Caring for (furry) friends in need
22 January 2019
"An animal's eyes have the power to speak a great language," said Austrian-born philosopher Martin Buber. Indeed, if the pets that have received care through the Best Mates charity could talk, what stories of kindness they would tell.
Best Mates was set up nearly three years ago to provide food and veterinary care for animals owned by people who are going through hard times. Dr Jason Rapke (pictured above), a partner at the Glen Iris Vet Hospital in Melbourne, says the idea for the charity was developed during a staff meeting.
“We wanted to give something back to the community,”he explains. “Around the same time, a staff member and I had noted a large number of people with pets living rough on the streets. So we made some inquiries and saw there was a clear need for a program to provide veterinary care for these animals.”
He notes there are around 22,000 homeless people in Victoria. “An unknown but substantial number of animals accompany these people, and those who are struggling often find it hard to afford the basics – including feeding and veterinary care – for their animals,” Jason says.
“We believe that all animals should live happy and healthy lives and that the human/animal bond is an important source of happiness for people doing it tough in life.”
He contacted The Salvation Army Crisis Services Network and presented the idea of supplying free and low-cost veterinary care to the pets owned by people who access the Salvos’ services. The result was the launch in 2015 of a monthly Sunday clinic at the Salvos’ crisis centre in St Kilda.
Around 30 pets are seen at each clinic, with two vets and up to five assistants who each volunteer their skills and time. Most of the pets they attend to are dogs and cats, although there is the occasional rabbit, ferret and snake.
St Kilda Crisis Centre Salvation Army chaplain, Captain Michelle Davies-Kildea, coordinates appointments for the monthly vet clinic and organises transport for animals and owners.
“You can’t underestimate how important pets are when people are going through a hard time,” she says. “We know owners who have spent their rent on vet bills or gone without food themselves to feed their pets because they mean so much to them.”
Both Jason and Michelle find the clinics rewarding, knowing the long-lasting benefits to both animals and humans. Jason says research frequently shows the therapeutic effect that animals can have on people who are experiencing tough situations in life.
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