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Veterinarian asks Prime Minister for laws to control dogs in Northern communities

Dr. Maxina Hunt with some dogs from the north
Dr. Maxina Hunt with some dogs from the north - Contributed

Province to work with residents of Natuashish after canine distemper outbreak




After an outbreak of canine distemper in Natuashish, a veterinarian with a not-for-profit organization in this province has contacted the country’s Prime Minister asking him to adopt legislation to help control dog populations in northern communities.

“We’ve got dogs dying on the streets in Natuashish from a problem that’s completely preventable by vaccination,” Dr. Maxina Hunt told The Labradorian during a phone interview.

Hunt is with an organization called North Atlantic Remote Veterinary Services (NARVS).

The organization offers basic veterinary services (spay/neuter, vaccination and de-worming) free-of-charge, in remote communities in Labrador, including Natuashish.

Services have also been provided in Hopedale, Postville and Makkovik.

Hunt suggested to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that First Nations communities can be assisted from dog overpopulation by spay/neuter clinics like those offered by her organization.

The clinics NARVS offer are funded completely by concerned citizens, she says.

“Canada is a modern, western country. The northern dog issue is a third nation’s problem that Canada should responsibly address,” Hunt wrote to the prime minister.

Distemper is a viral disease, she says, and shows up in places where vaccination is inadequate.

“Distemper causes upper respiratory issues such as runny eyes, coughing, it can also cause diarrhea... it causes an ulceration on the eyes, and it can advance into neurological signs, causing inflammation of the nerves in the spinal cord and the brain. So, you have to rule out rabies,” Hunt said in the phone interview.

While not a rescue organization, NARVS has transported healthy dogs out of Natuashish and has found them new homes in other areas of the province.

Another concerned group out of PEI also offers essential veterinary care to remote communities in the north through its Chinook Project.

In addition to its works in Labrador, NARVS partners with a cat rescue organization on the island portion of the province. Together, the groups capture and care for feral cats and work to find them new homes.

Dog overpopulation “is a social/economical/public health problem,” Hunt says, and more public education is needed about the importance of spay/neuter and vaccination in order to prevent outbreaks of diseases such as distemper.

NARVS will continue to offer clinics in remote Labrador communities while promoting the importance of vaccination, Hunt says.

“I have people in the towns that we’ve been in, where we have built relationships so that they can handle vaccinations and basic medications and with coordination through me, there are issues that I can deal with remotely,” Hunt says.

Hunt is also asking the province to help deal with the situation in Natuashish.

The province’s chief veterinarian Dr. Laura Rogers was in Natuashish recently giving vaccinations (free-of-charge) against rabies and distemper.

While distemper cannot be passed to humans, rabies can – through bite wounds.

Both diseases are preventable through vaccination.

“I’m concerned that some dogs that may seem to have recovered from distemper may relapse... when they relapse they may look like they have rabies because they get neurological disease. So it’s important to know what it is that we are dealing with,” she said during a phone interview.

Rogers says her team will work with the community to help address the distemper situation and provide some preventative care.

“That will be based on what we can come up with as a solution together (with the community) as opposed to us going in there and deciding what it is that needs to be done.

“We want to know what the community wants and we would have a discussion about what would work best in their opinion, and in our opinion, so we can come up with a reasonable plan to address the situation.”

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