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RAPS helps animals … and their people!

Pets welcome at emergency shelter, vet care courtesy of RAPS Animal Hospital

People come to the Salvation Army’s Richmond House Emergency Shelter for a lot of different reasons. They may have addiction or mental health issues, be experiencing unemployment or a divorce or any number of other factors that have led to temporary homelessness.

For a number of guests at the shelter, a companion animal may be their most important relationship.

“A lot of these people who have animals, that’s all they have,” says David Burgess, the shelter manager. “For whatever reason – whether they are estranged from their family –  they often don’t have anyone. They have society basically looking down on them, ignoring them, frowning on them … They don’t have any love, they have no connection, and these animals give them that, keep their humanity, their dignity. That’s so important. Hugely important.”

A little more than a year ago, B.C. Housing, the provincial agency that funds the shelter, set out new guidelines that encourage pet-friendly policies. Right now, there are three cats and one dog living with their people at the shelter. This week, one of the cats underwent a hernia repair and other procedures at the RAPS Animal Hospital. The work, estimated at $2,700, was done pro bono. A few weeks ago, a guest’s cat was neutered and another guest’s dog had an injured dewclaw that became infected and RAPS took care of that issue as well.

“One of the biggest issues that even working poor people face, let alone our guests … there is no way they can afford veterinary care,” he says. Since the RAPS Animal Hospital agreed to provide free veterinary care to animals in the shelter, Burgess says he can see the relief in people.

“Guests love that,” he says. “When they do bring a pet in, and they have a concern, I say, ‘Look we have an arrangement with RAPS and they’re fantastic to provide our guests’ pet services for free.’ What a relief that is to them. You can see the weight off their shoulders.”

The Salvation Army shelter is just one of the organizations that the RAPS Animal Hospital has partnership with, ensuring that no one has to make life-and-death choices for their companion animals based on ability to pay. Since opening a little more than two years ago, the hospital has provided more than $1.2 million in partially or fully subsidized services to animals of people with financial or other challenges. For those who can afford it, but for whom the sudden cost of a vet bill is still a shock, RAPS has a no-interest payment plan available.

“The RAPS Animal Hospital is a community-owned facility,” says Eyal Lichtmann, CEO of the Regional Animal Protection Society. “Our bottom line isn’t profit … it’s saving and improving the lives of as many animals as possible. But we also know that, to do the best we can for animals, we need to help their people, too. Caring for animals means ensuring that their guardians are cared for so they can do the best for their animal companions.”

In addition to the vital, mutually sustaining relationships between people and their animals, there are a number of serious, systemic outcomes from policies that are not animal-inclusive. Households with pets are more likely to pay more for housing and/or live in substandard accommodations.

More urgently still, individuals who are experiencing domestic violence are more likely to remain in the relationship longer – or return to it sooner – if there is a pet in the household. This is because the vast majority of shelters in Canada and elsewhere do not accept pets.

“We are incredibly grateful that B.C. Housing and shelters like Richmond House recognize the vital importance of companion animals,” Lichtmann says. “Still, not enough shelters in the country do.”

In addition to direct services to animals and their people, RAPS is also an advocacy organization. Among other things, RAPS made a significant submission to the provincial government’s task force on rental housing.

“We hope that our advocacy played some role in the B.C. Housing policy,” says Lichtmann. “Many serious policy issues still need to be addressed. But we are pleased to see the kind of progress exemplified by the animal-welcoming policy of Richmond House and we are so happy to support the guests there with veterinary support for their companions.”

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Photo from the left: David Burgess, Johnny Manes (& Baby Kitty), and Yemi Ashiru.