The Chinook Project
WHO WE ARE
The Chinook Project provides essential veterinary care to remote communities in Canada’s north. The Project is based at the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island, and has charitable status through UPEI. Generous support from our partners, our supporters, and UPEI means that the services of the Chinook Project are provided free of charge to the communities we serve.
Each year, the Chinook Project responds to a request from northern communities and takes 2-4 volunteer veterinarians and technicians, and 4-8 AVC students to the community and sets up a temporary free clinic that spays/neuters, vaccinates, and deworms northern dogs, as well as providing other veterinary care.
MISSION & METHOD
The Chinook Project:
provides free veterinary care to dogs in remote communities in the Canadian north, where veterinary service is unavailable
goes only where it is invited and performs only the veterinary procedures that are requested by dog owners and communities
educates adults in basic veterinary care (first aid, parasite control, vaccination)
educates children with information about animal welfare and caring for their dogs
offers ongoing contact and support by providing advice, vaccines and parasite control
provides valuable educational and cultural experiences for participating veterinary students, as part of an official fourth year rotation at AVC
When the Chinook Project receives an invitation from a northern community, we set up a clinic—sometimes in a local school, sometimes a fire hall, sometimes a wildlife office—that provides free spaying/castration, parasite control, vaccinations, and education to the local population. AVC Participants try to make the clinic feel like a real part of the host community for the time it is operational. They involve local volunteers who help in a variety of ways from translation to assisting with surgical preparation, and they run an “open” clinic that invites community members to observe procedures.
The Chinook project also makes house calls and “land” calls—going door to door in communities to offer vaccines, and usually heading out of town—sometimes quite a distance—to provide basic service to sled dog teams tied outside community boundaries. Depending on the number of dogs in the community, the project sees 60-70 percent of the canine population.
Chinook participants work hard, but they also have opportunity for play. In return for our services, Northern communities provide a unique cultural experience for our participants—opportunities for them to experience the North—to get a taste of this region, so important to Canadian identity. Communities often arrange formal activities like feasts (that give participants an opportunity to try “country food”—muskox, caribou, polar bear, char), drum dancing, and community games nights (where there is usually much laughter and strategizing, despite a significant language barrier). They also facilitate informal activities like hikes and iceberg sightings—often combined with vaccination visits to dog teams living beyond the boundaries of the community.
The Chinook Project began when a chance conversation between two old friends who met on southern Baffin Island revealed the significant need for veterinary care in many northern communities. Veterinary care is difficult and in many cases impossible to obtain in northern communities. Major centres like Iqaluit and Yellowknife have resident veterinarians, but other northern communities must fly their animals—at considerable, often prohibitive, cost— to these centres. The lack of veterinary service means that most northern communities are left to cope with canine overpopulation, disease, and parasites—from these problems stem a host of others: dog aggression, threats to humans, neglect, and abuse.
The Chinook Project was founded by Dr. Lisa Miller and Dr. Jane Magrath (both former faculty members at UPEI). A generous grant from the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre allowed them with Dr. Marti Hopson to pilot the Chinook Project in the summer of 2006, and further grants, donations, and in-kind support have allowed the Chinook Project to continue to serve one or two remote, northern communities each summer since then. Typically, the Project sees 60-70% of the community’s canine population; at the end of summer 2016 (11 years), the Chinook Project had treated over 1700 dogs in 11 different northern communities (19 clinics) .
Students who participate in the Chinook project not only gain valuable veterinary experience, but they also become stronger, more confident writers. While participants are in the North, they keep personal journals. In the year following their experience, they work to turn portions of these journals into publishable, creative non-fiction pieces. Although sometimes they don’t at first think so themselves, most of the Chinook students are competent and creative writers.