Jasper Veterinary Clinic

Janet Jones, owner of the Jasper Veterinary Clinic was another kind local colleague who allowed me to visit her clinic and to say hello to her and to her friendly team.

The Jasper vets are treating both small animals and horses and the clinic has a branch 120 km away (!) in Valmount on the other side of the mountains in British Columbia. As in Canmore Janet’s clinic is surrounded by mountains and her employees must enjoy some of the most scenic journeys to work every morning.

Although her clinic appears to be small from the outside, with a tiny waiting room and only two consulting rooms, the building extends considerably out at the back – very similar to my old place in Virginia Water.

But unlike me, Janet had added extensive grooming facilities which – I know- my clients would have loved as well.

Janet took herself a considerable amount of time with her patients and went with her very satisfied clients through all aspects of preventative healthcare.

As in Karen McMillan’s place most dogs pull their owners into the consulting room and sit on the scales in expectation of a treat, which doesn’t take long to materialize. Most dogs ask to be weight at least 2-3 times….

Fearful dogs like this German Shepherd are approached in a lowered and indirect way to reduce anxiety. Both my colleague Victoria Rudolph and I applied similar techniques with our patients.

All in patients and surgical patients are prepared by her efficient team of technicians and animal care assistants.

The clinic performs a range of routine and advanced surgical procedures (Janet was just about to start a femoral head excision in a small dog with a chronically luxating hip joint) which are helped by the availability of a surgical laser.

I would have loved to spend more time talking to Janet and her fantastic team, but they had to attend to a long list of patients and my next hike was waiting ……

Walking the Skyline Trial and more encounters with dangerous animals

Another epic hike in the Canadian Rockies is the Skyline Trail between Maligne Lake and Signal Mountain on the outskirts of Jasper.

The highest point on the trail is the “The Notch” with over 2500 m altitude and it is normally a three day hike with two nights spend on one of the official campgrounds.

As permits for the camp sites were difficult to obtain and as one half (not me…) of the team did not appreciate the idea of being woken in the middle of the night by a hungry bear, I had checked us in at the Shovel Pass Lodge which is the only solid structure on the whole trail.

The lodge was in the middle of the trail and the only issue was getting there which meant 22km of hiking each way crossing two mountain passes and having to carry your own wine and cognac (!)……

Backpacks filled with bear spray and only the bare essentials (see above….), we set off early in the morning and after three hours passed the tree line, leaving the mosquitos behind, which was a relief as we had forgotten our mosquito spray (and I didn’t want to try using the B-spray for this purpose….).

The first “Little” Shovel Pass was crossed and beneath us opened a pristine alpine meadow, with no roads and buildings and the home of thousands of ground squirrels and marmots.

These sizeable rodents looked super cute but perceptions can be deceiving…..

After another couple of hours we crossed the second pass and while descending towards the cabin we were amazed how relaxed and approachable the marmots were; especially an older one that just couldn’t be bothered to run away at all.

Finally – after 7 hours on our feet – we reached the cabin and enjoyed both coffee and home made banana bread.

At dinner we met the other- all Canadian- hikers and learned not only that the tame marmot had a name – Mervin – but that he also had a bit of a reputation:

“Take all your leather containing boots inside the huts or he will have them !” we were told….

Another bad habit was that he had taken a liking to – preferably used – toilet tissue……

“And that’s not all” said one lady from Calgary “he even tried to make off with my hiking pole!”….To proof her point she provided us with the evidence:

Mervin caught in the act…….

After running away with the pole for not less than 100 meters, Mervin then failed to drag it down into his borrow, so that it could be retrieved, but not without considerable damage:

…..and there we were just worrying about the bears……

The next morning we gave “The Notch” a miss and headed back the way we came across the lunar landscape of the “Big” Shovel Pass

and the plateau

still with full sets of hiking boots and poles.

Running with a bear (in your mind ?…..)

After spending most of the day behind the wheel driving along the magnificent Icefield Parkway

between Lake Luise and Jasper, we managed to check in at a hotel near Sunwapta Falls.

The water of this spectacular waterfall feeds into the Athabasca River which then flows thousands of miles North into the Arctic Sea.

To put in some exercise for the day, I dug out my running shoes and decided to head past the waterfall along a local hiking track.

