Musher vaccinates hundreds of dogs in remote Moose Factory

Residents of the James Bay Coast are struggling to access health care, let alone veterinary care for their pets, but thanks to a resourceful animal control officer, Moose’s pet population Factory gets vaccinated against harmful diseases.

Moose Cree First Nation dogs are currently facing an outbreak of parvovirus, a highly contagious and potentially deadly virus affecting dogs.

Unfortunately, there are no veterinarians to vaccinate dogs in the community and no vaccines readily available.

Enter Phoebe Sutherland.

« In the province of Ontario, you really have to be at least a vet tech, if not a vet, to deliver a vaccine, » Sutherland said.

« But I can access five-way canine vaccines through sled dog supplies because I’m a musher. I’ve been trained and observed by three different vets. »

Sutherland stepped into the role of animal control officer earlier this year and has several years of experience as a musher.

His skills are passed down from loved ones, though the stories that come with them are painful.

« Indian agents and the RCMP went to my grandfather, who had a team of dogs, and said, you know, you have to take your kids to boarding school, or you’re going to lose your team, » Sutherland said.

Then came the dog culls affecting trappers and mushers.

Sutherland is committed to bringing the tradition of mushing back to the area and plans to start a land-based program to teach others.

Part of his job is to make sure his dogs, and now the dogs at Moose Factory, are healthy.

« Are you going to lead the Iditarod? »

It was a production just to get the vaccines from the supplier to the injection.

Sutherland’s sled dog supply store is based in Saskatchewan. She shipped the doses to Thunder Bay, Ont., where a friend received and stored three shipments in his fridge.

Phoebe Sutherland coordinated the shipment of 300 doses of parvovirus vaccine from Saskatchewan to Moose Factory. Since then, she has vaccinated hundreds of dogs in the community. (Phoebe Sutherland)

Eventually, the vaccine was given to another friend who was returning home from a Nishnawbe Aski Nation rally.

« They took a charter [flight], but they were supposed to get off in Timmins. We were trying to get them up in Moosonee, and they assured us they would make an extra stop. »

The doses landed in Moosonee and then were delivered to Moose Factory Island by helicopter, as the ice roads in the area are not freezing yet.

The trip is reminiscent of another Nordic trek, when mushers relayed diphtheria antitoxin from Anchorage, Alaska to Nome, Alaska in 1925.

Decades later, the road was transformed into a race called the Iditarod.

« People ask me all the time, ‘Are you going to lead the Iditarod?’ For me, it’s not about the Iditarod, » Sutherland said.

« It’s just about providing my dogs with the best possible veterinary care with the shortcomings we have. »

Once the vaccine landed at Moose Factory, Sutherland got to work vaccinating over 200 animals in just a few weeks.

just the beginning

The work is funded by the Moose Cree Nation Economic Development Department. A few years ago, Chief and Council demanded that the community’s pet population be taken care of in a more organized way.

« Concerns about the health and safety of children and people walking have come into play, » said economic development director Stan Kapashesit.

Three maps show the route of Phoebe's shipment. Each stage of the journey has its own map, graphics of planes or trucks connecting places.
Phoebe Sutherland’s shipment of vaccines made it across the country with a little help from her friends. (Radio-Canada News)

The ministry took on the project and has since funded the vaccination program. The bill currently stands at nearly $3,000.

Most people who enroll their pets in the program pay $10 to $15, but the fee is waived for seniors and low-income people.

The department is trying to close the gap in veterinary health care in the north, although Kapashesit acknowledges it will be slow.

“We have plans to build a new animal care facility in our community. We are looking for sources of funding and that sort of thing right now,” he said.

« For communities who want to learn more or talk to us about our programs, we’re more than willing to share what we’ve learned so far and what we still have to learn. »

Phoebe Sutherland has the same hopes. She would like to see a remote veterinary care facility set up in Moose Factory.

« We are hoping to find a vet, perhaps one of our students, who will hopefully come home and provide this care. »


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