In Canada, we often forget that not all dogs have access to quality veterinary care. Veterinarians without Borders, an Ottawa based organization that provides medical assistance to animals and communities in need, sees firsthand what life is like beyond our borders.
Take Non and Pim, for example, who live in Laos. They are neighbours who were each given a puppy by a friend – puppies who desperately needed homes. Non named her dog Edward, from the movie, Twilight. Pim called her dog Dada. Unfortunately, Dada met a sad end after contracting parvo from the other dogs he played with in the village. Parvovirus is not an uncommon disease for dogs even in Canada, and needs to be treated early to avoid complications. Unfortunately there was not enough awareness about the risks and treatment, and Dada could not be saved. When Pim found him, he was tired and sick and seemed depressed. Although they tried to treat him with hydrating fluids and vitamins, it was too late. The next day Dada had died.
In Laos, there’s an even scarier problem than parvo – rabies. This past summer, a young university student was bitten by his puppy, who had caught rabies from another dog in the village. Luckily, the student got immediate treatment and was saved. Veterinarians without Borders feels the virus was contained because they had already vaccinated most of the dogs in the village. This is highly unusual, since almost no systematic rabies campaigns take place in Laos, and the majority of dogs are not protected against this fatal disease. As soon as Veterinarians without Borders heard about this young man’s bite, the organization and their partners in Laos quickly organized new rabies vaccinations for all dogs in surrounding villages, and advised all people at risk to get shots too.
A project like this takes a huge amount of coordination and planning. To ensure long-lasting results, it involved training a network of local animal health workers and vet students on how to vaccinate dogs, as well as providing education campaigns for children and adults about the risks, precautions, and solutions for rabies. The outcome of this effort is impressive. In 2014, the team vaccinated over 2,000 dogs in 11 villages against rabies, which will help protect over 10,000 people in the Xaythany district of Laos.
The work is gratifying for volunteers like Michelle Lam, who says she loved her time working with Veterinarians without Borders and the local communities. “It was inspiring to know that people were willing to take time out of their days to bring their canine and feline friends to get vaccinated,” says Michelle. “This showed me that local communities were becoming better educated about public health, and that they were perhaps starting to see their dogs and cats more as pets.”
Promoting health around the globe
Of course, the Laos initiative is just one example of Veterinarians without Borders’ achievements. For the past ten years, the organization has been successfully developing and supporting projects that promote the health of animals, people and communities in need across continents all over the world, including Africa, Asia and the Americas. The focus is to improve the safety of communities where the risk of canine diseases like rabies, parvo, and others is high.
In addition, Veterinarians without Borders has supported several projects devoted to stray and domestic dogs in Chile, Guatemala, Laos, and northern Canada. While almost unheard of in most parts of Canada, in many areas of the world, free-roaming dogs are the norm. These dogs spend most of their time on the street, unrestrained, untrained, and often getting their food from trash or scraps. With no tradition of keeping dogs at home or in the garden, it is very easy for diseases to spread, or for children to get bitten by dogs in the street.
Veterinarians without Borders works with communities to improve dog care and help protect inhabitants from the dangers of roaming dogs. To do so effectively means tackling other challenges like poverty, isolation, lack of infrastructure, and little to no veterinary care or education.
To solve these problems, Veterinarians without Borders helps local organizations run vaccination and deworming campaigns, set up sterilization clinics, and just as importantly, work with communities on educating people about safe dog care. Working with governments is important too, because through good laws, legislators can help create a healthier environment.
Wherever it goes, Veterinarians without Borders depends on volunteers for its projects. For those who participate, the experience is often life-changing. “Having the chance to witness firsthand the bond that owners have with their pets, even in such a distant country with limited resources, was one of the many experiences that made my summer with Veterinarians without Borders so incredible,” says Sarah Edwards, who worked with Veterinarians without Borders in Laos. For people who love animals, both here and in the remote communities abroad, it’s an experience that will have meaningful results for many years to come.
Heading to Northern Canada
Many communities in our far north face challenges related to dog populations –these include overcrowding, disease and dog bites. Veterinarians without Borders veterinarian Dr. Susan Kutz and her team from the University of Calgary have been working hard to address these issues.
Successful pilot visits, which focused on vaccinating and deworming dogs, have now grown into a full scale veterinary service. What makes this program all the more exciting is that Dr. Kutz hopes to make it a permanent part of the University of Calgary’s fourth year vet program. It’s a win-win situation. Vet students will gain valuable experience and skills, and learn about diverse communities in their own country, while the communities themselves will benefit from sustainable vet services for their dogs. So far, the program encompasses the Northwest Territories, Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk. During their recent second annual vet clinic, Dr Kutz’s team was able to vaccinate and deworm over 150 dogs and cats. Previously, many households had to fly all the way to Yellowknife just to get basic care for their pets. Can you imagine having to get on a plane just to go to your “local” vet clinic?
By supporting Veterinarians without Borders, you can help protect animals, people and communities in need around the world through education, training and vaccination clinics. For Example:
- $25 pays for travel costs to one village in Laos.
- $125 pays for one day of an animal health worker’s time to vaccinate all the neighbourhood dogs.
- $500.00 covers the costs of an entire rabies clinic in one village.
Learn more about Veterinarians without Borders and how you can donate at VetsWithoutBorders.ca.
Dr. Steven Kruzeniski (aka Dr. Steve) graduated from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon and practices at the Animal Clinic of Regina. He has worked with VWB in Ghana, Uganda and Nunavut. He has also been involved with veterinary projects in Ecuador, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Honduras, as well as across the US and Canada.