots of foxes that come into town," she said. "Not very long ago, there was an outbreak of parvo. A lot of puppies passed away from that. There is definitely a need to keep the pets healthy as well."

McInnes agreed.

"We're not animal activists," she said. "This is about keeping our communities healthy and clean."

McInnes said the group would continue fundraising to ensure dogs belonging to elders could see the vet for free and all residents would receive a reduced rate.

"You tell us what you can pay," she said. "No questions asked."

Dog control municipality's responsibility

Tom Williams, deputy minister of Municipal and Community Affairs, said dog control is a municipal issue.

"Some communities have chosen to use their resources to hire dog catchers for example, or have municipal enforcement officers," he said. "We leave it up to the community governments to make those decisions."

The territory provides each municipality with operations and maintenance funding, but it's up to the community to decide how it's spent.

"The community office can make that decision on how they allocate spending," Williams said. "Controlling dogs is the responsibility of each community."

McInnes said while the group would certainly take advantage of territorial funding if it was available, it would need to be ongoing.

"We need it to be sustainable and not be dependent on grants," she said.

"In future if there were programs in place, we would definitely want to access them. We want to work together."

She also said she believed individual communities need to come up with their own solutions, rather than relying on the territory.

Individual attitudes must change as well, McInnes said.

"It's not about judging the communities," she said. "People care about their animals, (but) we are in a unique area with travel challenges. We just need to look at it a little differently."

For more information about Arctic Paws' participation in the Aviva Community Fund or to cast a vote, visit the Aviva Community Fund website.

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