Nov. 23, 2022

Exploring the world of veterinary medicine with Indigenous youth – and their pets

Grant from PetSmart Charities of Canada supports a program that provides animal care in the community and helps vet med students become better practitioners

Calgary, AB – Students on the Stoney Nakoda First Nation are getting a broader taste of what it might be like to be a veterinarian when they grow up, thanks to a new grant from PetSmart Charities of Canada that supports expansion of a partnership between the Stoney Nakoda and the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM).

A group of faculty, staff and graduate students helped set up the youth outreach partnership in 2018, which has UCVM faculty and students visiting schools with the goal of presenting veterinary medicine as a potential career option to Stoney Nakoda youth. An advisory council of Elders, educators and others on the First Nations community was established at that time to guide the evolving program.

“Support from PetSmart Charities expands on this initiative by giving us the funds to build a program that will include ongoing Nakoda youth engagement and mentorship, as well providing veterinary services in the community. Our third-year vet med class will provide wellness clinics for companion animals on-site in Morley in partnership with community members, and a fourth-year clinical rotation will have students providing veterinary services for animals. Interested Nakoda youth will have an opportunity to help with both clinics.”

Dr. Susan Kutz, DVM, an instructor at UCVM

UCVM instructor Dr. Susan Kutz, DVM and postdoctoral associate Dr. Tessa Baker, DVM, partnered with the Stoney Nakoda on the initiative. The funding allows them to broaden the experiences they can offer young people and the experiences that veterinary medicine students will gain through engagement with people in the community throughout the curriculum.

“To meet continued demand for quality, accessible care, we need to inspire more young people to pursue careers in veterinary medicine. We’re proud to support this meaningful effort to help veterinary students and young people partner to make an impact on pets, people and communities.”

Kate Atema, Director, Community Grants & Initiatives, PetSmart Charities of Canada

By learning together, the researchers say students will develop stronger relationships with First Nations peoples, better understand the relationships Indigenous peoples have with their animals, and, as a result, become better veterinary practitioners.

The program will include first-year vet med students viewing the documentary, Ahomapénî; Relations and Rez Dogs, produced by the Stoney Nakoda Audio Visual Club. The documentary discusses community perspectives on their dogs and how their dogs are viewed by outsiders, with guided discussions with AV Club members and a Nakoda Elder. Members of the second-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine class will deliver the youth outreach sessions at the schools and hear from Elders and youth about traditional relationships with, and language around, animals in a two-way learning experience.

“Throughout the development of this program, consultation with the Stoney Nakoda community is key to understanding their needs and how UCVM can work with them around animal health. We will continually assess progress of the program against community objectives and adjust as necessary.”

Dr. Tessa Baker, DVM, postdoctoral associate, UCVM

“My favourite part of the vet experience was looking at different diseases through the microscope and learning how to wrap an animal's leg if the animal is injured,” says Lecavaler Simeon, a student at Morley Community School, which recently had a visit from UCVM. “Thank you for coming and showing us all these cool things.”

“We are always looking for opportunities to spark an interest in postsecondary education and science careers,” says Doug Teed, a science teacher at the school. “Many of our students have a natural interest in animals because they might have cows, horses, dogs and cats at home. I saw many students engaging with the veterinary students and staff, learning about the animals’ anatomy, as well as getting some hands-on experience learning to diagnose and treat various ailments and conditions.”

Media inquiries

Tessa Baker, DVM
Postdoctoral Scholar
University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

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About PetSmart Charities of Canada 
PetSmart Charities of Canada is committed to making the world a better place for pets and all who love them. Through its in-store adoption program in all PetSmart® stores across the country, PetSmart Charities of Canada helps thousands of pets connect with loving families each year. PetSmart Charities of Canada also provides grant funding to support organizations that advocate and care for the well-being of all pets and their families. Our grants and efforts connect pets with loving homes through adoption, improve access to affordable veterinary care and support families in times of crisis with access to food, shelter and emergency relief. Each year, thousands of generous supporters help pets in need by donating to PetSmart Charities of Canada directly at, while shopping at, and by using the PIN pads at checkout registers inside PetSmart stores. In turn, PetSmart Charities of Canada efficiently uses more than 90 cents of every dollar donated to fulfill its role as the leading funder of animal welfare in Canada, granting more than $25 million since its inception in 1999. Independent from PetSmart LLC, PetSmart Charities of Canada is a registered Canadian charity. To learn more, visit