Two rabid dogs have been identified in Whapmagoostui, a Cree community in a remote region of northern Quebec. Rabies is very rare in dogs in Canada, and in recent years, much of the concern has revolved around rabies in dogs from northern communities. Rabies is endemic in Arctic foxes, and dogs can be infected from contact with such animal, and then act as a bridge for transmission to other dogs and people. Rabid dogs have also inadvertently been shipped to more southern regions of Canada as part of rescue programs.
Whapmagoostui, along the east coast of Hudson Bay, has many of the typical challenges of northern communities based on its remote location, with access only by plane or seasonally by boat, no veterinarian and a roaming dog population. The presence of packs of roaming dogs appears to be new, as indicated by public health officer Reggie Tomatuk in a CBC interview. “When I listen to our elders, they said to me ‘we never let our dogs loose in the community. That never happened before. It’s not just Whapmagoostui, but it’s all over the Cree Nation.”
While challenges in the north are different than in the south, the same big issues create risk, including unvaccinated, roaming animals. Increasing rabies vaccination coverage in dogs in the north is important but can be difficult and expensive. Reducing roaming and encounters with wildlife requires efforts in (and directed by) communities. These cases also highlight the need for care when transporting dogs, whether it’s importing from another country or from a region with different disease risks within the same country.