Pets get the care they need through veterinary support programs

Every week, animal guardians who are experiencing a period of low income reach out for urgent veterinary support for all manner of essential care—from the UTI treatment that will save a cat’s life to the knee surgery that will help a dog walk again without pain. VHS’s McVitie Fund is here to help them get the care they need without making the almost impossible decision to surrender their loved companions to a shelter.

The need for veterinary support is constantly growing, and meeting this need is only possible thanks to kind donations from animal lovers like you.

Read on for updates on some of the animals you have helped this year.

Chipper’s GI stasis treatment

Chipper the bunny on a bed. Chipper received veterinary support for gastrointestinal stasis.

Chipper needed urgent help when he stopped eating, drinking, and pooping: all signs of gastrointestinal stasis, a condition that can be fatal to rabbits if left untreated.

Chipper’s loving guardian, Danika, lives alone and is struggling financially. Despite this, Danika managed to scrape together $370 for Chipper’s vet bills. She reached out for help with the last $300 to get him well again.

Thanks to support from the community, Chipper was able to get this life-saving care! He has since fully recovered and returned to his happy life of playing with his toys and grooming his best bunny friend, Billie Bean.

Marco’s FeLV test

Marco the cat being held by his guardian in front of a window.

Marco’s guardian, Tim, reached out for help getting tested for Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV). Sadly, Marco’s brother Max had been unexpectedly diagnosed with the virus and passed away.

FeLV is spread between cats who are in close contact with each other, even in the early stages before symptoms present. Because of this, Tim and the veterinarian were very concerned that Marco had contracted the virus before Max was diagnosed. Tim had spent all his savings on Max’s treatment, and reached out for help covering Marco’s blood test and exam to keep him comfortable and healthy.

Miraculously, Marco tested negative for the virus! He is now on a special diet and is getting plenty of play time to keep him healthy. Marco’s guardian, Tim, says he is doing well and adjusting to life without his brother.

“Marco’s future is bright and energetic. He usually starts waking me up at 4:30am every morning like a rooster. It is that energy and that connection that I cherish because every moment with him is a blessing.”

Abigail’s wound repair surgery

Abigail the dog sits on her guardian at the vet clinic after receiving treatment for serious wounds.

Sweet Abigail is a celebrity in her mom’s building. The staff and neighbours know her well and love this gentle giant. While out for a walk with her mom, Abigail was badly attacked by another dog. She was left with severe wounds around her head, neck, and shoulders and needed urgent surgery to remove the infected tissue. 

Abigail’s mom Tanis lives in low-income housing and was terrified because she couldn’t afford to take her to the vet. Thankfully, the staff in her building helped Tanis search for veterinary support programs and came across Vancouver Humane Society’s McVitie Fund.

Thanks to an outpouring of support from VHS donors, Abigail was able to get the surgery she needed right away. She has recovered well and is back to her old self, getting out for walks and playing with her many friends!

This vital support for pets and their low-income guardians is only possible thanks to animal lovers like you. Your donation today to VHS’s McVitie Fund will enable animals in most urgent need to receive essential medical treatment while staying with their loving families.

Learn how your donation provides vital veterinary support to animals or see the animals in urgent need today.

Opinion Editorial

Government support needed to help resolve veterinary care crisis in B.C.

Article originally published on The Georgia Straight.

Veterinary care in British Columbia has reached a point of crisis, and veterinary staff, pets, and guardians are all feeling the strain.

Pet guardians report months-long wait times seeking care for their animals, who are suffering due to staff shortages.

Meanwhile, veterinarians are more than twice as likely to experience suicidal thoughts when compared with other Canadians. Some aging veterinarians in B.C. worry that they will feel guilty leaving their work to their colleagues when they retire.

So how did we get here, and, more importantly, how do we fix it?

To start with, there are simply not enough veterinarians to handle the sheer volume of pets who need help. In Canada, there is about one cat or dog for every two people. In British Columbia, there is just one veterinarian graduating into the workforce each year for every 102 doctors—an especially bleak statistic considering there is also a doctor shortage in the province.

Anyone who wishes to become a veterinarian in this province must vie for one of only 20 spaces with financial aid, which would allow them to study at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon for a reduced tuition fee of $11,000 per year. Those who cannot find a coveted spot must cover the entire tuition themselves—a whopping $67,000 annually.

