Bringing Veterinary Care to Canada’s Northernmost, Under-resourced Territories

by Matthew Krecic, DVM, MS, MBA, DACVIM
Copyright © 2024 Matthew Krecic

The veterinary team’s arrival via a chartered flight in Qikiqtarjuaq, a community located just north of the Arctic Circle in Nunavut, one of three of Canada’s northernmost territories. Photo courtesy of Veterinarians Without Borders North America. © Veterinarians Without Borders North America.

Most of us are privileged to reside in areas with ready access to veterinary services. However, residents in some places in North America—especially in Canada’s three northernmost territories of Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut (from west to east)—have little or no access to veterinary services.

Consider that in a 2017 study, 54 remote communities of 100 or more people in these territories had little or no access to veterinary services. Also, animals there tend to live shorter lives, dying from treatable or preventable diseases, some of which affect the health of people—including, importantly, rabies and the bacterial infection leptospirosis.

This is where Jennifer Ogeer, DVM, and Veterinarians Without Borders, North America, come in.

Dr. Ogeer, serving two terms as VWB/VSF Canada and now as VWB U.S.A.’s Board Chair through 2026, has helped to mitigate this problem with a remarkable team of volunteers and staff, bringing veterinary services to these under-resourced territories, which cover nearly 50% of Canada’s total land mass yet only 0.5% of its total population.

Volunteering by Invitation

Jennifer Ogeer, DVM, MSc, MBA, MA

“Through our Northern Animal Health Initiative (NAHI), VWB operates temporary veterinary clinics throughout remote communities that otherwise would have no access to veterinary services,” Dr. Ogeer said. “These clinics are run by VWB team members along with volunteer veterinary professionals. Through our NAHI team, we develop community partnerships in these underserved areas, based on invitations,” Dr. Ogeer emphasized. VWB collaborates with local, community representatives to successfully carry out veterinary care clinics and offer related services, rather than coming in unannounced.

“We work with each community to identify their unique needs and build a plan with community representatives to build local capacity, to address animal care needs year-round,” Ogeer said. “Our aim is to build a sustainable framework that will create the conditions for lasting, community-driven animal health.”

In so doing, Ogeer stated, VWB hopes that its initiative is not “one-and-done,” but rather one that can be undertaken year after year to provide the necessary annual veterinary care that pets in Canada’s northern territories need. They may initially need spay/neuter surgery but annually require examination, vaccination, and, if any illness, diagnostic testing and treatment.

Building Trust

A page from a child’s coloring book with a caption in the Inuktitut language, North Baffin dialect, and its English translation. VWB provide children’s coloring books in the Inuktitut language and the various dialects of Canada’s northernmost territories to help educate about veterinary care and pet well-being.

Building relationships and trust in the communities they serve is critical to VWB’s success—and to the health and well-being of pets and residents in those communities. VWB seeks to understand what services are needed and then works alongside community leaders to consistently bring those services to their communities.

By working with community leaders, community residents often feel comfortable with perceived outsider VWB volunteers caring for their pets. Consider that for the fiscal year 2022-2023, VWB-NAHI trained 4 laypersons to give vaccines (other than rabies, which must always be given by a veterinarian), chartered 11 flights (areas are remote), worked with 11 community partners, vaccinated 718 animals, and treated 767 dogs.

Other ways VWB helps to support local communities are through availing $10,000 scholarships for veterinary school students and $5,000 awards to residents in training programs to become veterinary technicians/nurses, dog trainers, etc. In 2023, VWB awarded a $10,000 scholarship per individual for two veterinary students at Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon. Recipients of these scholarships and awards return or remain within their communities. Residents can see themselves in these individuals and thus also begin to trust them with their pets’ care.

Dr. Ogeer, a 1995 graduate of the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, shows no signs of slowing down 10 years into her philanthropic volunteerism with VWB. Not only is she serving as its Chair of the Board of Directors for its North America group, she actively uses her animal health industry connections to secure corporate partnerships that help to underwrite the costs for the work VWB does.

During her free time, she also consults with pet owners residing in these under-resourced communities via telemedicine. “They rely on us for help, and I use my 30-year experience as an emergency/critical care clinician to offer practical ways to help them to manage their pets’ conditions.”

Thus far in 2024, VWB-NAHI has completed 7 veterinary clinics. Four more veterinary clinics are planned for the fall. If you would like to learn more about VWB-NAHI and VWB overall (which includes work in 12 countries) and to donate, visit their site.

About the Author

Matthew Krecic, DVM, MS, MBA, is a board-certified small animal internal medicine specialist with the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine ( and a medical writer, editor, and back-of-the-book indexer with his freelance business K-File Medical Writing and Editing Services, LLC. Dr. Krecic also provides veterinary care to homeless animals at animal shelters in Chicago, where he is based. He may be reached at

Watch this video from 2021 to learn more about rabies in the Northwest Territories and VWB’s work there.

Highlighting the ongoing and real risk of rabies in northern Canada after the recent rabies outbreak in Tukoyaktuk, Northwest Territories.

Additional article by Matthew Krecic

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