The program aims to improve access to animal care
A new program aims to improve access to animal care for Manitoba’s remote and Indigenous communities.
The provincial government is contributing $750,000 to the $1.5 million One Health program. The five-year vet outreach initiative was announced Monday by Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations Minister Alan Lagimodiere.
“This funding recognizes that additional support is needed to overcome barriers faced by communities in accessing veterinary care and other animal health interventions,” Lagimodiere said.
He said he hopes the investment, which is complemented by an equal contribution from the Winnipeg Humane Society, will ensure Manitoba remains a leader in Canada in animal health.
Emma Case, client care receptionist at the Carberry Small Animal Veterinary Clinic, said Manitoba actually ranks behind other provinces when it comes to its sterilization regulations.
“Manitoba has a very large overpopulation of dogs and cats trying to find homes, due to overproduction, especially when it comes to wild animals,” she said.
Since feral dogs and cats do not belong to anyone, they are not neutered or neutered, which leads to an increase in their numbers. A big part of the problem is spending. Case said the clinic sees a lot of people who can’t afford proper veterinary care for their pets, either because they don’t understand how much pet ownership costs or because they find themselves in changing circumstances.
In addition to neutering and neutering, Case hopes the initiative will see an increase in the number of animals vaccinated, especially against rabies.
An important part of the One Health program will be working collaboratively with Manitoba First Nations to ensure the program is both sustainable and culturally sensitive.
Tracy Munn, manager of the shelter and director of the Brandon Humane Society, said she hopes the program will go a long way in dispelling the perception that residents of targeted communities are not good pet owners.
“There shouldn’t be that stigma,” Munn said. “There are good and bad pet owners there, just like there are good and bad pet owners in the city.”
She noted that people in rural and indigenous communities often face issues of affordability and access to proper veterinary care.
The Brandon Humane Society works with up to 14 Indigenous communities, caring for animals and also providing them with a feeding program. While she is optimistic about the new program, she also acknowledged that part of the problem facing companion animals in Manitoba communities is the shortage of veterinary professionals.
“It’s all very well to say that you are going to invest money to help these animals, but where are you going to find the veterinarians? The government must invest to get more Manitobans into veterinary school. We desperately need more vets.
Keri Hudson Reykdal is president of the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association and runs a veterinary practice in Thompson. She agreed that the shortage of veterinary professionals is one of the biggest issues facing pet owners in remote and Indigenous communities.
Reykdal operated a mobile trailer serving remote communities in Ashern – about 280 kilometers northeast of Brandon – for five years before opening his practice. She said she believes the One Health program and the funding provided to it will create a more organized and efficient system for addressing animal health.
“Animal welfare is the biggest concern for veterinarians. We know that if we cannot get to these communities to provide veterinary services, animal welfare will suffer,” she said, arguing that overcrowding and disease prevention will be the main priorities of the program.
Diseases transmitted by dogs, such as rabies, tapeworms and roundworms, can be transmitted to the human population. A good education therefore goes beyond the mere fact of caring for animals.
An integral part of One Health will be providing veterinary care and education in a culturally sensitive and respectful manner. It is not enough for veterinarians to come to communities from time to time to provide care. Ideally, Reykdal hopes to see collaboration between professionals and animal owners that will go a long way in addressing animal welfare issues.
Dale Turcotte, a pet owner who lives in Rolling River First Nation, said issues of access and affordability are a real issue for many in his community. Many people cannot have their pets spayed or vaccinated due to the distance to the nearest veterinary clinic in Neepawa. Turcotte has just had a new puppy, and finding the time to take him in for vaccinations is proving difficult.
“We have to go to Neepawa to register him and get him vaccinated, but I work full time, my wife goes to school and we don’t really have time to go that far. If it was just Erikson, or just Rolling River, that would be amazing.”
Public safety can also become a concern, with packs of feral dogs occasionally roaming the community, fighting, attacking, and sometimes killing other dogs and smaller animals. Turcotte said this is largely due to limited access to neutering and neutering services, which results in litters of puppies being born with no one to care for them.
The accidents and injuries that come with such a large population of homeless dogs and the distance to the veterinary clinic put pet owners in a tough spot. Turcotte hopes the One Health program will change that.
“If a dog gets run over or injured, the first option is often to shoot him, and that’s not as humane as we would like, but load that dog up and take him to Neepawa and hurt him more on the commute is what people try to avoid.”
The One Health program is developed in collaboration with the Office of the Chief Veterinarian of Manitoba, the Winnipeg Humane Society, the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association and other partners. The program will be administered by the Winnipeg Humane Society.