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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Veterinarians Without Borders North America launches first-ever Northern veterinary telehealth program in partnership with Animal HealthLink and PetSmart Charities of Canada™

michelle at northern clinc

OTTAWA, ON, February 29, 2024 – Veterinarians Without Borders North America/Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Amerique du Nord (VWB/VSF) is thrilled to launch its first ever veterinary telehealth program in Canada, which will serve remote communities across the Northwest Territories and Nunavut that have limited access to veterinary care. Designed in partnership with Animal HealthLink (AHL), a tele-triage service that supports veterinary practices, the telehealth program will launch as a pilot program in the communities of Gjoa Haven, NU, Tuktoyaktuk, NT, and Kugluktuk, NU. The program is generously funded by PetSmart Charities of Canada.

“People are often surprised to learn that across the entire territory of Nunavut, there is not a single veterinary practice,” said Marieke van der Velden, VWB/VSF’s northern Canada program manager. “In many communities across Canada’s North, if an animal becomes sick or injured, pet guardians must travel via plane to access veterinary care. It’s simply unsustainable,” added van der Velden.

The telehealth program – the first of its kind focused on northern Canada – will allow pet guardians in all three communities to connect 24/7 with registered veterinary technologists (RVT) regarding any of their animal health concerns. All phone operators will receive training specific to the North and northern landscape, as well as courses on Indigenous and Inuit history and traditions. Phone operators will work with incoming callers to address their concerns and provide immediate advice and care for pet guardians to implement. VWB/VSF veterinary professionals will then follow up and provide further support, as needed. As part of the program’s launch, VWB/VSF will work in each community to spread awareness about the telehealth program, including how to access it.

“Due to the remote nature of northern communities and the low number of veterinary professionals in the North, providing veterinary care can be extremely challenging,” said Dr. Michelle Tuma (DVM), VWB/VSF’s northern Canada veterinary specialist who lives in Yellowknife, NT. “There are scenarios with animals in distress, that with the proper instruction and human intervention, can save the animal’s life,” added Tuma. “That’s our hope with this telehealth program – that it will help strengthen animal health capacity and give pet guardians and their animals the opportunity to swiftly and effectively treat injuries and illnesses,” she added. “Our hope is that this will not only build healthier animals and communities, part of VWB/VSF’s One Health model, but ensure that pet guardians have the resources to help their animals live healthy, happy lives,” Tuma added.

“For this program to be successful, the unique culture and landscape of Northern communities has to be acknowledged,” said Robyn Jaynes, DVM, director of veterinary affairs at PetSmart Charities of Canada. “The community specific lens will increase the ability to deliver relevant and applicable actions.  We’re proud to support Veterinarians Without Borders, as they are dedicated to building relationships with many Northern communities.”

“We want to help ensure that every patient, no matter where they live, has the opportunity to receive the care they need, when they need it,” said Leilani Mustillo, CEO & Co-Founder of AHL. “This is the reason the work we do is so important, and why our highly skilled team of registered veterinary technologists is eager to help,” she added. “In our remote Northern communities, where vet care is sparse or just simply not available, we can help give patients the care and attention they need, at the urgency at which they need it. Whether it’s by phone, text message, or video call, our team is committed to answering pet parent questions thoroughly, listening carefully to concerns, and providing trusted advice for patients,” said Mustillo. “In a remote region, having sound judgment and making the right decisions quickly can make all the difference, and we can help eliminate the guesswork and uncertainty that comes with animal health concerns and emergencies. We are tremendously honoured and proud to be serving these Northern communities,” Mustillo added.

Media Contacts  


Laura Eley

Communications Officer

+1 343-633-0272

Animal HealthLink

Leilani Mustillo

CEO & Co-Founder

24-Hour Petsmart Charities

Media Line: 623-587-2177

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

Using a One Health approach, Veterinarians Without Borders North America/Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Amerique du Nord (VWB/VSF) works for, and with, communities in need to foster the health of animals, people and the environments that sustain us. VWB/VSF 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 communities in Canada 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.    

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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. 

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About Animal HealthLink

Animal HealthLink is a pioneering veterinary teletriage startup serving veterinary practices and hospitals across Canada and the USA. Founded during the height of the pandemic, their innovative platform was created to address perennial challenges in the industry such as staff shortages and burnout. Animal HealthLink allows practice owners to offer their clients 24/7 care and advice from veterinary professionals. When an animal guardian reaches out to their clinic with medical questions, a Registered Veterinary Technologist (RVT) will answer their call and triage the case using pictures, video and Animal HealthLink’s proven-safe triage algorithms. For true emergencies, Animal HealthLink provides first aid advice and logistics for in-person patient care. For ER hospitals, Animal HealthLink streamlines the triage process and creates operational efficiencies for busy emergency rooms. Animal HealthLink RVTs have an average of 15 years of clinical experience and can handle all major species, including companion animal, equine, bovine, exotic, and small ruminant patients. With a 99.99% safety margin, Animal HealthLink is able to give peace of mind to animal guardians while allowing veterinarians to provide the best care possible to their patients and preserve their work-life balance.

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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                 


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