Tannicka Reeves is a first-year veterinary student at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).. Submitted photo.

Vet student’s future compass points North

Tannicka Reeves was 12 years old when she finally convinced her mom that they needed a dog. Little did she know that raising and caring for their new pup Koeda would be a life-changing experience.

By Lynne Gunville

“Going to the veterinarian with Koeda and trying to learn everything I could do to give him the best life opened my eyes to a role in society that I wanted to pursue,” says Reeves, now a first-year veterinary student at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).

“I wanted to take care of other people’s pets and animals and help them to provide their animals with the best life they could give to them.”

Reeves had a chance to investigate a veterinary career further a couple of years later during a careers class at her high school in Whitehorse, Yukon. She was linked with a veterinary student who outlined some of the challenges and recommended that she start volunteering and working to maintain a high average — measures that would help to prepare her for veterinary medicine.

While Reeves worked hard to achieve high grades, she also took the time to enjoy her beautiful Yukon surroundings. Outdoor education classes provided her with many wonderful opportunities for canoeing, hiking and kayaking.

“In my Grade 9 outdoor education program, we actually went on a seven-day kayaking trip on Little Atlin Lake which was quite memorable for me,” Reeves recalls. “It was the first time I had been on my traditional land for a prolonged period of time.”

Reeves and her family belong to the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, located in Atlin, B.C. Although she grew up in Whitehorse, Reeves loves to spend time on her people’s traditional land and enjoys learning about her culture and listening to stories shared by the elders.

“Anytime I am in Atlin, one spot in particular, I always have this feeling of peace and completeness as a person,” says Reeves. “I always feel the most myself and at ease when I am in Atlin. I haven’t felt that way anywhere else.”

Reeves moved to Saskatoon, Sask., where she completed a Bachelor of Science in Animal Bioscience degree at the University of Saskatchewan (USask). Reeves also found time to volunteer at Saskatoon clinics, and after graduation, those experiences helped her to land a job in Whitehorse.  

“Working at Alpine Veterinary Medical Centre definitely prepared me the most for veterinary medicine,” says Reeves. “I learned about what a veterinarian does and what their schedules could be like, and I was able to get experience working with the people who own the animals. I enjoyed getting to know the staff, and some of the best moments were when everyone was having fun and making jokes.”

The clinic owners — Drs. Matt Allen, Amanda Breuer, Rick Brown (WCVM ’98) and Kim Friedenberg (WCVM ’98) — were also outstanding mentors. They guided Reeves, supported her at the clinic and encouraged her during her application process to the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program.

Reeves’ knowledge and experiences are serving her well at the WCVM. She’s enjoying all of her classes and appreciates the fact that they are designed to align in context, allowing her and her classmates to integrate the information they’ve learned during biomedical rounds when they review real-life case studies.

When Reeves thinks about the future, she’s looking forward to returning to Whitehorse and working in a private practice after graduation.

“I know that right now in the Yukon there is a great demand for veterinary clinic services, and the veterinarians are feeling the strain,” says Reeves. “I feel that [the Yukon] is where I can make a bit of difference for not only the veterinary medical personnel but for the residents of Whitehorse.”

Reeves also likes the idea of living close to her family and her traditional land once again. She hopes to immerse herself further into her Tlingit culture in order to learn some generational knowledge that she can pass on to her own children some day.

Most of all, Reeves looks forward to spending time with her mom who has been her “biggest supporter” as well as her younger sister Leandrea and her dog Koeda.

“Thankfully Koeda is still alive but getting on in years,” says Reeves. “I couldn’t bring myself to remove him from the home and family he’s known all his life, so I asked my mom to take care of my best friend for me. And now he takes care of my mom and sister just as much as they take care of him.”