Unwanted stray dogs are a significant problem in rural Alaska, due in part to the nearest veterinarian being a plane ride away. A spay or neuter appointment most often requires heading into the city, a difficult undertaking. But a Fairbanks nonprofit aims to cut out that plane ride for pet owners and strays by bringing veterinarians to them.
The nonprofit and Bethel-based Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. are arranging for veterinarians to bring their surgical equipment by boat so they can operate on pets and strays in the villages themselves. Since 2013, more than 250 dogs have been spayed and neutered in at least 14 Yukin-Kuskokwim Delta villages, and there has been interest in bringing the same services to Interior villages.
The services are free and are funded mainly through donations. Previously, veterinarians from out of state were not allowed to provide their services free of charge in Alaska villages without an Alaska license. The state Veterinary Board has made an exception for remote communities that lack medical care for animals, similar to the exception made for visiting Iditarod veterinarians, making it easier for mobile vet programs to organize and to include out-of-state veterinarians like Tim Hunt, DVM, of Dr. Tim's Pet Food.
Another nonprofit effort, headed by Anchorage-based Alaska Rural Veterinary Outreach, has held spay, neuter and vaccination clinics in remote communities since 2012. Overall, the projects continue to gain momentum, but organizers say there is still a lot of work to do.
New shelter data casts doubt on whether the pet population and pet ownership are truly growing.
While the pandemic caused unprecedented suffering worldwide in 2020, the disruptions to dogs, cats and other pets adoption numbers may normalize in 2021.