Animal welfare and rescue is one of the often overlooked issues facing the territories.

It’s a grim reality in the North that unwanted, loose or lost dogs can quickly become a problem for the community and in the absence of other services will see their lives ended with a bullet.

Bylaw officers are often charged with the task of dealing with these “problem” animals.

In Rankin Inlet, up to 150 dogs per year met such a fate before director of public services Mark Wyatt took over in 2017. Now only aggressive dogs are destroyed.

Instead, abandoned dogs are held in one of two pounds in town and rehomed in the south, at no cost to the hamlet, thanks to fundraising efforts and connections Wyatt has made.

What started as a small outdoor pound has become a space capable of holding six outdoor dogs and a heated indoor pound just finished this fall in an insulated seacan with supplemental heat from the bylaw garage next door.

This is a really simple yet innovative idea that can be replicated in most communities, and would probably only require a few volunteers to manage.

Wyatt takes it a step further, working closely with bylaw through Kangiqliniq Spay, Neuter and Rescue, an organization run by himself and Page Burt. It raises funds to offer spay and neuter clinics and provides some veterinarian services, as well as giving aid to a fellow rescue group in Baker Lake.

Bylaw also provides vaccination for dogs it captures, as well as for dogs that are brought in by their owners as a matter of public safety with rabies a common concern in Nunavut.

These smaller initiatives are even more important considering the difficulties faced by the Iqaluit Humane Society (IHS), which is a hub for sending surrendered animals to new homes and organizations in the south.

IHS lost its physical space in September last year after its lease with the City of Iqaluit expired. Even without a shelter, the group shared in a Nov. 17 social media post that it had helped 53 animals from various communities and 29 from Iqaluit since Sept. 1, stating that “surrenders come in weekly from communities and from Iqaluit. Some dogs that expire their time in the city pound still come to us.”

IHS is currently operating out of seacans and fosters have stepped up out of necessity, but this is obviously not a sustainable situation for what is an essential service for the community.

Nunavut’s first – and only – full-time veterinarian clinic opened as a mobile clinic in 2011 in Iqaluit and is now located in Apex.

Travelling veterinarians are another vital part of keeping pets healthy, as well as spayed or neutered to help reduce the population of unwanted puppies.

In a 2017 interview with Kivalliq News, Dr. Jonas Watson of Winnipeg-based Tuxedo Animal Hospital, which has sent veterinarians to Rankin Inlet for more than 20 years, said that many communities need programs in place, supported by government agencies or grassroots operations, to ensure pet owners are able to get the care their animals need.

“There are many, many parts of this territory that simply don’t have any sort of veterinary services available and there are unfortunate consequences to the animals that live in those communities because of that,” Watson said.

There have been some massive improvements in compassionate care for pets in the territory, but there is still room for municipalities to help come up with creative solutions, or see how they can adapt some of the ideas that have been working in other communities.

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