Itinerant veterinarian to visit Nome on a regular basis
After more than three years of having no constant veterinarian presence in Nome, a retired vet from Delaware has decided to come here on a regular basis to serve the dogs, cats and a few horses of Nome and the region.
The veterinarian is Gil Van Sciver and he most recently has treated pet patients in early to mid May. He plans to visit Nome on a monthly basis.
“I came here with the Iditarod,” Van Sciver told The Nome Nugget. “I retired from practice in Delaware and wanted to see Alaska.” Speaking with Iditarod head veterinarian Stu Nelson, Van Sciver became aware of the lack of a veterinarian in Nome. Sandra Rowe, owner of the Nome Animal House, a boarding, grooming and pet supply store, has long advocated for an itinerant veterinarian and took steps to prepare a room at her business to function as an examination and surgical space. Rowe applied for and received a small business grant from NSEDC to purchase equipment necessary for surgeries and anesthesia. She offered to host a veterinarian and assist. The Nome animal welfare group PAWS organized a few spay and neuter clinics with Alaska Rural Veterinarian Outreach.
Earlier this year, Dr. Denali Lovely of North Pole came to hold a clinic at the Animal House.
But what was missing was a constant vet presence that now seems to be in reach.
Van Sciver said he was encouraged that the nucleus of a vet practice exists already at the Animal House. After the Iditarod he stayed in Nome to volunteer for the Nome Kennel Club’s Nome-Council 200 sled dog race and once the event was over, he saw Nome animal patients that were on a long waiting list. Initially, Sandra Rowe was the only person to assist him with surgeries. This proved to be difficult as Rowe had to tend to her business at the same time. When Van Sciver came to Nome again in May, he brought Samatha Freeborn, a vet tech from Anchorage, and recruited local assistance from Michele Zelaya, who is also massage therapist at Arctic Chiropractic.
During the veterinarian’s most recent visit last week, they worked on 30 surgeries, mainly spays and neuters, but also they amputated a leg off a dog , performed lump removals, dental work and general exams. “We’re getting close to the end of the waiting list,” said Van Sciver between patients. “It’s been a mad house.”
With dogs coming in for appointments, and leaving with cones over their heads, Rowe answers the constantly ringing phone of anxious dog owners who want to know who their pet’s surgery went. All the while Van Sciver is in the back room finishing up a spay surgery.
Although Van Sciver is mainly working on cats and dogs, he has a background in large animals and horses.
He said expected that the animal population in Nome would be more sled dogs than anything else, but found that he’s treating dogs of all breeds and sizes. He noticed a large population of non-spayed or neutered animals, which is no surprise. He also noted a few signs of subpar treatment of dogs being tied up outside houses without obvious signs that people care for them. He cautioned pet owners who bring in their pets for surgery, that the pets must be cared for after the operation. “You can’t just tie them up outside after surgery,” he said. The animal needs to be cared for, spend some time in a cage inside for the wounds to heal properly. “Otherwise they came back to me with more complications,” he said. Van Sciver recommended to get the animal used to spend some time in a kennel or a cage prior to their surgery so that they do not freak out when they find themselves “locked up” after their operation.
“Having a dog is a serious commitment,” Van Sciver said. “If you plan on having a pet, you need to realize that you have to learn how to keep it, how to exercise it and keep to a health care plan that starts with vaccinations at eight weeks of age.”
He also linked the importance to taking care of one’s pet to the wellbeing of the family and the community as whole. However, as health care for people is exceedingly expensive and a source of anxiety for those who await what the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act will look like, caring for animals seems to be an afterthought. But if one choses to have a pet, their care should be not an optional luxury but a promise that needs to be kept.
Talking about pricing the veterinarians services, both Rowe and Van Sciver said that vet care in rural Alaska is an expensive endeavor, with spays running approximately $350 and neuters being just under $300.
Rowe said she will continue to host low cost spay and neuter clinics, but in order to make it worthwhile for the veterinarian to come here, there must be adequate pay to cover expenses. “It’s hard to lock in prices,” Rowe said. “But we need to consider expenses such as paying two vet techs, bringing one up here to Nome from Anchorage, hiring one extra person on to help at the Animal House.”
While in Nome, Van Sciver also treated animals that were sent in from the outlying communities. This spurred a thought to take the vet’s services not only to Nome but also into the villages. Van Sciver added ideas of pursuing grants that would allow him and a vet tech to visit the communities and perform veterinary work there. Given the expenses involved and the economic realities in rural Alaska, this would need to be supported by grants or subsidies.
Van Sciver is scheduled to come to Nome again on June 12.