As I was aware that bears might be around, I took professional advice from Becky from Winchester who was manning the reception as part of a working holiday and got reassurance that it would be unlikely that I would run into one.

To be on the safe side I still took along my trusted bear spray and headed off…..

I felt reassured, when I passed a huge number of tourists at the falls and pressed on, down the well signposted hiking track to cover the 7 km to the first camp site called “The big bend” .

The trail was great, just a bit muddy at places but after a while it became more over grown and I realised that I hadn’t seen anyone for the last 2-3 km…..

Hmmm…..I became a bit uneasy, but as I didn’t want to give up so soon, I started shouting at regular intervals into the forest ahead of me, to warn all (larger) wildlife that I was approaching. Eventually I was in the middle of nowhere with still a couple of kilometers to go, when I thought that this was getting really silly and in fact dangerous……

As I was just about to turn around, there was suddenly someone shouting back just a few hundred meters infront of me and a moment later I passed two girls with back packs who were aiming for the camp site as well to spend the night there. They were much amused about the shouting German tourist in the woods….

Somewhat reassured that I was not alone, I carried on running and was eventually rewarded with the stunning scenery of the “Big Bend”

On my way back, I was again grasping my bear spray and start with my regular shouting and noisemaking but bumped first into another couple of hikers, the a group of another four with a Golden Retriever , who needed reassurance that I was not out of my mind and finally I met a couple with a small child…..

It was a great run, but admittedly, when I arrived back at the hotel, I felt a bit silly and the bear spray disappeared quickly in the boot of the car…..

After an additional evening stroll in the woods near the hotel (this time without the bear spray….), we set off the next morning to drive the remaining few miles to Jasper, when – not more than 200m from the hotel – we past this seemingly hungry fellow…

The bear spray is now back in my running belt and I am again happily shouting my way through the forest while in bear country……

Whaleback and Iceline Trail

If you want to avoid the crowds of Banff and Lake Louise while traveling the Canadian Rockies, you might consider joining the smaller crowds in nearby Yoho National Park.

The Whaleback and Iceline Trail is a great two day hike that offers a bit of everything the Rocky Mountains have to offer – high mountains, spectacular waterfalls, glaciers, peaceful lakes surrounded by fir tree forest and from time to time the odd moose crossing your path….

After a night at the rustic Whiskey Jack Hostel ( which had nothing to do with a guy called Jack and Whiskey was also not involved in the history of the place…..), the hiking trail started just next to the majestic Takakkaw Falls which are said to be four times as high as the Niagara Falls (but not that big….) Not bad for a start…….

Trekking North along the Yoho River past the “Laughing” Falls, brought us after 3 1/2 hour – unfortunately mostly in the rain – to the Twin Fall Chalet – an old timber structure with a lot of history which was run for many years as a tea house. Unfortunately Fran Drummond the very charismatic (70+year old !) proprietor who is said to still carry all supplies for her guests to the cabin herself , wasn’t in ( possibly shopping for new hiking boots?!….), so that we had to make do with a cup of tea on the front porch

(photo taken while thinking of all my Estonian friends…..).

That restored us well enough to scale the Whaleback – a partial ridge walk, which at 2200 m above sea level brings you up to the iceline and provides you with stunning views of the forest covered valley and the Yoho River below.

From there we eventually descended again the valley and joined the trail to the Stanley Mitchell Hut – another Canadian Alpine Club hut with matresses under the roof, an old woodburner and a couple of outside toilets – Silke was not really overwhelmed…

At least there was excellent company and she managed to gamble away a considerable share of our travel funds (ok, not really – she won most of the time..).

Next morning we continued our hike along the Iceline Trail, an iconic high route, passing one glacier after the next with even more (unfortunately retreating) glaciers now visible on the other side of the valley.After a short detour to Lake Yoho -extremely beautiful –

We returned to the hut and finished the day in style with an excellent (admittedly Australia) Red….

World class cross country skiing – if you don‘t get eaten by a bear…..

As some of you might know – crosscountry skiing and biathlon are some of my passions.

In North America you will struggle finding better training facilities than the beautifully located Nordic Skiing Centre in Canmore.

The Centre is home to the Canadian crosscountry skiing and the Biathlon teams with outstanding training and competition facilities.

