I have recently been re-introduced to a novel way to volunteer and experience the world. Voluntourism, or the mixing of helping others while on travelling on vacation. I had experienced this many years ago with Habitat for Humanity and although I enjoy building, it was not what I love the most.
I am a veterinarian and I live to improve the quality of life for dogs and cats while at the same time imparting knowledge to pet guardians so they can help their pets live longer healthier lives. In September I was able to travel to Baker Lake Nunavut, the geographic center of Canada and, as part of a team of professionals, provide no cost veterinary care to the dogs, cats and one guinea pig of that community.
I travelled with 11 others, all part of the Canadian Animal Assistance Team (CAAT) and while seeing the tundra, was able to help spay or neuter 20, vaccinate over 240 and treat over 200 dogs and cats for intestinal parasites. The team also treated ear infections, abscessed and broken teeth, anal gland masses and severe skin infections. As well as providing medical care the Team was able to educate community members about feeding, housing, breeding, and general care for their dogs. The Team also educated young and old school aged children on pet care and dog bite prevention.
In general, the 10 days the team was away on “holiday” was spent trying to improve the lives of the animals in Baker Lake. Some of the dogs were part of sled teams but most are family pets. Unfortunately most of the dogs were kept outside and since Baker Lake winter temperatures can be as low as -40 degrees C with wind chill much colder, keeping warm is the biggest problem. The team educated owners on the need for dog houses and appropriate high fat nutrition to help the dogs keep warm in the winter.
I was pleased to see how much the people of Baker Lake love their dogs even though the dogs do not live in the house or in the bed as our ‘southern’ pets do. The community valued the Team’s visits since the closest veterinarian is in Winnepeg, a 3 hour flight south.
Mixing vacation, travel and volunteering is something I will do in the future and as you read this I will be either in or just back from Cancun where once again I be part of a team giving free veterinary care to dogs and cats who don’t have ready access to veterinary health care. I would strongly encourage everyone to see how you can mix travel with volunteering whether abroad or at home. It is a chance to see the world and give back at the same time.