A veterinarian with an innate desire to help found a community-owned veterinary hospital and it’s a perfect match!
Dr. Regan Schwartz was raised in Toronto, and she has travelled the world helping animals – but when she discovered the RAPS Animal Hospital, she knew she had found her place.
Before, during and after getting her veterinary degree, Dr. Schwartz was volunteering in underserved places where veterinary care was either inaccessible or unaffordable.
She did an international veterinary medicine training program with World Vets, a Washington State-based group that helps animals in 45 underserved countries. That was a one-week program in Nicaragua – even before she was in veterinary college.
While she was in school, she went to Nepal just days after the devastating 2015 earthquakes there and worked for three months aiding the local animals.
“The human world was highly impacted and the animals obviously as well, so there was a lot of work to be done,” she says.
“In Nepal, I supported surgeries, general practice, vaccination efforts, and helped to medicate patients at a hospital run by Dr. Pranav in Bhaktapur,” she recalls. His facility was a hospital as well as an animal sanctuary. He collected the dogs in the community that just weren’t good adoption candidates. A lot of them had missing limbs, congenital abnormalities and/or were pretty sick and need a lot of care. He had a whole collection of these fantastic animals in his back courtyard.”
One of those animals, a dog named Zunee, travelled all the way from Nepal to Toronto, where he was adopted by Dr. Schwartz’s mother.
“He was magnificent, just incredibly wise,” she says of Zunee. “He was one of those dogs that peered into your soul, highly intelligent, you could just tell that he’d been through a lot in his time.”
Zunee was found on the side of a road by a staffer from the American consulate who took him to the vet to be humanely euthanized. But the vet saw hope for recovery – and the before-and-after pictures are a shocking tale of resilience!
“He really came around, he healed, he was saved,” says Dr. Schwartz. “He was one of those dogs who would just walk down the street by your side. I remember that when I went grocery shopping, he would sit outside and wait for me to come back and then we would walk back to the hospital together.”
While Zunee lived two glorious years in Toronto, he developed adenocarcinoma, which is cancer that can develop in the nasal passage, and had to be euthanized.
“He had a fantastic life,” she says of Zunee’s later years in Canada.
Another three-month stint Dr. Schwartz did overseas was with Veterinarians without Borders in Hanoi, Vietnam. This project was less hands-on vet care and more public health-based with research around food safety, specifically the prevention of zoonotic diseases being transmitted from pork to humans, which is an ongoing problem there.
Dr. Schwartz’s devotion to the well-being of animals did not take a back seat even while she was immersed in vet school at St. George’s University on the Caribbean island of Grenada, where she completed both her veterinary training and a Master’s degree in public health. In addition to the veterinary school, the university also has a medical school, so teams from both would travel to underserved areas and host One Health One Medicine clinics which welcomed extended families – mothers, fathers, kids, pets and farm animals – to come for exams and treatments.
“I have an innate desire to help,” she explains. “It’s something I’ve always had and something I derive deep satisfaction from doing. Going into communities that don’t have access to veterinary care or don’t have the financial means to pursue the veterinary care that’s there. Those people need help and those animals need help. It feels really good to be able to take what I’ve learned and to give back to communities that need it.”
A pop-up vet clinic RAPS did recently in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is an example of the sort of community outreach Dr. Schwartz wants to see more of.
She sees her role at RAPS Animal Hospital as perhaps preordained.
“I was meant to find RAPS,” she says. “It’s an absolute perfect fit for what I like to do and find satisfaction in. It’s a combination of general practice, which is what I’ve trained to do, and emergency medicine, which I pursued right out of post-graduation.”
She is also deeply involved at the RAPS Cat Sanctuary – “shelter medicine” is something she has a strong interest in – and getting to know the feline residents and giving them routine care and necessary treatments is gratifying, she says.
“RAPS kind of incorporates everything that I’m passionate about,” says Dr. Schwartz. “It’s a community full of people that are just like me. They love animals. They love doing what they do and they love giving back. The pro bono work that we do, it’s so satisfying to have the means, when needed, to offer pro bono diagnostics or pro bono care to people that can’t afford it otherwise. Normal hospitals don’t have the means to do that — and we do. It’s quite a privilege to work at RAPS. I definitely see it as a perfect fit for me.”