When visiting – as a member of the London Region Nordic Skiing Club (you can imagine that there are not a lot of us around….) – I was given a guided tour of their gym, including the facilities for the top athletes, featuring a custom made treadmill for roller skies.

This beast is the size of a small gym itself and most of the machinery is underneath it in the ground, making it very difficult to fit it through the windows in the first place.

When exercising on the treadmill, athletes need to wear a harness and have to hook themselves up on a rope with a carabiner, to avoid injuries in case that they fall or faint, which happens from time to time if endurance limits are tested.

I was wondering – as the facilities are used by skiers from all over the world – how many world and olympic champions might have hung on this rope and this carabiner over the years…..

This is, providing that they were not attacked by a bear, which currently is a real problem (take a closer look at the small yellow sign..)

The ski tracks are used in the summer also by mountain bikers and runners and it is advisable to have “Bear Spray” ( a very strong pepper spray)

rather than your water bottle with you, when exercising in the forest, hoping that at the end of the session the only bear you have encountered was the one on the outside of your beer can……

A visit at the Canmore Veterinary Hospital

Quite a change of scenery…….

after leaving the urban jungle of downtown Toronto, I woke up to this view:

Checking in at the clubhouse of the Canadian Alpine Club in Canmore in Alberta and changing- very much to my wife’s dismay – from a junior suite to a couple of mattresses in the loft with shared kitchen and bathroom, I had arranged to meet Karen McMillan, a Canadian colleague, at a local veterinary clinic.

A bad (?) habit of me ( but also of a lot of other vets….) is that I love to visit colleagues in completely different parts of the world to compare notes and “to talk shop”.

Karen – who I had never met before – very kindly agreed to open the doors to her place in the heart of the Rocky Mountains and to show me around.

The first thought that I had while standing in front of her clinic was, that this was possible the most picturesque set up of a veterinary clinic I had ever seen…..

Resting in a peaceful valley at the foot of the mountains, built with a solid timber structure it was just beautiful.

This impression was enhanced when I entered the waiting room

featuring a wood burner and genuine blockhouse feel.

With the scales in the center (and not a corner) of the waiting room equiped with a jar of treats, dogs were pulling their owners through the door to be weight and to be greeted by the staff.

Karen who built this place with her colleague Sylvia McAllister some 25 years ago, took herself over an hour to show me every detail of the clinic and I have to say that I loved it !….

The consulting rooms were functional, but had a warm and friendly ambiance.

there was a separate room for rehabilitation consultations (which is one of Karen’s specialities) , a large preparation and in-patient area

day care facilities for dogs and cats and a dedicated operating theatre.

What surprised me was the small stock of anti-parasitics held at the clinic.

“Well” said Karen “we have ticks, but we don’t have any fleas here!'”…..

This very much matched what I had heard from my Scandinavian colleagues as well.

Building design (more tiled and wooden floors) and the colder temperatures make the difference.

Something else that was different, was that Karen rarely saw cats with fighting injuries.

“All the cats live indoors, because if they go outside they get eaten – usually by coyotes!”

OMG…..I suddenly realised how lucky our British feline friends are……

But there were also a lot of similarities with the medication we use, the anesthetic protocols and with our surgical workload.

It was really hard to leave this inspiring place and this friendly team of colleagues and I thought how lucky pet owners in Canmore are, to have veterinarians like Karen and her team.

The other thought was, that I could have done so many things differently and better, if I would have visited this place earlier….

One never seizes to learn…


One aspect that I wanted to explore further on my travels were the potential benefits of cannabinoids, which are products derived from the cannabis plant, for my patients.

Over the last couple of years we have been approached by an increasing number of pet owners, who wanted to use these components on their pets, which were suffering from a range of different conditions ( pre-dominantly arthritis, chronic pain and epilepsy). Although CBD (the non- high or intoxicating effect producing part) containing products are now legally available in the UK and in many other European countries, precious little is known about the efficacy and the best dosing ranges of these components in companion animals.

6 weeks ago I spoke to Enid Stiles (http://www.montrealdogblog.com/contributors/stile-file-dr-enid-stiles/) at the Federation of Veterinarians in Europe (FVE) meeting in Bratislava. Enid is the Vice President of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and she was giving a presentation on the subject. The background was that Canada had legalized cannabis in October 2018 for human use and this had started intens research also in the veterinary field to get cannabinoids licensed for pets as well.

