Press release | Veterinarians Without Borders North America explores the role of Community Animal Health Workers in remote northern communities with help from Petsmart Charities of Canada
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VWB North America explores the role of Community Animal Health Workers in northern communities with help from Petsmart Charities of Canada

January 10, 2024 - OTTAWA, ON – Living in a remote community, like those across Canada’s far North, often means that the nearest veterinary clinic is a long, expensive flight away. This makes it very difficult for pet guardians and their animals to access things like life-saving vaccinations against zoonotic infectious diseases, general checkups, spay/neuter surgeries, emergency veterinary care, and so much more. In the territory of Nunavut, for example, there is not a single veterinary office. With funding from PetSmart Charities of Canada, Veterinarians Without Borders North America has been exploring the implementation of a Community Animal Health Worker (CAHW) program across remote northern communities in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories to help train community members in things like pet first aid, administering vaccinations, and monitoring animals for signs of disease or distress. Veterinarians without Borders’ experience implementing and supporting the CAHW model internationally, brings knowledge and insight to ensure the framework meets the unique needs and challenges of remote northern communities. 

“This incredible support from PetSmart Charities of Canada is helping VWB work with 11 northern communities that we’ve built relationships with to build capacity for animal care when veterinarians are not accessible,” said Marieke van der Velden, Northern Canada Program Manager at VWB. “Individuals interested in learning more about animal health are invited to learn more about CAHW program and can then join the training program to be CAHWs within their communities,” added van der Velden. 

kathy receiving CAHW training

Funds from PetSmart Charities of Canada’s Access to Care National Partnerships Grant will go towards building a culturally informed framework for identifying, training, and supporting local CAHWs. The goal of this program is to strengthen capacity for animal health care throughout the North by ensuring that animals can receive urgent aid when they need it and maintain community health year-round.  

“This is something that is needed in so many communities and as a developed model it would be transferable. A community can see it work in one region, and then it grows,” says Daniel Steiner, community grants manager at PetSmart Charities of Canada.  

Early in 2023, PetSmart Charities of Canada, the top funder of animal welfare in the country, announced an $18 million commitment over the next five years toward improving access to veterinary care. While nearly 60% of Canadian households include pets, access to basic veterinary services has not kept pace.  This is particularly felt in Indigenous communities that have additional barriers beyond cost, including cultural barriers and a lack of veterinary services in the vicinity. In Indigenous regions, pets play important roles in their communities, but accessing resources to keep animals healthy can be challenging.   

With reconciliation considerations integrated into the approach, grantees will build relationships and assess specific needs before helping to design long-term veterinary services. This ensures that communities that have been left out are deliberately included in deciding how and when they will access the healthcare they need for their pets.  

About Veterinarians Without Borders North America/Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Amerique du Nord 

Using a One Health approach, Veterinarians Without Borders (VWB) works for, and with, communities in need to foster the health of animals, people and the environments that sustain us. VWB works in Africa and Asia to improve the living conditions of the most disadvantaged rural populations through veterinary and agricultural services, sustainable animal production, training, value chain development and sustainable natural resource management. Additionally, we support remote Northern Canadian communities to improve animal health through temporary spay and neuter clinics, reduce the spread of rabies, and work to create the conditions for long-term, community-led sustainable animal health services. VWB/VSF also responds to crises, worldwide, and is currently providing emergency support in Ukraine, Pakistan, South Sudan, and Turkey to address the growing needs of animals and communities.

Learn more at 

About the Northern Animal Health Initiative 

The NAHI program is focused on increasing access to animal health services in the Canadian North by providing services and resources to strengthen capacity in remote communities in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. VWB/VSF develops partnerships with remote communities in the Canadian territories upon their invitation. Together, they work to identify needs and build a plan with community representatives and leadership to strengthen local capacity to address animal care needs year-round. This includes offering annual temporary veterinary clinics with a team of volunteers. VWB/VSF’s goal is to build a sustainable framework that will create the conditions for lasting, community-driven animal health. 

Learn more at   

About Petsmart Charities of Canada

PetSmart Charities of Canada is committed to making the world a better place for pets and all who love them. Through its in-store adoption program in all PetSmart® stores across the country, PetSmart Charities of Canada helps thousands of pets connect with loving families each year. PetSmart Charities of Canada also provides grant funding to support organizations that advocate and care for the well-being of all pets and their families. Our grants and efforts connect pets with loving homes through adoption, improve access to affordable veterinary care and support families in times of crisis with access to food, shelter, and emergency relief. Each year, thousands of generous supporters help pets in need by donating to PetSmart Charities of Canada directly at, while shopping at, and by using the PIN pads at checkout registers inside PetSmart stores. In turn, PetSmart Charities of Canada efficiently uses more than 90 cents of every dollar donated to fulfill its role as the leading funder of animal welfare in Canada, granting more than $25 million since its inception in 1999. Independent from PetSmart LLC, PetSmart Charities of Canada is a registered Canadian charity.

To learn more visit                 
Media Contacts

24-Hour PetSmart Charities 

Media Line:  623-587-2177 

Veterinarians Without Borders North America

Laura Eley, Communications Officer 

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