Seven years ago, Jane Vermeulen noticed a troubling trend on the streets of downtown Victoria.
The long-time veterinarian saw an increasing number of pets and their pet owners winding up on the streets, often hanging out on Douglas Street and along Pandora Avenue.
“There were a lot of pets in the downtown core and many of the pet owners were homeless,” said the Esquimalt resident, noting there were some veterinary clinics who came a few times a year to provide services to homeless people’s pets, but never a consistent clinic for the animals that needed regular care.
It’s a sight that broke her heart, but also moved the pet lover to action.
Shortly after, Vermeulen started Vets for Pets at Our Place Society. Every second Thursday of the month, the society’s courtyard and the shipping/receiving room are transformed into a temporary veterinary clinic where volunteer veterinarians and veterinary technicians provide vaccines, parasite control and management of simple infections to the furry friends of homeless or low-income people.
The first time Vermeulen opened the clinic in 2009, she saw eight pets. However, in the past seven years, that number has exploded, with volunteers helping 60 pets, primarily dogs to cats, but also the occasional rabbit or rat, over a two-hour period.
Vermeulen, who has treated ferrets and parrots at the clinic, said pets often mean the world to their owners, especially those living on the streets.
She vividly remembers helping one client, a woman in her early 20s and her cat. The woman was sleeping outside in Beacon Hill Park, but wanted her cat to get vaccinated to prevent it from getting rabies from a racoon or bat.
“You’re a woman sleeping alone in a park and that’s what you’re worried about?” Vermeulen said. “People love their pets more than they love themselves. Their pets mean so much to them.”
A number of low-income people have come to rely on the clinic to help their pets.
Leslie, who did not want to give her last name, has three cats and three dogs — a Chihuahua, pomeranian, and German husky cross — and has been bringing her pets to the clinic since it began.
Without the clinic, she said she wouldn’t be able to afford to keep her pets.
“It helps so much. I’m glad (the clinic) is here. I know I couldn’t afford it without them,” said Leslie, adding she often stands in line for several hours to ensure her pets get the care they need. “My pets mean everything to me. They’re my kids.”
Normally, the clinic operates with a minimum of six veterinarians and roughly eight veterinary technicians. However, the last few months, they’ve only had four veterinarians and two or three veterinary volunteers, and are in desperate need of more volunteers.
Vermeulen noted it’s a great opportunity for pre-vet students to get hands-on experience.
Trina Legge, a veterinary technician, has volunteered every month for the past three years, helping with flea treatments, pulling medical files and education.
“It’s knowing that there’s a service that can be provided for those who can’t afford it. It’s a heartwarming feeling knowing you’ve made their (pet owners) day a little bit easier,” she said.
For more information about Vets for Pets or to volunteer, visit vetsforpetsvictoria.com.