The time, difficulty, and expenses incurred in becoming a veterinarian and maintaining a veterinary practice can drive up the cost of care for pet guardians.

Since veterinary care is not subsidized by the government, this can spark a vicious cycle that leads to stressed pet guardians, less than ideal communication between guardians and veterinary staff, and animals not getting the care they need until their health is in a severe state of crisis.

All those factors can contribute to veterinarians and veterinary technicians taking on even further mental and emotional burdens.

recent research article from the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) and Dalhousie University assistant professor Haorui Wu proposes steps that would help break this cycle. The research delves into recommendations from pet guardians who experienced barriers to veterinary care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It ultimately finds that changes like financial support for low-income pet guardians and training for veterinary staff on a trauma-informed approach could reduce the stress of both guardians and veterinarians while improving the lives of animals.

The link between the health of animals and the well-being of the humans around them is common sense to many people who share their home with a pet. When a guardian is unable to afford needed care for a beloved pet, the guardian often experiences stress, guilt, and shame. When a veterinarian euthanizes a pet that was unable to receive preventive care for financial reasons, the loss of that animal can take a severe emotional toll on all who are involved.

The interconnectedness between human and animal well-being has been explored in recent years under the moniker “One Health, One Welfare”. VHS’s research highlights this approach as a best practice.

One local example of this practice in action is Community Veterinary Outreach (CVO). “Our group utilizes the One Health approach,” says Doris Leung, veterinarian and regional director of CVO in Vancouver. “We recognize that by improving an animal’s health and well-being, you can improve the pet guardian’s health and well-being as well. Our volunteers support marginalized pets and their owners in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES).”

With CVO events, pet guardians have access to caring, trauma-informed veterinary services in concert with human health services. For instance, they can learn about the importance of tooth brushing to promote good oral hygiene for their pets and to prevent pain and suffering with periodontal disease. At the same time, they can get support for their own oral health from volunteer dental hygienists at the clinic.

When pet guardians have positive experiences in seeking care for their animal—whether that means finding care with a holistic model similar to CVO, being supported through payment plans, or speaking with a veterinarian who has received training in trauma-informed care—they are more likely to prioritize veterinary care in the future.

These services help to ensure that animals will receive preventive care and decrease the need for euthanizations performed due to a lack of funds. A trauma-informed approach improves the communication between veterinarians and their clients, transforming normally stressful interactions into productive partnerships. If implemented now, these changes can even begin to decrease burnout in the veterinary sector.

Note: If you’re thinking about suicide, or are worried about a friend or loved one, you can call the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention at any time.

Opinion Editorial

Taking pets from the poor to give to the rich

Article originally published on Daily Hive.

When a child of a wealthy parent breaks their arm, they can go to the hospital, receive diagnostic x-rays, and be treated without their family worrying about the cost of care.

When the child of a low-income parent breaks their arm, they get the same treatment. That’s because mandatory medical expenses are covered under MSP in British Columbia. Unfortunately, the story would be very different if the family member needing care were a dog.

Veterinary care is not subsidized by the government, which leads to some bleak statistics. More than 100,000 pets were surrendered to Canadian shelters in 2019. Research tells us financial difficulties are one of the top reasons people give up their pets.

Those surrenders have a huge impact on families. 58% of Canadians have a cat or dog in their household; evidence shows that these companion animals provide emotional and mental health benefits to their human guardians and even help them react, cope, and recover from disaster situations. And yet, veterinary care is not considered a priority in the holistic care of Canadians – not widely, and certainly not in a way that is supported by government funding.

People who are living on a low income do not have the luxury of saving for emergencies. If their beloved pet falls ill, if they escape from the house and get hit by a car, or if they develop a suspicious lump on their paw, those animal guardians are forced to make almost impossible decisions.

One animal guardian who received assistance through Vancouver Humane Society’s (VHS) Helping Women and Pets in Crisis program said, “We spent our rent money to get him medicine in the hospital to prevent him from suffering. I accepted that I would have to without some basic needs and put off rent for a couple of months to catch up financially.”

These concerns are commonplace among the people who reach out to VHS for help with veterinary bills. Do I pay for my cat’s biopsy, or cover rent this month so we both have somewhere to live? Would my dog be better off if I manage his pain at home, or surrender him to an animal shelter that could give him the emergency surgery he needs?

