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Enlightened by an Arctic Dog – Meaghan O’Leary

November 13, 2017

This photo was taken on our last day in Igloolik. It was a roller coaster of a trip for a variety of reasons, but this photo to me represents the certain and stable mission of the Chinook Project – service to northern dogs and their families. When the Chinook team arrived in Igloolik, I was nervous about how we would be accepted, hopeful that we could make a difference in the community, and excited to see a new part of my country and gain invaluable life experience! It was a different kind of year for the Chinook project from previous years, as we were ‘trailblazing’ in a new community! For me, it was all a new experience, and since I had no real expectations, it was all quite new and exciting!

During the trip, I felt that there was a gradual shift from the unknown into the slightly familiar. Many members of the community were unsure of our presence and what exactly we were doing with the dogs in the clinic, so things took off slowly and with some hesitation. As the days went on and our presence was more recognized, the numbers of people coming into the clinic gradually increased.

It has always been one of my favourite parts of veterinary medicine to meet and connect with new people and their pets. It was even more amazing to meet and connect with the people and animals of Igloolik – a remote community where many people had never encountered a veterinarian before. One of the best feelings for me on this trip was seeing a hesitant and uncertain owner walk through the doors, being able to speak with them about what we had to offer and how we would like to help, easing their apprehensions and then watching them make a decision for the betterment of their animal’s health. I experienced great satisfaction and joy as I watched them walk out of the clinic with a smile on their face and the knowledge that they had done something good for their pet that day. Those were the moments that made everything worth it!

The reason I chose this photo is because it reminds me of this action of reaching out to people and asking them for their trust, in an entirely new situation for all of us. This dog, “Blackie”, was living two houses down from where we were staying in the community of Igloolik. At the beginning of every day, we walked past Blackie on our way to the clinic, and he would be there watching us from his yard. At the end of every day, we walked back home past him, and he would still be there, watching us. Every day, for the duration of our trip, I would talk to him from the road, trying to befriend him.

For the first few days, Blackie stayed still as stone when I called out to him. He saw me, and he heard me, but he was not sure what this strange person was trying to get at by talking to him. As the days passed, he showed slightly more interest, standing and giving me some attention when I asked. One day, when I was walking past and I called to him, he ventured partway down the hill with a slight wag in his tail and sniffed my hand, but that was enough for that day.

On the final day of our trip, walking past his house, I was determined to befriend this dog. We asked the boys playing in the yard if we could meet their dog, and the next thing you know, he was sitting in my lap, giving kisses, and just so happy for the attention! We all laughed and enjoyed this moment, but deep down for me, it meant a lot more.

Blackie is a sweet and gentle dog, and continues to be a reminder to me of the success of our trip. We may have given fewer vaccines than previous trips, we may have had fewer surgery patients than in the years before us, but we most definitely made an impact.

I will always remember in the future this trip and the lessons it instilled in me. Being a veterinarian is going to be a tough job, and I know that; but if I can remember Igloolik and Blackie, I can remember that sometimes the greater goal comes with baby steps. Most times I will not win someone’s trust in a fifteen-minute appointment. Sometimes, I’ll have to reach out day after day with minimal signs of progress. Some days I’m going to feel like it’s not achievable. And then, sometimes, there will be those rewards – the rewards that come with perseverance, patience, and kindness. These rewards are what will make my life in veterinary medicine a memorable and meaningful one. These are the reasons I chose this path, and I am more excited than ever to venture forth in this field.

I hope in the future to have more experiences like this one on a regular basis, and to never forget the feeling of changing someone’s life – even just a fraction – for the better, whether it’s by sharing a smile, or by saving a life. I just wanted to use this piece of writing to thank Blackie for making me realize these truths in such a simple way.

Meaghan O’Leary, AVC 2018, traveled to Igloolik in 2017 as one of the student participants on the Chinook Project. As part of the experience, the students craft various pieces of reflective writing. This is one of Meaghan’s pieces.

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