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Lansdowne House, Ontario - The Neskantaga First Nations

On March 14, 2023 a small group travelled from Barrie all the way north to a small community called Lansdowne House, Ontario which is home to The Neskantaga First Nations. Lansdowne House is in the northern reaches of Ontario, situated along the shore of Attawapiskat Lake in the District of Kenora. There are approximately 300 people living in this community and it is a fly-in community only, therefore not accessible by year-round road. Once the lake has frozen they are able to drive on the ice roads, which can be over a 12 hour drive on to Thunder Bay. So even though the record low in Lansdowne House is -58.3 F with the wind chill, they still get excited for the winter, as it gives them the freedom of driving off the community.

We were greeted at the airport, by Ben who was waiting to give us the keys to the vehicles which we were loaned for the week. We loaded up all our gear and headed over to the nursing station to get a PCR Covid test.

Once our results were negative, we got the keys to where we’d be staying for the week and did a quick stop at the only store the community has called “The Northern.” The Northern has everything a convenience store would have plus a small selection of fruits, vegetables and other groceries. Prices are unbelievably high, for example a case of 12 cans of pop was $29.39 and eggs were $8. I guess this is the price you have to pay when everything is flown in!

Another large issue in this community is the water. They have been on a water boil advisory for over 26 years. Imagine not being able to turn the tap on to have a drink of water or clean vegetables with water from the tap? It shocks me that in Canada we have areas like this, with Lansdowne House unfortunately one of many.

We settled in to our home away from home for the week. This was a 2 bedroom house that they were using for Covid isolation cases, but used to be used to house the staff that came to help with the water treatment plant. The house had seen better days, however we are not picky and always are grateful that there are beds and heat.

There were 8 of us that came together to do this campaign, however there were only 6 beds so sharing beds was a must and the couch was very comfortable too, right Dr Manesis?

We went over to see the centre were we were going to work out of and convert to the hospital for the week. It was the perfect size and had everything we needed so we unpacked, got organised and were ready for an early start the next day.

Day 1 we were off and running at 8am and ended the day by 8pm. We saw a lot of pets and some strays that we were able to spay/neuter. If the house wasn’t small enough for us we added 3 large hairy roommates that night. With doing surgery on the strays we didn’t want to just release them the same day as surgery so they came home with us. You could tell these dogs had never been inside of a house before as it took a lot of coaxing them that they could come in, but it just took a little food and they were running for the door.

It always amazes me that it seems that the dogs know we are there to help. Usually by day 2 we have a pack that tends to follow/stay around us and Lansdowne House was no different. It didn’t take long for the team to fall in love with the dogs, and our pack went from 8 to 10. Natalie brought home an old Shepherd Husky cross named Blackie and M brought home a young husky named Lily.

Blackie seems to be over the age of 10. He has a large scar on his nose, which we were told was from a Marten trap over. The scar is quite large it had done some damage, but obviously recovered well, minus the loud breathing and snoring! Re homing an older dog is hard enough but one that has had to fight for his food and been outdoors most it’s life is another challenge. But the bond Natalie and Blackie developed was worth the work and now this older outdoor dog is living out his golden years on Natalie’s farm along side of 2 french bulldogs, which probably is why the snoring doesn’t seemed to bother Natalie. Lily has been doing great and thriving we guess her to be around the age of one, so not much reconditioning was needed.

There is not a lot to do at night in the community, with the -30 weather who can blame them but we were getting a little stir crazy and really wanted to see the community. We decided to go for a drive, do some photo ops and see the area. The community is quite small with only a handful of roads. However that didn’t stop us from getting both vehicle’s stuck in the snow, with no way of getting them out, the more we tried the deeper we got stuck. We decided to lock up the vehicles and start hiking it back, we were about a 20 min walk to where we were staying. There was no one is sight as we walked and froze we remembered there was a police station so we thought we would stop and try our luck there.

There was one officer there, who was off duty but was kind enough to help us out. There are no tow trucks in the community but there was a mechanic that had an excavator that was able to pull both vehicles out. Within 20 mins we had both vehicles out as well as us out of the cold. Big “Thank you” to officer Wlodarek and Joe for saving the stranded southern vet team!

Our week continued with surgeries, vaccines and wellness exams. We ended up seeing 50 pets and out of those 4 dogs were hermaphrodites. (They have both female and male reproductive parts).  It is very rare, some veterinarians can go their whole career without seeing one.

Every day we had a helper from the community named Casey. She helped us with intakes, organising patients and helping obtain strays/peoples pet’s for surgeries. She was a lot of help and spoiled us with some homemade soup and bannock!

All in all,  it was a successful campaign. We don’t always love baring the cold but we’ll do what we can to help the dogs in the north! Thank you to our generous clients for all your donations and support, and Boehringer Ingelheim for always supporting our Northern campaigns. Without all you help and generous support these types of campaigns would not be possible. - Melissa

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