Animal health care remains scarce in Nome

The city of Nome relies on a traveling veterinarian from the East Coast, who visits Nome every six to eight weeks to provide animal health care services.
Published: Jul. 22, 2022 at 4:40 AM AKDT
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NOME, Alaska (KTUU) - Mayor of Nome John Handeland has many furry friends running around his home.

“I used to have four Rottweilers,” Handeland said. “Now I have five pugs and just adopted a Rottweiler out of Anchorage a week ago.”

As a proud dog dad, Handeland knows exactly what it takes to take care of his pets, especially in his city of Nome, where getting regular health care has not been accessible for at least the past five years after Nome lost its veterinarian of 30 years. Now the city relies on a traveling veterinarian from the East Coast, who visits Nome every six to eight weeks to provide animal health care services to Nome residents and the 18 surrounding villages in the region.

However, not having a primary veterinarian in the community can be a struggle — especially when an emergency hits — which is a scenario Handeland has experienced first-hand.

“One of my rotties was gored by a musk ox,” Handeland said. “That was a little bit of a tense situation being able to, you know get him stabilized here in Nome before we could take him and get him on a plane and out to Southside Animal (Hospital) to get him emergency surgery.”

Despite that experience, Handeland said that Nome has adapted well to not having a primary veterinarian on site. This includes, he said, taking advantage of when there is a veterinarian in the community by making sure to schedule any appointments and check-ups pets may need ahead of time.

“When there is an opportunity that somebody does come through town I really encourage people to take advantage of it,” Handeland said.

Handeland said that practicing preventive health care is key, not only ensuring that pets remain healthy, but also avoiding the potential of a health care emergency by being proactive when health struggles in pets start to appear. When situations like those arise, Nome residents have the option to use telehealth with the veterinarian as well.

“He has been available by phone and pictures with a vet tech here in Nome to assist in any diagnosis and emergency care if you need an antibiotic or something like that,” Handeland said. “He is able to prescribe that stuff remotely.”

Programs such as those are a game changer for the community, allowing them to receive feedback about the health of their pets while the veterinarian is not in the region, as Nome waits to someday welcome home a veterinarian to their community.

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