Clinics deliver animal health services

WCVM veterinary students Steve Kruzeniski and Taryn Ng practise their surgical skills on foam during a spay/neuter clinic at La Loche, Sask. Photo: Dr. Emily Jenkins.

It was a conversation with Saskatchewan’s former Lieutenant Governor, Dr. Linda Haverstock, that prompted Dr. Lesley Sawa to organize the first Team North spay/neuter clinic in 2005.

“We were talking about the dog problem in the North, and she kind of challenged me by asking why Saskatchewan veterinarians weren’t doing anything about it. That got me thinking about what we could do,” says Sawa, a 1992 graduate of the Ontario Veterinary College and a managing partner of the Animal Clinic of Regina.

Having heard about an American Humane Society program called Rural Area Veterinary Services (RAVS), Sawa travelled to the U.S. to observe a spay/neuter clinic and consult with the program founder, Dr. Eric Davis. She came home convinced that a similar plan would work in northern Saskatchewan.

After gaining support from Stanley Mission’s community leaders and elders, Sawa and her colleagues ran their first clinic in the community health centre. In addition to spaying, neutering, vaccinating and deworming dogs, the group encouraged the involvement of local students.

“We did classroom presentations about dog bite prevention and had high school kids come in so they could see what we were doing, help hold the animals and just get an idea of what being a vet is all about,” she explains.

Since then Team North has offered clinics in Sandy Bay, Ile-a-la-Crosse, Pelican Narrows and La Loche. Armed with supplies donated by Saskatchewan veterinarians and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, the team has also received a trailer from the Saskatchewan Veterinary Medical Association and financial donations from Government House, the Regina Association of Veterinarians and others.

The volunteer group includes veterinarians, veterinary technologists and WCVM students. “It’s really concentrated hands-on experience for the veterinary students,” explains Sawa. “And they appreciate the chance to practise skills like putting in catheters and getting the animals under anesthetic.”

Team North usually holds its two-day clinics in the communities’ high schools where they’re close to students. “We do tours and the students get a cap and mask so they can see the surgeries and ask questions. They enjoy learning about it and like to help in the recovery area while the animals are waking up.”

While the communities have all responded favourably to their efforts, Sawa is convinced that the clinics could have a greater impact if they were held annually. She envisions having several teams of volunteers in place so that a team could travel to the same community each year and form a more sustained relationship with its members.

“Whenever we go to the communities, we meet people appreciative of us helping. If we can get the manpower, we can keep coming back to provide more education and better equip them to deal with the issues related to dog overpopulation.”

Sawa appreciates all the support Team North has received over the years. “I’m thankful to everyone who’s helped us and contributed over the years, and I’m hoping those relationships can continue into the future.  It’s been a learning experience, and we’ve met some great people.”


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