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Pets make people better

By Eyal Lichtmann

Published 3:42 PDT, Fri October 18, 2019

Last Updated: 2:13 PDT, Wed May 12, 2021

The Regional Animal Protection Society exists to save and improve the lives of animals. That’s pretty obvious. But the reality is, we are an organization with people at our very heart.

Everything we do is possible because of the small armies of volunteers who allow us to provide individualized care to the thousands of clients at the RAPS Animal Hospital, RAPS Cat Sanctuary; who help welcome, care for and transition the thousands of animals who come through the RAPS City of Richmond Animal Shelter; who volunteer to foster pets; and who work in our thrift stores.

People who choose the not-for-profit RAPS Animal Hospital for vet care help generate revenue that is reinvested back into all our services. We could do none of this without the people and socially responsible businesses who contribute financially. 

But there’s more to it. Everything we do helps animals and their people. This is something too often taken for granted. Let’s be clear: animals deserve to be respected, cared for and protected because they are sentient creatures in their own right. This should not detract, though, from some very real consequences that the presence of animals in our lives has on human beings!

Statistics are clear: Animals make our lives, families, neighbourhoods and communities safer, happier and healthier. 

If you have a cat in your home, you are less likely to have a heart attack and less likely to have a stroke. If you happen to have a heart attack and you return from hospital to a home with a dog, there is a much higher likelihood that you will be alive in a year than if there is no dog in your home. Pets also help a huge range of major illnesses.

These are some of the reasons RAPS is an advocacy organization. We helped make Richmond one of the most animal-affirming cities in Canada, with policies like no retail sale of cats and dogs and mandated spaying and neutering. But there’s more to be done—and it involves polices around animals and people.

Consider this: a woman experiencing domestic violence and facing the reality of leaving a pet behind due to lack of available housing will remain in the relationship seven times longer—and are more likely return to the abusive home. Of the 452 women’s shelters in Canada, eight accept pets. RAPS is working with homeless and women’s shelters in Richmond and Metro Vancouver to provide vet care to pets of residents—and to find temporary foster homes for pets, when necessary.

“No pets” policies in rental and strata accommodations means households with companion animals pay more for lower-quality housing—and in a market like Metro Vancouver’s, this inhumane policy leads to homelessness. Recently, RAPS was involved in a case where we not only provided veterinary care and food for a pet, but also provided food and support for the dog’s person, a homeless veteran with PTSD. Pets are part of our families and caring for the pet means caring for the family—and vice-versa. 

Average tenancy of a household without pets is 18 months. Households with pets average 46 months—reducing turnover and vacancy rates for the owners. RAPS is advocating with government to make policies more equitable and with landlords to make them understand that pet-friendly policies are in their own best interests.

Based on housing prices and average incomes, more than 80 per cent of income is necessary to finance a home in Vancouver. This helps explain why many families live in deeply substandard accommodations and almost half of British Columbians are $200 away from insolvency. Even moderate unanticipated expenses—like a significant vet bill—can be disastrous not only for families with low incomes but for those who consider themselves middle class.

That’s why we opened the not-for-profit RAPS Animal Hospital, where fees are lower than for-profit clinics. We have an emergency cases fund because we believe no one should make life-and-death decisions about their family members based on inability to pay. We have no-interest wellness plans to make sudden expenses more bearable. Since opening 18 months ago, RAPS has provided more than $800,000 in community assistance to the public.

When people choose the RAPS Animal Hospital for their veterinary care—monies they intend or will have to spend anyway—they know that the proceeds are reinvested in helping animals and their people.

We advocate for animals because they deserve advocacy. But a happy side benefit of this is that our work has extraordinary positive impacts on the lives of people. And speaking of people —that’s you—it’s the great support of our entire community that makes all of this possible. Thank you!

Eyal Lichtmann is CEO and executive director of the Regional Animal Protection Society.

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