Members of the WCVM’s Northern Engagement and Community Outreach program (left to right): Dr. Jordan Woodsworth (DVM, PhD), Katara Chanin (RVT) and Paiten Viklund, the program's administrative support. Photo: Christina Weese.
Members of the WCVM’s Northern Engagement and Community Outreach program (left to right): Dr. Jordan Woodsworth (DVM, PhD), Katara Chanin (RVT) and Paiten Viklund, the program's administrative support. Photo: Christina Weese.

PetSmart Charities of Canada invests in USask program addressing access to veterinary care

Over the next four years, the Northern Engagement and Community Outreach (NECO) program at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) will receive $860,000 from PetSmart Charities of Canada in support of efforts addressing access to veterinary care in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia and Canada’s northern territories.

By Tyler Schroeder

The grant will support the leadership role of Dr. Jordan Woodsworth (DVM, PhD), director of the NECO program at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM). As part of her responsibilities, Woodsworth will develop vital data reports that provide organizations in the WCVM’s partner regions with information for improved access to veterinary care practice and policies.

“The fact that there’s such a willingness on PetSmart Charities of Canada’s behalf to invest in the NECO team and our goals means that they’ve recognized the need for innovative work and believe in what we’re doing,” says Woodsworth.

“We’re very proud of NECO’s partnership with PetSmart Charities of Canada in addressing urgent access-to-care issues in northern communities throughout our college’s partner regions. This funding grant allows the NECO team to work with community stakeholders in gathering fundamental knowledge that will lead to improvements in practices and policies,” says Dr. Gillian Muir, WCVM dean.

“While we know there is a pressing need to build accessible veterinary care in Canada’s remote regions, there is much more to uncover,” says Dr. Robyn Jaynes (DVM), director of veterinary affairs at PetSmart Charities of Canada.

“We’re proud to support this critical research in regions excluded from the veterinary care system altogether. The NECO program at WCVM expects the learnings to result in more equitable access to veterinary care, while also inspiring veterinary learners to do their part to enact change. Sharing the findings nation-wide promises to inform other pet and human serving organizations to evolve the veterinary care landscape in Canada for the better over the next decade.”

Woodsworth’s team will work with stakeholders to define the current state of veterinary care access in each of the partner regions. They will also identify opportunities for improvement from both practice and policy standpoints.

Dr. Jordan Woodsworth (right) examines a dog during a wellness clinic held at Muskeg Lake, Sask., in March 2024. Supplied photo.

“We want to know who is involved, where the existing capacity is, and what communities and individuals experiencing inadequate access want and need to address those gaps.”

Another key aspect of the program is to better understand what graduates of veterinary medicine and veterinary technology training programs are learning about spectrum of care (or contextualized care), culturally safe practices, and skills in community-engaged work.

Spectrum of care involves tailoring veterinary care based on a range of contextual factors that are often unique to each individual case and the client, patient and veterinarian involved in that case.

“Understanding what is currently offered helps us identify opportunities for bolstering these skill sets in graduates from veterinary professional training institutions so we can build a profession with the tools to address the needs of our world in socially conscious and equitable ways,” says Woodsworth. 

“For example, are resources like telemedicine in place in these places, and if they are, are they actually reducing barriers? Are the people who need access aware of telemedicine and is it readily available and effective?”

She adds that her team is exploring ways for veterinarians and RVTs to partner with northern communities.

“We’re looking to build data on how WCVM and other veterinary training institutions can best equip their graduates with the skills and knowledge of working to improve access to care once they’re in the workforce.”

Woodsworth worked with community partners to create the college’s NECO program in 2014, initially starting with a small spay-neuter clinic in the tri-community area of La Ronge, Air Ronge and Lac La Ronge Indian Band. NECO now organizes two remote clinics per year in La Ronge, along with an annual spay-neuter and wellness clinic in Île-à-la-Crosse, Sask.

PetSmart Charities of Canada provides funding in support of organizations that advocate and care for the well-being of all pets and their families. The registered charity began its partnership with NECO in 2023 with an initial $405,000 grant to launch a three-year pilot program for increased outreach and expansion.

The funding supports the work of Katara Chanin, a registered veterinary technologist (RVT), whose time is focused on NECO-related programs and helping to make connections with new communities. In the past year, the pilot program has expanded its reach to Cumberland House, Buffalo Narrows and Muskeg Lake Cree Nation where organizers have collaborated with local residents to hold smaller wellness clinics offering basic pet health services and information resources.

While the pilot program helps to improve access to care for Saskatchewan communities, the new four-year program is looking at the issues with a much wider lens spanning three western Canadian provinces and three northern territories.

“The work that we’re doing is really outside of the box. PetSmart Charities of Canada has been so flexible and enthusiastic about our partnership through frequent dialogue and embracing our creativity,” says Woodsworth. “They’ve asked us to share our experiences with organizations across Canada and U.S. It’s really exciting to get this type of support.”