SamyraBy REBECA KUROPATWA

Growing up in Winnipeg with a dad who is a pilot, Dr. Samyra Stuart-Altman had the unique opportunity to experience different places growing up – spending some time in Thompson, MB, and the Caribbean – while otherwise being on a fairly common Jewish childhood trajectory – going to school at Brock Corydon, then River Heights, followed by Kelvin.
“One thing I was really drawn to in all the places we travelled to was animals – hence, my journey into veterinary medicine, which has become my passion and profession today,” said Stuart-Altman.

 


Once she decided on becoming a veterinarian, Stuart-Altman did her pre-veterinary studies at the University of Winnipeg (U of W) before moving to Saskatoon to do her veterinary medicine degree, as that is the only veterinary school in western Canada.
Even while working toward her vet degree, Stuart-Altman started working at the practice that she eventually decided to join – Central Veterinary Services in Oak Bluff.
“It’s such a busy and bustling practice,” said Stuart-Altman. “I had all kinds of experience right out of the gate...well, even before I was out of the gate. I’ve set up shop there and have been there ever since.
“We are a mixed

animal practice, so we not only have a large companion animal practice with dogs and cats, but we also have a mobile or ambulatory practice. That means that our vets head out on the road to do farm calls with horses, cows, alpacas, goats, you name it. If you can find it on a farm, we see it. It’s a pretty diverse client base, which I really enjoy. I don’t like the same thing to happen every day, so that’s exactly what I don’t get at my current place of employment.”
Stuart-Altman, who lives with her husband and their two cats, works 10 hour days, which translate to only four days a week, leaving her with three days to do as she pleases. While for most young professionals, this might mean time at the lake or such, Stuart-Altman prefers to use her leisure time to volunteer for a myriad of vet-related NGOs.
“I wanted to be a vet forever, since I was five-years-old,” said Stuart-Altman. “Then, I graduated and I just wanted to be a really good vet, so I focused on that. That never ends. My focus eventually shifted to being able to share that expertise or skill set, and apply it to, not only the health of the animals in our province, but also to the health of the people who live with these animals in our province.


“So, at that point, I teamed up with a rescue group, called, ‘Save a Dog Network.’ Our first project was to do a remote vaccine clinic in York Landing (northern MB). That was about three years ago.
“So, we flew up there, to a community where there had never been a veterinarian before. It’s a fly-in or winter roads community, as far as access. We vaccinated about 120 animals, de-wormed them all. We examined every single dog or cat that came to us and set up a relationship with that community, to then come back numerous times to do a spay neuter clinic...to the point where they don’t really have a problem with some of the infectious diseases they were seeing with dogs or the overpopulation they were seeing, or aggressive roaming dog packs. So, that was the initial project.”


This experience, while exhausting only fuelled Stuart-Altman’s passion. She started regularly heading up to northern Manitoba remote communities, offering veterinary care that she wholeheartedly believes everyone deserves.
“I ended up also volunteering with another group called CARE that focuses on the feline side of things in the north end,” said Stuart-Altman. “So, we spay and neuter at a highly subsidized rate for pet owners that have cats that need care.


“I also volunteer with Community Veterinary Outreach, which is a program across Canada that offers a one-health approach to veterinary medicine and human medicine. So, we set up these clinics, where homeless people bring their dogs or cats. Clients who are vulnerably-housed or street-involved who have pets that need care, they go through a little circuit – getting a veterinary exam, a dental exam for their pets, but then they can also move on and get a dental exam for themselves and a flu shot for themselves. It’s pretty cool system.”
Besides these, Stuart-Altman also volunteers for the Winnipeg Humane Society (WHS) on the board of directors. “I was definitely one of those kids who’d beg and plead for my mom to take me to the Humane Society, just so I could look at the dogs and cats. I went to the Humane Society day camp when I was a kid. Being on the board of directors now is full circle.”
Stuart-Altman also has an artistic side. She unfortunately had to leave aside her favourite medium – water colours – as cats would ruin her work by walking across it. So, instead she moved onto pen and ink. “This became a way for me to sit down and relax, and do something, even if I was on call,” said Stuart-Altman. “After that, I started accidentally doing custom portraits for friends’ dogs and cats. Then, people started hearing about it and clients asked for it. And, it turned into this side project, called, ‘Ink Naturally.’”


Stuart-Altman started up a shop on Etsy.com, selling her work, but also donating it when shelters have silent auctions needing prizes, such as a print or a custom-made pet portrait.
Stuart-Altman’s latest adventure involved going to Mexico to do a spay and neuter clinic with other vets from around the world. “I’d like to take a lot of that information and move forward with assembling more of an official task force in Manitoba, so we can make a bigger impact locally on our dog and cat population,” she said.
“My focus is always going to be in these remote communities that are under-serviced and unfairly ignored. But sometimes, all it takes is seeing somebody doing something positive and realizing, for future volunteers, it’s not that hard to get involved. And so, I’d like to set that example and assemble a bigger team to make a bigger and faster impact in our province.”