Supporting people’s relationships with the pets helps individuals and the entire community.
Last Sunday, veterinarians and support staff from the RAPS Animal Hospital volunteered their time to set up a veterinary clinic and Pet Food Bank at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
The neighbourhood is often referred to as Canada’s poorest.
RAPS is driven by the knowledge that animals make our lives, families, households and communities safer, healthier and happier. This is no less true for people who are experiencing homelessness, precarious housing, mental or physical health challenges or poverty – indeed it is probably especially true in these circumstances. Over the years, RAPS has recognized that pets are often the most significant relationships many people have. We exist to strengthen these relationships and alleviate the economic burdens associated with animal companions.
RAPS set up tents in the park and arranged tables to display available pet foods, which were given away to anyone who needed them. It was a cold winter day, but the relief and gratitude of the people whose pets received care warmed the hearts of our volunteers. (In future, we will aim to find donated indoor space for the services.)
Dr. Victoria Cruz-Mendez, one of RAPS’ amazing veterinarians, was among the team who came together for the event. About 23 pets received full-body exams and routine treatments such as flea meds and deworming. Some ear infections were treated and the team brought along some clippers to remove matting on some of the animals – mostly dogs but also one cat. There were no major health issues discovered and most of the animals were in generally good health. We hope to do a spay and neuter clinic in future.
Dr. Regan Schwartz, one of RAPS’ other doctors, and previously with Veterinarians Without Borders and World Vets, was also on hand to provide medical assistance.
Because of COVID, free clinics in the neighbourhood have been few in the past two years but RAPS hopes to make this a regular thing.
“Everyone was super, super grateful,” says Dr. Cruz-Mendez.
Her family are no strangers to the neighbourhood. Her mother, Ingrid Mendez, is executive director of Watari Counselling and Support Services Society, which was founded in 1986 as a response to the lack of services and programs for high-risk street involved youth in Vancouver. Over the years, Watari has developed important programs not only for youth, but for everyone needing support here in the community, including Indigenous people and migrant workers. Their Latin American Group and Vietnamese Community Kitchen have become important staples in the community as well. Dr. Cruz-Mendez’s father, Byron Cruz, is an outreach worker at Oppenheimer Park, connecting with neighbourhood residents and providing food and support.
Watari brought food and warm drinks for people at the clinic.
The clinic was also supported by RAPS suppliers who enthusiastically donated items to make the day possible. Support agencies in the Downtown Eastside spread the word that RAPS would be there and encouraged residents to bring their pets over.
Adding to the inspirational feel of the day, other events were taking place in the park at the same time.
Street Thug Barbers, a group that provides free haircuts and massage to anyone in need, was on site, as they have been every Sunday since 2015. Another group was there doing repairs on neighbourhood residents’ bikes.
In the cold weather, the RAPS team noticed a number of the people arrived in clothing that was inadequate for the weather. While RAPS brought jackets for the pets, next time we will bring warm clothing from the RAPS Thrift Stores to share with anyone who needs them.
The RAPS team wishes a warm thank you to all the veterinarians, support staff, suppliers and, especially, the folks who brought their pets to the clinic for making the day a success.
RAPS CEO Eyal Lichtmann also credits clients of the RAPS Animal Hospital with making the day possible.
“The RAPS Animal Hospital is a community-owned, not-for-profit veterinary facility,” he says. “Every dollar generated by the hospital is reinvested into programs that save and improve the lives of less fortunate animals. This includes, of course, the animals at the RAPS Cat Sanctuary and in the RAPS Adoption and Education Centre, as well as in our fostering network. But it also allows us to go out into the community, as we did on this occasion, and to provide ongoing assistance to pets of individuals and families in transitional housing and other challenging situations. That is a key difference people can make when choosing for-profit care or our nonprofit model. So we thank all of our supporters and clients for making this uplifting day possible.”