Free pet clinic helps Downtown Eastside residents care for their pets’ health


A one-day clinic for pets provided free veterinary services in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, which one resident says has helped save him “hundreds of dollars” amid an affordability crisis.

On Saturday, Community Veterinary Outreach (CVO), a non-profit that provides pet vaccines, exams and supplies free of charge, hosted a clinic in Oppenheimer Park.

“Accessing vet care is really difficult for most of these community members, not just financially, but accessibility in terms of transit and getting to clinics,” said Kyla Townsend, a veterinarian at the clinic and co-regional director of CVO Vancouver.

People and their pets began lining up for the clinic more than an hour before it opened, say the organizers. Cats and dogs of all ages and breeds arrived by paw, in crates, carry bags, strollers and carts, and some in the arms of their human owners.

A woman with black hair holds a grey and black striped cat
Community Veterinary Outreach Vancouver holds pop-up clinics 3 to 4 times per year in the Downtown Eastside where cats and dogs are offered free routine exams, parasite medications, vaccines and food. (Community Veterinary Outreach Vancouver)

Many received routine vaccinations, flea and parasite treatments, and nail trims, while others received ear infection treatments or referrals for spay and neuter services. 

Abby Berg dropped by the clinic with her service dog, Moon, with the hope of getting food and new gear for her dog. The cost of pet food and flea control is a challenge, she says.

“Feeding your pets, you know, sometimes you can’t afford it at the end of the month, so you go without food, so you can feed your pets.”

Humans were also given the opportunity to get COVID-19 and flu vaccines.

“People will overlook their own needs in order to care for a pet,” said Kelsi Jessamine, nurse and co-regional director of CVO Vancouver.

“Pets are family, no matter what your income … just because somebody’s on a fixed income does not make them less deserving of having that pet.”

During the three hours it was open, the clinic saw more than 200 people and their pets, according to organizers.

CVO relies on donations, which allow it to run about four one-day clinics per year in the neighbourhood.

Pet clinic ‘has saved me hundreds of dollars’

Mike Kennedy, who lives in a senior’s housing complex on a limited income, brought Rocky, his 4½-year-old Havanese dog, for a checkup.

He says he’s been attending veterinary clinic outreach events for several years, and has started volunteering for CVO Vancouver.

“Nowadays with rent going up, you have to stretch your dollar to get by. This place, it has saved me hundreds of dollars,” he said. 

A senior man with should-length red hair and a baseball cap sits next to a small, fluffy white dog
Mike Kennedy says the Community Veterinary Outreach’s free pop-up clinics in the Downtown Eastside have helped him care for his dog Rocky while saving him hundreds of dollars. (CBC)

Kennedy says he got his dog around the start of the pandemic and he was surprised by how quickly he became attached to him.

It has improved his health, Kennedy says, as Rocky has helped him to get out of the house more and connect with his community.

“It’s made me a better person,” he said. “I couldn’t live without him … it’s the best thing that’s happened to me.”

Kennedy says he was asked to make a pet damage deposit of $525 with the residential complex, but he couldn’t afford to pay it, and building managers waived the fee after he showed them how clean he’s been keeping his unit.

Pet ownership shouldn’t be a privilege: union volunteer

Megan Milton, a volunteer for the Vancouver Tenant’s Union, says pet-friendly rentals are often priced higher than other units, which disproportionately affects those living on fixed or low incomes.

Pet ownership, she says, shouldn’t be a privilege but available to everybody.

“People move into their cars, people are constantly having to choose between … their animals or finding housing,” she said.

Two puppies sit in a black stroller
More than 200 people and their pets attended a free, pop-up veterinary clinic in Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. (Community Veterinary Outreach Vancouver)

Townsend says people of all walks of life need to be supported in keeping their animals.

“We don’t want anyone to have to decide between pets and shelter so trying to get affordable, pet-friendly housing would be a game-changer for this community and I think most households in general.” 


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