This is where the current system of paid veterinary care runs into complicated equity issues. In cases when a person can’t afford needed veterinary services, they often have little choice but to give up their pet. That animal experiences the stress of losing the most important person in the world to them. In turn, they are adopted out to another, most often wealthier, family. The result is a system that effectively takes pets from the poor to give them to the rich.

One animal guardian VHS spoke with expressed their confusion and frustration with the current system: “I still have the fear if you can’t pay for the bill, they may ask you to surrender the animal. I didn’t want to surrender the animal. I can feed her. She’s loved. She’s not abused.”

Indeed, the oft-refuted claim that pets of people experiencing low income and homelessness are well cared for has now been backed by a study from the University of Guelph. The study affirms what low-income pet guardians have always known: that people experiencing low income and even homelessness care for and love their pets, going as far as to put their animal’s needs ahead of their own. All they need is a little support.

A recent research article published by VHS and Dalhousie University Professor Haorui Wu gives some insight into what form that support may take. Pet guardians who experienced barriers to veterinary care in 2020 said they could have more easily accessed care for their animals with the help of payment plans, compassionate pricing for low-income people, and government regulations to ensure consistent costs.

The article also suggests that veterinary staff receive training in trauma-informed practices, which would improve doctor-client communication, reduce stress for animal guardians and veterinary staff, and encourage low-income individuals to seek veterinary care before their animal’s health is in such a severe state of crisis that they must be euthanized.

British Columbia is facing a veterinarian shortage, with severe related mental health impacts. Add to that a housing shortage and an opioid crisis, and the outlook for pets is not good in our province.

If we want mental health support for all, financial security for all, and equity for all, the choice is clear: we need accessible, trauma-informed veterinary care for all.

Media Release

“Nobody should have to choose between paying rent and for veterinary care,” says pet guardian in new research from Vancouver Humane Society

VANCOUVER, Oct 26, 2021 – People living on a low income have strong bonds with their pets. However, structural barriers – like a lack of animal-friendly transportation and financial affordability – make it difficult for these loving guardians to access needed veterinary care. The existing barriers have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, when animal hospitals had to cancel or limit appointments and guardians were unable to accompany their pets into the clinic.

new journal article published by the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) and Dalhousie University Professor Haorui Wu offers unique insight into the barriers faced by low-income people accessing veterinary care in 2020. The article details the lived experiences and recommendations of twelve animal guardians who accessed financial support for urgent veterinary services.

“I still have the fear if you can’t pay for the bill, they may ask you to surrender the animal,” explained one animal guardian living on a low income. “I didn’t want to surrender the animal. I can feed her. She’s loved. She’s not abused.” When a veterinarian or animal shelter requires a low-income person to surrender their pet to get access to veterinary care, a serious ethical dilemma exists as the pet is then rehomed into a wealthier family.

Examining and addressing barriers to veterinary care is a key part of creating a more equitable society. Companion animals are an essential part of their guardians’ lives now more than ever – with evidence suggesting that animals positively impact how people react, cope, and recover from disaster situations.

“Nobody should have to choose between paying rent and for veterinary care,” another participant said. “I find that a really scary thought.”

The article lays out suggestions to help low-income animal guardians access care, such as offering payment plans and training staff to offer trauma-informed services – the same approach used by social services workers who already interact with underserved communities daily. Creating an environment where all guardians can access veterinary care can reduce their stress, help animals get the urgent care they need, and encourage low-income individuals to bring their pets in for preventative care before their health is in crisis. It can also remove the need for financially motivated euthanasia, which needlessly takes animal lives and takes a severe mental toll on veterinarians and technicians.

The research process was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). It can be found on the VHS website.


For further information: Amy Morris: 604-416-2901,

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Animal champions make a difference at Because They Matter

Loretta, who spends her days outside on the Downtown Eastside, has been looking after her sister’s dog Beans while she has been ill in the hospital. She wanted to do something nice for her sister when she is reunited with her beloved dog, but she couldn’t afford a gift. Luckily, VHS was offering free pet supplies in Pigeon Park for our Because They Matter event this weekend. Loretta dropped by VHS’s table and picked up a better-fitting harness and collar for Beans.

Loretta is just one of the hundreds of people VHS staff and volunteers connected with at our first-ever Because They Matter fundraising and outreach event.

During the event, staff and volunteers handed out harnesses, leashes, collars, blankets, toys, water bowls, plant-based dog treats, and resources for veterinary assistance to happy animals and grateful guardians who spend their days on the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

You can see some of the happy recipients of these care items in the photos below.

