A new program in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that provides lifesaving medical care to pets living in supportive housing is seeking help, after losing most of its supplies in the Winters Hotel fire .
“You have elderly people, they have their pets, their 14-year-old dog who is their best friend and who needs medical attention and they can’t afford it. These guys step in and they help you,” Stephen Moore, a resident of one of the Atira Women’s Society properties, told Global News.
“I think it’s just fabulous. Without them, I don’t know what would happen (with my cat Jesse), he probably wouldn’t be here.
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Moore and Jesse are among more than 840 visits the Atira Pet Outreach program has made since its launch in October 2021.
The program covered $480 in strokes for Jesse, as well as much-needed nail trimming and veterinary support to control his weight. It’s money that Moore said he just doesn’t have, but this life without Jesse would be unthinkable.
“Jesse is a cool cat,” Moore said. “Without him, what would I do? Am I going to sit in an empty seat? It’s not just about taking care of pets. Pets, they help take care of people, they are my best friend.
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In the few months that the program was in place, Atira estimates that about half of all pets in the buildings it operates have accessed the services.
The program spends about $9,000 a month on veterinary care, pet food, spaying, and pet supplies, all covered by donations.
“A lot of people do the best they can for their pets, they provide everything they can, but sometimes there are just gaps,” program coordinator Jesse Smith told Global News.
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“We have all these resources in the community that are there for all humans, but we were missing something for pets.”
Smith said the program is working with the BC SPCA, Community Vet Outreach and the Vancouver Humane Society to access free or low-cost services where possible.
He has helped residents and their pets with everything from covering food costs to the arrival of welfare checks to difficult pet pregnancies.
Atira resident Lorne Bayley received this essential support when his French bulldog princess suffered complications with a litter of puppies.
The puppies did not survive, but vets were able to save Princess – at a cost of $4,000.
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“They helped us so much. Our dog would have died without them. I’m so happy to have him,” Bayley said.
“It was really scary, and I was so worried…So when these guys came in and helped me, I was like, ‘Oh my God, thank you God, they’re heaven sent.”
The program suffered a major setback last month, when a fire engulfed the Winters Hotel operated by Atira, where Smith said he stored his food, grooming tools, toys, beds and crates.
With regular monthly costs rising as word of the program spreads, the fire has strained the already donation-dependent budget.
“Absolutely, we need more,” she said.
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Moore and Bayley say support is key. Not only does this keep their pets happy and healthy, but it keeps the family together and the unconditional love of an animal in their lives.
“She’s the most important thing in the world, she’s like my child, I would absolutely die for her,” Bayley said.
“So I hope people can remember this and donate to help other animals. Until you’re in that place, you don’t know when your baby is going to die. I was like, please anyone and they showed up and helped me.
Donations to the outreach program can be made via the Atira website. Donors can specify where they want their money to go in a box at the bottom of the page.
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