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Roddickton-Bide Arm hosts remote vet clinic

Team from North Atlantic Remote Veterinary Services conducts pet appointments and spay-neuter procedures for strays




For most people a holiday means rest and relaxation.

But not for Dr. Maxina Hunt, veterinary technician Chloe Henderson and veterinary assistant Brittany Victorino. Last week, the Grand Falls-Windsor area vet and her team used their latest vacation to satisfy years of pent-up demand for veterinary services on the Northern Peninsula. Putting on a remote clinic presents challenging conditions and long hours, but she described it as a passion.

“I have a full-time job, so basically I’m using my holiday time to do this, that’s how much I like doing it,” she said. 

Dr. Maxina Hunt consults with pet owners during North Atlantic Remote Veterinary Services’ visit to Roddickton-Bide Arm last week. - Thom Barker
Dr. Maxina Hunt consults with pet owners during North Atlantic Remote Veterinary Services’ visit to Roddickton-Bide Arm last week. - Thom Barker

“People are very happy and very appreciative to get such a service and it makes such a difference in their lives, so it’s personally satisfying for us too.”

In 2017, Hunt founded North Atlantic Remote Veterinary Services (NARVS), a completely volunteer-driven organization funded by public donations, to bring services such as check-ups, vaccinations and spay-neuter procedures to pets and pet owners in northern Newfoundland and Labrador communities.

“Being able to provide basic, fundamental veterinary services to people who are either in a financial situation or geographical situation where it is difficult or even impossible, I feel it is unfair that they don’t have any access for their pets,” she said. “It’s part of animal health and animal welfare, but it’s also public health in general.”

Last year, Bernadette Calonego, a local author and long-time volunteer with the St. Anthony rescue group Help The Strays, contacted Hunt about doing a clinic in the area. When Hunt agreed, Calonega organized and coordinated the effort that brought the vet team to Roddickton-Bide Arm last week.

Dozens of pet owners from all around the region flocked to the fire hall, where a temporary clinic was set up, to take advantage of the opportunity.

Sheila Fitzgerald, the mayor of Roddickton-Bide Arm said it was a real privilege to host the clinic and was proud of how the town stepped up.

“When we got the green light from the vet saying they will come, it was amazing to see how many local community people pulled together to make this happen,” she said. “They did fundraising, they put things up on auction, we’ve got people here that are hosting the veterinarians, there’s people dropping off food, council donated a space in our fire hall so they could set up a clinic and have access to clean water and electricity. The whole community kind of pulled together for this initiative.”

With the nearest permanent veterinary clinic in Corner Brook, Calonego said pet care can be out of reach entirely for a lot of people.

“It’s just very expensive,” she said. “You have to pay also for the trip, like gas and you have to stay overnight, you have to pay for accommodation, so for most people this is really a lot of money.”

In addition to providing services to pet owners, the veterinary team also conducted spay-neuter procedures for stray and feral cats from around the Roddickton-Bide Arm area including Main Brook and Englee. A dedicated group of volunteers trapped cats and a Facebook campaign found sponsors for each of the animals to cover the cost of the surgery. 

Veterinary assistant Brittany Victorino clips a patient’s nails. - Thom Barker
Veterinary assistant Brittany Victorino clips a patient’s nails. - Thom Barker

“It is a huge problem,” Calonego said. “People have stray cats around their houses, you can find them on forest roads, in the dump. There are many stray cats in the dump because some people just dump their cats in the dump to get rid of them.”

A female cat can have several litters per year, so the problem can quickly get out of control, she said.

Help The Strays led a similar effort in St. Anthony several years ago that Calonego said has curtailed the problem in St. Anthony. The group continues to work toward providing food, shelter, socialization and homes for strays.

Nobody the Northern Pen interviewed could say definitively if the region could support a permanent veterinary clinic, even if a vet could be attracted to the area, but the existence of North Atlantic Remote Veterinary Services is giving communities hope it will become a more frequent occurrence.

“We’re more than happy to see this happen, we hope it happens again in the future and that it will be a way to help control our cat population,” Fitzgerald said.

Hunt said she would not be able to relocate herself, but she has had interest from remote communities in Newfoundland, Labrador and even Quebec. She intends to continue to provide services as she is able and also hopes to expand the scope of NARVS, which currently is applying for charity status.

“You never know, it could be something that, as this organization itself gets bigger, that we serve all the remote communities that need it,” she said.

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