Participants also raised more than $12,000 for vital animal protection efforts.

We would like to thank the amazing participants, donors, and sponsors who made this event possible, including local businesses:

  • Discover Dogs
  • Good Boy Collective
  • The Cat and Dog Shop
  • The Pet Shop Club
  • The Raw Connoisseurs

Want to participant in or donate toward this years Because They Matter event? You can sign up or donate using the link below! Thank you for helping to build a kinder world for animals!

Media Release

Vancouver Humane Society program helps to prevent homelessness for women and pets

VANCOUVER, July 22, 2021 – The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) is partnering with women’s support agencies to break down housing barriers for women with pets through the unique Helping Women and Pets in Crisis program.

“It is difficult finding places that allow pets,” says Mariam, a client of the program whose name has been changed for privacy, “Especially with non-refundable pet deposits which take away the limited income I have per month.” Mariam’s family is familiar with this struggle; her sister has already given up a cat “because she couldn’t afford anywhere that would allow a pet to live with her.”

Currently, the lack of pet-friendly housing has a huge impact on people experiencing homelessness and survivors of domestic violence. About one in ten people experiencing homelessness have pets, and many affirm that they would never enter a shelter if they could not bring their pet with them. Pets and their guardians form strong bonds that aid each other’s mental wellbeing; living with a pet has been proven to have medical, emotional, and mental health benefits.

Likewise, many women experiencing domestic abuse have stayed in an abusive relationship longer than they felt comfortable out of concern for their pets. This is a serious welfare concern for women as well as animals, since abusers will often threaten or harm their victim’s animal as a form of intimidation and control.

An individual with a low income can also face challenges when their pet has a medical crisis. “The vet bills are the toughest, you never know if they’re going to get sick or not. How are you going to pay your other bills when the vet bills are so high?” says Mariam.

When Mariam’s cat got sick, she says, “We spent our rent money to get him medicine in the hospital to prevent him from suffering. I accepted that I would have to go without some basic needs and put off rent for a couple of months to catch up financially.”

The Helping Women and Pets in Crisis program covered part of Mariam’s urgent veterinary costs so that she did not need to shoulder the financial burden alone. “That took away the worry about being able to afford the next couple of months, knowing we won’t have to struggle for a while.”

The program recently received a generous grant of $10,200 from the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. It is also funded in part by a $9,000 grant from North Shore Community Foundation and a $30,000 grant from PetSmart Charities® of Canada. “Helping vulnerable pet parents and their pets stay healthy and together is something we are committed to,” said Dani LaGiglia, community grants manager at PetSmart Charities of Canada. “With this funding, we hope more women will not have to make a choice between their safety and that of a beloved pet.”

VHS is hoping to grow this project beyond the grant funds and is seeking compassionate donors to support this work. If you would like to contribute to this valuable program, or if you are a woman in crisis seeking support for yourself and your pet, you can learn more on the Vancouver Humane Society website.


For further information: Contact Amy Morris: 604-416-2901



VHS is helping women and pets in crisis

Accessing housing when you have a pet is difficult. Accessing housing when you are a single woman with a pet and a limited income is nearly impossible. VHS’s Helping Women and Pets in Crisis program aims to change that. VHS is working in partnership with shelters and transition houses to break down housing barriers for women with pets and to assist with necessary veterinary costs. Partnerships with agencies like North Shore Crisis Services (NSCS) will ensure these supports are available to women who are fleeing domestic violence and in otherwise vulnerable situations.

Currently, individuals facing a period of low or no income can face major barriers accessing veterinary care. Many are forced to choose between treating their beloved pet’s medical emergency and affording their own necessities. This was the case for Mariam, who reached out to VHS after her cat Odin became ill. “We spent our rent money to get him medicine in the hospital to prevent him from suffering. I accepted that I would have to go without some basic needs and put off rent for a couple of months to catch up financially.”

Thanks to you, the Helping Women and Pets in Crisis program covered part of Mariam’s urgent veterinary costs so that she could access care for Odin and maintain her family’s housing. You can learn more or donate to this valuable program here.

Media Release

New report shows that animal services can help more animals through policy and practice changes

VANCOUVER – A new report developed by the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) aims to bring animal services into the conversation about equity in order to improve outcomes for animals, their guardians, and animal services workers.

