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Helping pets … and their people

By Pat Johnson

Published 1:37 PDT, Fri March 20, 2020

For many of the most vulnerable people in our community—people who are homeless or in perilous housing situations, who have physical or other disabilities, who are estranged from their families or who have addictions—companion animals are often a lifeline to the world.

“A lot of these people who have animals, that’s all they have,” says David Burgess, shelter manager at the Salvation Army’s Richmond House Emergency Shelter. 

For this reason—and because B.C. Housing, the provincial housing agency that provides funding to Richmond House, mandates it—the facility started accepting guests with their pets about a year ago. At a time in a person’s life that may be the most challenging, being separated from a beloved companion animal, and perhaps being forced to surrender the animal, can add to and exacerbate emotional crises.

In one case, a man scheduled to go into treatment would not proceed if it meant leaving his two cats to an uncertain future. His choice was his own health or the security of his pets. Burgess called the Regional Animal Protection Society and RAPS made sure the cats were cared for while the man was in recovery. That was the start of the relationship between the two organizations.

Since the opening of the RAPS Animal Hospital, two years ago, that partnership has grown. Accepting pets in an emergency shelter is one thing. Addressing sometimes serious health issues in those animals is another. Even routine veterinary procedures can take a bite of an average family’s budget. For someone with few or no financial resources, it can be a matter of live or death for the animal.

“One of the biggest issues that even working poor people face, let alone our guests, there is no way they can afford veterinary care,” Burgess says. In recent years, RAPS has realized that caring for animals also means caring for their people. Ensuring the happiness and well-being of a pet requires that their household is safe and secure.

For the Salvation Army and a number of other agencies, as well as individuals who approach us with financial need, RAPS provides fully or partially subsidized veterinary care. In a little over two years, the RAPS Animal Hospital has delivered more than $1.2 million in subsidized vet care for pets in need.

With all the other worries on their minds, the guests at the emergency shelter can at least rest assured that their pet’s health will be addressed.

“What a relief that is to them,” Burgess says. “You can see the weight off their shoulders.”

RAPS also has a Pet Food Bank for families who require assistance and compassionate boarding for animals when their people are temporarily unable to care for them.

“The mission of the RAPS Animal Hospital isn’t profit,” says Eyal Lichtmann, CEO and executive director of RAPS. “Our bottom line is helping to save and improve as many animals’ lives as possible. That’s why we do this. And we can do it because we have the support of our community, including those who choose our facility for their veterinary needs, knowing that those funds are reinvested to help less fortunate animals.”

Pat Johnson is communications manager of the Regional Animal Protection Society.

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