In only four days, a team of eight veterinarians spayed and neutered 75 pets in Carmacks.
The municipality took matters into its own hands last summer, before someone was harmed by stray dogs, said Mayor Elaine Wyatt.
“It was very problematic,” she said. “The dogs were straying and the dogs were packing. It would be worse in the winter because the ice on the river would freeze so the dogs would go back and forth.
“At one point, they were killing other people’s cats or smaller dogs. You didn’t want to see that, and it does make you very nervous. I could just see somebody’s little kid trying to protect their puppy and the next thing you know they’re in the middle of this great big dog fight.”
With a deal forged with Air North, the town helped fly up a team of vets with a charity called CAAT, the Canadian Animal Assistance Team. It’s an organization that travels around the world helping to control animal populations and diseases, much like Veterinarians Without Borders.
Once arriving in Carmacks, the organization realized it could have brought up more vets for a longer stay, said Wyatt. So the group made plans to return to get the puppies and kittens too young to go under the knife last summer, and to travel up the highway to Pelly Crossing.
But CAAT won’t be coming back.
Its policy includes getting consent from local vets, if there are any. There was resistance because of concern for local businesses, said Wyatt.
The municipality brought in the vets because they do their work free of charge.
“A lot of times, people can’t afford to get their dogs and cats spayed and neutered, or they don’t have the transportation to get their pets to Whitehorse,” said Wyatt.
“There was a mobile vet, but even when she came out she could only do so many, and, as I say, a lot of people can’t afford it or that’s not their priority, or they don’t have the means to get into Whitehorse to do it.
But giving free services to all “out-of-town residents” hurts local businesses, said Marina Alpeza, a veterinarian with Copper Road Veterinarian Clinic Ltd. in Whitehorse.
“We reduced our staff by five employees in the last six months,” she said in a statement. “Taxpayers’ money is being used in such a way that jobs in the private sector are being destroyed. I am not sure how many of our local veterinarians will leave the Yukon, as it is impossible to compete against free services.”
Last year, Alpeza’s clinic visited four rural communities, she said.
But being unable to find accommodations in Faro and Ross River, they ended up having to rent a motor home for their volunteer staff and, in the end, lost money. Having to compete against the same service, offered for free, the trip won’t be worthwhile, she said.
So Alpeza encouraged the non-profit to help a more remote community, like Old Crow or Inuvik, she said.
Candace Stuart, a veterinarian from All Paws Vet Clinic, confirmed that all local vets were consulted before CAAT came to the territory, and all of them were “on-board at that time.” Stuart supports the organization and even travelled with them to New Orleans after hurricane Katrina hit, she said.
But Carmacks isn’t in a disaster state, and there are local vets who should be given any government support on offer, said Alpeza.
“There is only a handful of veterinarians in Yukon,” she said. “We never got any help or support here, and that is fine. But it would be appreciated if we did not have to compete with free services, funded by taxpayers’ money, that should be spent to stimulate our economy, rather than to destroy our jobs.
“It is also creating an atmosphere of some people expecting and demanding free services from the industry that gets no help or support whatsoever, and has to pay their own bills.”
At the Association of Yukon Communities meeting in Dawson City earlier this month, the Carmacks mayor spoke with officials from the territorial Department of Community Services about the matter. A solution may be in the works with the humane society, said Wyatt.
“Now, hopefully, if we’ve got a local solution through Community affairs and the SPCA, that would be great,” she said.
But Alpeza is worried about this too. She wants reassurance that any contract to provide community vet programs will be properly put out for competition.
For the municipalities, any help is welcome. Animal control is a big concern across the territory. Many municipal officials at the association’s gathering earlier this month mentioned how hard it is to keep a dogcatcher on staff.
And it’s always been a problem. An animal control bylaw from Dawson City’s early days says you can throw a lame dog into the river – so long as the current takes it outside municipal boundaries, chief administrative officer Jeff Renaud told the delegation.
“It just makes such sense, to me, to be proactive with it because the communities have such problems with animal bylaws, and in our community it’s very difficult because we are two different governments,” Wyatt said of her municipality and the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation.
“The dog has no boundaries. So we’re working together trying to do a joint bylaw.”
The municipality of Carmacks and the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation already hold joint council meetings.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at