People from all backgrounds enjoy the companionship and mental health benefits of animals, but people who are placed-at-risk—those experiencing poverty or systemic discrimination, who are often at a higher risk of dealing with past traumas—can face barriers in caring for their pets. The report, called “Helping people and animals together”, features interviews with people who have faced negative experiences accessing animal services such as animal rescue, sheltering, or bylaw.

One participant featured in the report was a survivor of domestic violence who had attempted to surrender their cat for fear of the cat’s safety. The participant was prohibited by their partner from carrying money and did not have the fee required to transfer the cat into a shelter. “The [worker] was very insistent that from then on I will never be able to adopt another animal,” they said, “and honestly it broke my heart”.

Animal services agencies have a unique opportunity to address the barriers people face in caring for their pets and end the cycle of trauma for both animals and their guardians. The report lays out strategies rooted in trauma-informed and culturally safe approaches that agencies can employ.

In particular, the report highlights an approach that builds connections with people and communities and helps them to access resources for their animals. This outreach-based approach offers a more permanent solution than the current system of surrenders and seizures, which breaks up the human-animal bond and protects a single animal while putting future animals at risk. It offers an opportunity to create a more supportive framework in the overburdened and underfunded animal services sector, where staff are at a high risk of burnout and compassion fatigue.

In making suggestions for improvement, the report also features interviews with workers in the animal services sector and people working in sectors that already use a trauma-informed approach, like child protection and social work.

The report was made possible with the support of the Animal Welfare Foundation of Canada, the Vancouver Foundation, and the Government of British Columbia. Animal services workers and anyone interested in human and animal welfare can read the full report about “taking a trauma-informed, culturally safe approach towards assisting placed-at-risk people with addressing animal neglect” on the Vancouver Humane Society website.


For further information: Amy Morris: 604-416-2901

Read the original media release on


Max needed surgery

Max recently developed a lump on the back of his neck. When the lump broke open and wouldn’t stop seeping, his owner Margaret rushed him to the vet. Margaret was told that Max would need to be anesthetized so they could remove the lump, and also another lump which they discovered under his chin.

Max has been with his loving owner Margaret since 2013. He has been her shadow ever since.

We are connected like E.T. and Elliott. He means the world to me and my family. He lays on our furniture and spreads his love one hair at a time. My house looks like a snow globe because of his white fur!

Margaret, Max’s owner

A single mom on low income, Margaret knew she wouldn’t be able to afford his costly veterinary procedure.

It breaks our hearts to see him like this. Max has brought a lot of love to our home. He’s been there for all of us in so many ways. We just want his pain to go away.

Thankfully, the McVitie Fund is there to help in these difficult circumstances. The McVitie Fund relies entirely on the generosity of VHS’s supporters. 

Could you make a donation towards our McVitie Fund to help Max? 

Media Release

New project launched to help homeless women and their pets

Vancouver – The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) has joined with the North Shore Crisis Services Society (NSCSS) to launch the first partnership of its kind in a project designed to help women and pets in crisis.

The project, funded in part by a $30,000 grant from PetSmart Charities® of Canada and a $9,000 grant from North Shore Community Foundation, will help homeless and loosely housed women who face barriers to accessing housing and support because they have pets. Many support facilities do not have the knowledge or capacity to address the animal health issues that come with housing pets.

The project will provide funding for preventative and urgent veterinary costs for pets, ensuring they are in good health and not a risk to human health. This could include medical treatments; flea, tick and deworming treatment; vaccinations and health checks.

“Women with companion animals have more difficulty finding housing,” said VHS executive director Amy Morris. “By ensuring their pets are in good health this project will allow homeless women to meet the requirements of housing and support social service agencies with concerns about taking in animals.”

Morris said that, under the partnership, NSCSS’s eligible clients would be able to apply to VHS for funding to pay for veterinary care and other support for their pets. VHS expects the project will add more partners in the coming months, offering more help to homeless women and their animals.

Laura Reynolds, Executive Director at NSCSS said: “North Shore Crisis Services Society provides safe and secure housing to abused women and their children. Pets can often be used as a means of control by an abusive partner, and we are grateful for this opportunity to partner with VHS to enhance our support for women, their children and their pets.”

“Far too often women living in unsafe situations face barriers when searching for pet-friendly transitional housing,” said Dani LaGiglia, regional relationship manager at PetSmart Charities of Canada. “We are proud to support these efforts that ensure women and pets in Vancouver can transition to safety together.”