Furry friends in hard times: new care available for the many pets of RaY

RaY has launched a new Emergency Pet Care Fund to help youth take care of their furry companions.
A young person holds a very large grey and brown tabby cat named Golias. He looks like he is watching something across the room very intently. The young person is wearing a black face mask with the RaY logo on it and her eyes are smiling.
Golias the cat was the first RaY pet to receive care through RaY’s Emergency Pet Care Fund, to take care of a painful ingrown toenail.

Is there anything quite as comforting as snuggling up with a furry friend when you’re feeling down? For many youth accessing RaY’s services, pets are an integral part of self-care and mental health supports, particularly for youth on the streets. One study showed that youth experiencing homelessness who had pets had lower instances of depression and were less likely to engage in risky behaviours. Another showed that pets of folks experiencing homelessness are just as well taken care of as those whose owners are housed. “Pets provide protection, warmth, and companionship to our target population,” says RaY’s Executive Director, Kelly Holmes. “Youth are living precariously and don’t have money for vet bills.” So what happens when those cherished furry companions need emergency veterinary care?

Pets have always been welcomed into RaY’s drop-in space, as long as they are kept on a leash. Drop-in has seen dogs, cats, rats, mice, a snake, and one time even a tarantula! One dog named Ripley was so used to attending drop-in daily that one day he arrived by himself! His human had stopped to talk with a friend on the street and Ripley, impatient for the treats and love he always received at RaY, continued on alone. He waited with staff until his human caught up with him. Other dogs have waited patiently outside the kitchen for their humans to finish lunch.

A volunteer in a white t shirt and jeans is holding a large brown and white dog. The volunteer is weighing the dog. The dog is too large to be weighed but looks like he has accepted his fate.
A volunteer weighs a dog at a Winnipeg veterinary care clinic hosted by Community Veterinary Outreach.

RaY’s care for pets is evident in a longstanding partnership with the Friends for Pets program at the Winnipeg Humane Society, which supports youth in getting their pets licensed, spayed or neutered, and getting their shots.

Another longstanding partnership is with Community Veterinary Outreach, a national organization that provides health care for humans by providing care for their pets. Leveraging youth’s desire to access care for their animal companions, these Pet Fair and Human Care clinics provide pet services like shots, dental care, and deworming as well as human care like STBBI testing, COVID-19 vaccinations, and human dental care. These pet care clinics often allow veterinarians and vet technicians to identify bigger health issues affecting pets. “Having care options available for youth’s pets is so critical for mental health and overall wellbeing,” says Talia Potash, RaY’s Director of Housing.

RaY has long ensured that youth’s pets are well taken care of. A dish of fresh water in drop-in, love and scratches from the youth and staff, and emergency pet food if there isn’t any at home. In addition to human food, the building’s emergency food bank includes pet food generously donated by CVO’s Regional Co-Director, Manitoba, Kelsey Clark.

Four volunteers stand behind a table covered in veterinary care supplies. They are wearing nametags and smiling. This was before the pandemic, so they are not wearing masks.
Dr. Jonas Watson and other CVO volunteers at the first RaY-hosted CVO veterinary care clinic, hosted in 2017.

Winnipeg veterinarian and CVO Regional Co-Director, Manitoba Dr. Jonas Watson has been closely involved in the CVO clinics since they came to Winnipeg in 2017. He is a 2019 recipient of the World Veterinary Association’s Global Animal Welfare Award and is well-known for his work in animal welfare in Manitoba and northern Canada. Dr. Watson has worked with RaY in the past to provide urgent care for youth’s pets who need it. “We’re very happy to be of assistance in this way here at Grant Park Animal Hospital,” says Dr. Watson.

Darby, a friendly grey cat, has received services at Community Veterinary Outreach’s Winnipeg clinics in the past. His human is experiencing housing precarity and is closely connected with RaY’s services. Recently, Darby was discovered to have a hematoma on his stomach that needs taking care of. His owner, struggling with poverty and other challenges, cannot afford the necessary procedure to have it addressed.

A volunteer in a white tshirt and medical face mask holds a small brown and grey tabby kitten. The kitten is alert and looking around. It is extremely cute.
A volunteer holds a kitten at a recent CVO pet fair and human care clinic in Winnipeg.

This is just one reason why RaY has created an Emergency Pet Care Fund. Intended for short-term, acute medical issues that are directly affecting pets’ wellbeing or causing suffering, this pet care fund will allow pets to be seen by a veterinarian and receive the care they need. Darby the cat will be able to have his hematoma taken care of through this fund. Another cat, Golias, has become the first pet to benefit from the Emergency Pet Care Fund, as a painful ingrown toenail was taken care of.

Sue Kilborn, Regional Director, Ottawa for Community Veterinary Outreach, says, “RaY is one of the first agencies that CVO partnered with in Canada. They advocate so well for their clients that they’ve addressed the issue of medical care for pets by starting their own fund.”

RaY would like to thank all those involved with Community Veterinary Outreach, including Regional Director, Ottawa, Sue Kilborn and Regional Co-Directors, Manitoba, Kelsey Clark and Jonas Watson. We’d like to thank Dr. Jonas Watson and the lovely folks at Grant Park Animal Hospital for their ongoing support of youth’s beloved pets. And thank you to all the donors who are supporting RaY’s new Emergency Pet Care Fund.

To donate to RaY’s Emergency Pet Care Fund, click here and choose “Emergency Pet Care Fund” from the drop-down menu. RaY’s Emergency Pet Care Fund can be accessed by current RaY youth participants 29 or under by contacting their case manager. 

Make a donation today and help RaY provide care to Winnipeg’s street youth and their pets.