Pet owners gathered outside the Evelyne Saller Centre on Alexander Street in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on Sunday to visit a free veterinary clinic.
Some brought their pooches for simple grooming like getting their nails trimmed. Others were seeking ways to keep their furry companions warmer.
About two dozen veterinarians, assistants, nursing students and other volunteers helped to run the “Pet Fair and People Care” event by Community Veterinary Outreach‘s (CVO) Vancouver group.
The clinics, which happen a few times a year, offer basic, pro bono animal care, as well as pet food, supplies and education. They also work with public services and organizations like the PHS Community Services Society to connect low income, at-risk people in vulnerable communities to health care for themselves.
“We find that people love their animals, and once they trust you with their animals, they are more inclined to be more open with themselves and what they need, ” said Kyla Townsend, a veterinarian and CVO coordinator.
“Animals are family to everyone here so trying to take care of them is a priority. And then once you can feel less stressed that your animal is taken care of, you can focus on other things.”
The organization said online that a similar event held in July was very popular with people lining up for hours and the clinic seeing 85 pets and 73 clients.
Ashton Wickramaratne, an emergency veterinarian, said there are many barriers to veterinary care in the Downtown Eastside. Lack of easy transportation options, mental health challenges and finances can make it challenging.
“People come to us with their pets and when their animals trust us, it puts them at a bit of ease,” said Wickramaratne.
“These are people who are often left behind in terms of the human health care system. When they feel that trust, it allows a conversation to be opened up about other aspects of their well-being, whether it be things like tobacco cessation or harm reduction or just accessing another environment that is comfortable enough for them.”
Heith Moonie, a longtime construction worker, was one of the first in line at the clinic on Sunday.
Afterwards, he opened the top of a small bag to show how his eight-year old, chihuahua Shih Tzu dog named Bear was cozily tucked inside.
Others with pets moved from the vet clinic tent set up on the street into the community centre to see a community nurse for flu shots or a counsellor to get resources or referrals.
Moonie knows Bear has some issues with his teeth, but the clinic did not offer direct vet care in the form of giving diagnoses or treatments for more significant issues.
“My biggest concern right now is housing. When I get a home, a room I can lock, then my dog will have a home. He’s an inside dog so that’s my biggest concern. And then me too, actually, I’d like a room that I can lock too,” said Moonie. “That’s my biggest concern. After that, we can do regular visits to a vet or whatever when I get more settled.”
He moved from Medicine Hat to Vancouver after being mostly unemployed since breaking his back in 2014. He and his adult son lived in a tent near Trout Lake for some time before both landing a few months of full-time construction work.
“I am starting to make a go of it. It got pretty dicey for a while.”
Moonie is currently living in a shelter and needs to be out of it during the day.
He had been carrying Bear in an old duffel bag, so was happy the clinic gave him a used dog carrier bag with breathing vents and several warm blankets with which to wrap him.
“Now I can get him onto transit easier,” said Moonie.