Northern Sask. artists inspired by dog research

Reprinted with permission from (The StarPhoenix, Saskatoon, SK), as part of Canada’s Local Journalism Initiative. More stories can be found at theregional.com.

Julia Peterson
Local Journalism Initiative

Most PhD researchers present their findings in data tables and summary reports — not in local art galleries.

But Jordan Woodsworth and her colleagues, along with the La Ronge Arts Council, are taking a different approach.

Woodsworth, a veterinarian, has been studying the relationship between dogs and humans in northern Saskatchewan communities.

As part of the Healthy Dogs, Healthy Communities project, she has heard from community members in La Ronge, Air Ronge and the Lac La Ronge Indian Band about what their dogs mean to them.

The project has collected information about how having dogs around affects their lives and how they feel about dog management in communities like theirs that don’t have regular access to animal health services.

And as she started to put her findings together, she wanted to make sure the information could get out to the people most affected by it.

That was when Genevieve Candelora, a community-based member of the Healthy Dogs, Healthy Communities team, came up with the idea for an art show.

“Genevieve suggested that one way to reach more folks with our research findings would be to hire several local artists — because the area has a lot of really active, talented creatives — so she suggested that we commission art pieces from local artists to communicate our research findings,” said Woodsworth.

In the end, 17 local artists were commissioned to make paintings, fabric art, collages, digital art, beadwork, story skirts and mixed media creations based on the research findings.

Their work is now on display as the ATIM MASKIHKIY: Dog Medicine exhibit at the Mistasinihk Gallery in La Ronge.

Brandon White, the media co-ordinator for the project, said taking an artistic approach can help people engage with the science in new ways.

“We don’t have to put things in boxes: This is veterinary medicine, this is art, this is policy,“ he said. “Art is a great way to build bridges between these areas and hear more types of voices.”

And White said even though he was born and raised in the north, seeing the art in this exhibit has been a moving and surprising experience for him.

“In the north, we relate to our animals in many ways — as friends, as family, as working animals,“ he said. “Dogs do a lot of things for people in the north. And in doing this project, I realized, this is one of the oldest relationships for a reason.”

Woodsworth hopes this exhibit will help spark policy change — including getting more resources for veterinary care for dogs in the north — celebrate dog-human relationships as a part of community health, and push back on stereotypes about how dogs are treated in northern communities.

“The biggest takeaway is that dogs are really highly valued, and are a hugely important part of the community,” she said.

“I think, much of the time, southerners see in the media that a lot of issues being talked about with dogs in the north are about dogs being removed from communities, dogs being surrendered or there being health problems. And I think people oftentimes assume that dogs aren’t well cared for — and that’s just not the case.

“People have really deep emotional and spiritual connections to their dogs.”

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