Making (dog)house calls

Animal Ark provides mobile vet services to pets in all corners of the city


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Many people who choose to live with the companionship of animals know the stress of taking an ailing pet to a veterinary clinic. Pet lovers will go to great lengths to ensure their furry friends are well looked after. That’s where having a veterinarian who makes house calls can be a real game-changer.

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Many people who choose to live with the companionship of animals know the stress of taking an ailing pet to a veterinary clinic. Pet lovers will go to great lengths to ensure their furry friends are well looked after. That’s where having a veterinarian who makes house calls can be a real game-changer.

Dr. Lisa Sawka started Animal Ark Veterinary Services in 2006.

“It was something I always wanted to do. It always came back to that, ever since I was young. I found a happiness there,” said Sawka, whose interest in veterinary medicine began in elementary school.

Dr. Lisa Sawka with two of her cats; the travelling vet operates Animal Ark Veterinary Services. (Ethan Cairns / Winnipeg Free Press)

For 16 years, the house-call vet has been seeing patients in their own homes. What began as a part-time practice quickly became a full-time one, caring for animals where they live.

“People really like house-call practice,” Sawka said. “All the clients are super; they appreciate us coming to their house. We have two full-time staff vet assistants; they are super helpful.”

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Sawka graduated from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. She has over 20 years of clinical and emergency medicine experience, and is a member of the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.

She has worked for the Winnipeg Humane Society, travelling to Churchill to do spay-and-neuter clinics, and now goes to the northern town for yearly vaccination clinics with Animal Ark. She also helps out the East Beaches Animal Shelter in the Victoria Beach and Traverse Bay area.

“When you go into vet medicine you think, ‘I’m going to interact with animals,’ but as you practise you learn that you’re getting to know the people as well. The moms and dads of the fur babies, the families, the kids grow up, and they have their own and their partners, the people and relationships. It’s so nice.”

A day in the life of a mobile vet starts off with preparing the necessary daily supplies, packing the vehicle, sometimes delivering medications, and heading off to see where the animals live, arriving at the first client’s home by 10 a.m. Dr. Sawka and her team will visit between eight and 10 homes per day, from one end of the city to the other.

Patients include cats and dogs of all ages, from kittens and puppies onward, the occasional rabbit and sometimes even a bird, but only if it belongs to a longtime client.

For Nancy Gill, having the mobile service makes life a lot easier.

“Dr. Sawka and her assistant have come to give my highly energetic big puppy his shots,” Gill says of Faro, her two-year-old husky. “They are so patient with him. Even though he can barely stay still long enough to get weighed and vaccinated, they are professionals and get the job done. He loves to see them come to visit him. And I love the fact that I can access veterinary services when I don’t have a car.

“I need heartworm pills for him every year and she sends a reminder when his next shots are due. She updates his little ‘shots record book’ for me, which is great, because I couldn’t remember everything.”

Non-emergency veterinary services include complete physical examinations and weight checks, vaccinations, heartworm and complete blood testing, dispensing medications and deworming, nutritional counselling, microchipping, diagnosis and treatment of non-surgical conditions, minor injury care and even in-home end-of-life care/euthanasia.


Dr. Lisa Sawka says operating a mobile veterinary service is as much about helping the owners as the pets.

Ideal for busy pet owners, especially those with multiple pets, the in-home vet service can lessen the stress for both pets and their owners. Many animals get anxious going to a clinic or ill on car rides. Being at home results in comfort and calm for all involved. Clients can reassure their pets by holding them during the exam and any diagnostic procedures.

Animal Ark veterinary professionals are fear-free certified, having completed a program that provides training, tools and knowledge to address different levels of fear, anxiety and stress in pets; enhances client communication; and increases workplace safety.

“We try our best to handle pets who are anxious in a way that makes visits positive. We restrain animals less, and incorporate lots of treats. The owners don’t get hurt. If an animal has a pleasant visit, then their next one will be (too),” said Sawka, the busy mother of two, and mom to Chewy, a senior dog rescued from a puppy mill, and cats Demitri, Laser and Timmy.

Over the years, Animal Ark has remained steadily busy. “We have throughout the pandemic. There’s just such a demand right now,” said Sawka about the growing interest for in-home vet services. “People really like the idea.”

Though there is currently a waiting list of 50 people, Sawka expects to be able to take on new patients in the fall. Whether the appointments are for routine wellness exams, boosters, palliative care or chronic pain management, the bottom line is ensuring that beloved family pets are comfortable and happy.

“It’s all about helping animals, using common sense to come up with a diagnosis, and making them better and healthy.”


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