There was imens interest in Enid’s excellent presentation and her talk was certainly one of the highlights of the meeting, despite the fact that she too could not provide us with detailed answers regarding the use of cannabinoids in pets, as the research is still ongoing.

Even more reason for me to investigate this a bit more on my own, when I artived in Toronto.

To start off on this quest, I headed first for one of the now totally legal stores that was selling cannabinoids for human consumption and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised:

The store looked bright and clean and the products were displayed in professional packaging, not dissimilar to handsets in a mobile phone shop.

All products came with detailed information about their purpose and on their THC (the “high inducing ” component) and CBD content. In addition to this it took not more than 2 minutes, until a smartly dressed shop assistant offered further help and advice. The only thing missing was George Clooney walking in, to make it the complete Nespresso experience…..

It showed me two things – once legalized the consumption of cannabinoids becomes mainstream in no time and that there is a lot of money to be made by the companies involved.

Next stop was the trade exhibition at the WSAVA Congress…..

Here too where at least three different stands promoting cannabinoids for the veterinary market, but interestingly not displaying any packaging or any detailed information.

“We are here just to let you guys know that we are around and that we are working on it. Watch this space….” was the standard reply when visiting the stands.

Pharmaceutical companies paying for the probably most expensive exhibition space at any vet congress worldwide, just to say “hello” and without selling anything?….

The last time that – at least to my knowledge- something similar happened, was when Pfizer was about to launch Viagra and we all know what a commercial success that was…..

The next day I attended the only lecture on the subject titled: “Cannabis for pet pain” by the rather colorful S.Cital from – yes, you might have guessed it – California. 

His both enlightening and entertaining talk gave an insight into the complexities of investigating and identifying the individual components of the plant and of separating the useful molecules.

Recent research had indeed confirmed that especially CBDs have an anti-inflammatory effect and that cannabinoids have an effect on the speed of neurotransmission. The best therapeutic effect is achieved with oral formulations ( usually oils) and seemingly with a combination of THCs, CBDs and other analgesics where the concurrent use of cannabinoids often allows a reduction of the dosage of traditional pain killers. However, rather worrying were the findings of a recent Penn study, which showed that 70% of Cannabis products were mislabeled…..

So certainly encouraging but still a lot of work to be done.

Finally, on the last day of the conference I ran into Sarah Silcox, an Ontario based veterinary surgeon who is the President and Director of CAVCM, the Canadian Association of Veterinary Cannabinoid Medicine. This organization is following the ongoing research closely and is collecting a lot of treatment date. They are also offering help and advice (at least to their members) and my gut feeling is, that over the next few years they will become very busy……

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings…..

Toronto turns out to be hard work and little sleep ……

At yesterday’s VIP Summit we supported the signature of a position statement to facilitate the harmonization of the licensing of veterinary medicine.

A lot of especially smaller countries struggle to have accesss to sometimes vital medicines because the national licensing process is taking too long or might be prohibitively expensive so that these drugs never reach needy patients.

By accepting bonified drug trials and licensing in other countries can licensing cost be considerably reduced and these medicines be made available.

Good to see that the EU, partially due to my colleagues at the Federation of Veterinarians in Europe (FVE) are one of the most proactive institutions.

This unfortunately stands in clear contrast to the uncertainty for the availability of especially new veterinary medicines in the UK in case of a No-Deal Brexit scenario……

So time for some fun after the meeting…..

Bringing colleagues together for the benefit of our patients

I was proud to jointly host the first meeting of FIAVAC , the Federation of Spanish and Portuguese Speaking Small Animal Veterinary Associations and FECAVA, the Federation of European Companion Animal Veterinary Associations at the WSAVA Congress in #Toronto #FECAVA #FIAVAC It was decided to explore opportunities to work together on matters of animal welfare, antimicrobial resistance and canine vector borne diseases.

These are issue of concern not only in Europe but also in Central and South America. Hopefully we will be able to maintain and to extend this dialogue.

Events like these make a nice change from my work in general practice and it is exciting to be able to use my experiences from general practice in Virginia Water into this global meetings for the benefit of colleagues and patients worldwide.