(Jessica is a fourth year student who will graduate in 2016, one of 5 students participating in the Chinook Project this year. )
The 2015 Chinook Project team has officially assembled and made the journey to Natuashish, Labrador, our first destination. This is definitely going to be a trip of firsts for me: my first time in Labrador, my first time visiting an Innu community and my first time practicing veterinary medicine outside of a structured clinic setting. I must admit, I had no idea what to expect. What amenities would this community have? How many stray animals would there be? Would the animals be friendly? How many patients would we get the opportunity to treat? All I could do was wait in anticipation as our first day in Natuashish unfolded.
As our tiny, 15 passenger plane landed on the dirt runway that seemed to appear out of nowhere amidst the vast landscape of rocks and lakes, I was filled with both excitement and nervousness.
Our first order of business was a tour of town, best seen from the back of a pick up truck of course. The community consisted entirely of dirt roads lined with rows of houses all of which seemed to have seen better days. Even while surrounded by a beautiful backdrop of mountains and ocean, I couldn’t help but notice the numerous dogs roaming the area. Everywhere you looked you could catch a glimpse of a fluffy tail disappearing into the bushes, or a dog sleeping in the middle of the road, sitting in the school parking lot or rummaging through trash at the dump. What is even more amazing is just how friendly all these four-legged creatures were. A small herd of dogs would greet us every time we stopped to exit the truck, some even rolling over for belly rubs. For creatures who spend the vast majority of their time roaming free outside with sometimes minimal human interaction, these dogs happen to be some of the most well-mannered, happy animals I have ever met.
Our final order of business for the day was to set up our clinic at the community firehall. As we entered the building, it was hard to envision that this blank canvas would shortly become a fully functional veterinary clinic fit to treat patients and perform surgeries. It took us several hours of unpacking boxes and organizing supplies, but eventually we were able to transform a parking bay and storage room into our treatment areas and surgical suite. Ready for tomorrow’s patients, we decided to call it a day.
As I lay in bed that night, my mind drifted back to all the dogs we saw on our short tour of the community. I can’t wait to call these animals our patients and to help make a difference in their lives.