Meet the Humans: Dr. Regan Schwartz

Meet the Humans: Dr. Regan Schwartz

A veterinarian with an innate desire to help found a community-owned veterinary hospital and it’s a perfect match!

Dr. Regan Schwartz was raised in Toronto, and she has travelled the world helping animals – but when she discovered the RAPS Animal Hospital, she knew she had found her place.

Before, during and after getting her veterinary degree, Dr. Schwartz was volunteering in underserved places where veterinary care was either inaccessible or unaffordable.

She did an international veterinary medicine training program with World Vets, a Washington State-based group that helps animals in 45 underserved countries. That was a one-week program in Nicaragua – even before she was in veterinary college.

While she was in school, she went to Nepal just days after the devastating 2015 earthquakes there and worked for three months aiding the local animals.

“The human world was highly impacted and the animals obviously as well, so there was a lot of work to be done,” she says.

“In Nepal, I supported surgeries, general practice, vaccination efforts, and helped to medicate patients at a hospital run by Dr. Pranav in Bhaktapur,” she recalls. His facility was a hospital as well as an animal sanctuary. He collected the dogs in the community that just weren’t good adoption candidates. A lot of them had missing limbs, congenital abnormalities and/or were pretty sick and need a lot of care. He had a whole collection of these fantastic animals in his back courtyard.”

One of those animals, a dog named Zunee, travelled all the way from Nepal to Toronto, where he was adopted by Dr. Schwartz’s mother.

“He was magnificent, just incredibly wise,” she says of Zunee. “He was one of those dogs that peered into your soul, highly intelligent, you could just tell that he’d been through a lot in his time.”

Zunee was found on the side of a road by a staffer from the American consulate who took him to the vet to be humanely euthanized. But the vet saw hope for recovery – and the before-and-after pictures are a shocking tale of resilience!

“He really came around, he healed, he was saved,” says Dr. Schwartz. “He was one of those dogs who would just walk down the street by your side. I remember that when I went grocery shopping, he would sit outside and wait for me to come back and then we would walk back to the hospital together.”

While Zunee lived two glorious years in Toronto, he developed adenocarcinoma, which is cancer that can develop in the nasal passage, and had to be euthanized.

“He had a fantastic life,” she says of Zunee’s later years in Canada.

Another three-month stint Dr. Schwartz did overseas was with Veterinarians without Borders in Hanoi, Vietnam. This project was less hands-on vet care and more public health-based with research around food safety, specifically the prevention of zoonotic diseases being transmitted from pork to humans, which is an ongoing problem there.

Dr. Schwartz’s devotion to the well-being of animals did not take a back seat even while she was immersed in vet school at St. George’s University on the Caribbean island of Grenada, where she completed both her veterinary training and a Master’s degree in public health. In addition to the veterinary school, the university also has a medical school, so teams from both would travel to underserved areas and host One Health One Medicine clinics which welcomed extended families – mothers, fathers, kids, pets and farm animals – to come for exams and treatments.

“I have an innate desire to help,” she explains. “It’s something I’ve always had and something I derive deep satisfaction from doing. Going into communities that don’t have access to veterinary care or don’t have the financial means to pursue the veterinary care that’s there. Those people need help and those animals need help. It feels really good to be able to take what I’ve learned and to give back to communities that need it.”

A pop-up vet clinic RAPS did recently in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is an example of the sort of community outreach Dr. Schwartz wants to see more of.

She sees her role at RAPS Animal Hospital as perhaps preordained.

“I was meant to find RAPS,” she says. “It’s an absolute perfect fit for what I like to do and find satisfaction in. It’s a combination of general practice, which is what I’ve trained to do, and emergency medicine, which I pursued right out of post-graduation.”

She is also deeply involved at the RAPS Cat Sanctuary – “shelter medicine” is something she has a strong interest in – and getting to know the feline residents and giving them routine care and necessary treatments is gratifying, she says.

“RAPS kind of incorporates everything that I’m passionate about,” says Dr. Schwartz. “It’s a community full of people that are just like me. They love animals. They love doing what they do and they love giving back. The pro bono work that we do, it’s so satisfying to have the means, when needed, to offer pro bono diagnostics or pro bono care to people that can’t afford it otherwise. Normal hospitals don’t have the means to do that — and we do. It’s quite a privilege to work at RAPS. I definitely see it as a perfect fit for me.”

Patience and time: Keys to a good dog

Patience and time: Keys to a good dog

As a no-kill animal-serving organization, RAPS routinely faces challenging cases that, in other jurisdictions or at other agencies, would likely lead to euthaniasia for the animal.

Our no-kill promise states that, under our care, no animal is ever euthanized due to lack of space, treatable illness, physical defect, age, behavioural or socialization issues.

For cats, being unadoptable for any of these reasons means they will probably live out their lives at the RAPS Cat Sanctuary – our “Kitty Club Med.” For dogs, the challenge can be, well, more challenging. Here is an example.

In March 2016, German Shepherd Sunny was found as a stray in Richmond. He had no ID and no one came to claim him. After he was vaccinated, dewormed, received flea prevention, was neutered and tattooed, Sunny was placed up for adoption and, in April 2016, went to what we hoped would be his forever home. But a couple of months later, in June 2016, Sunny was returned for repeatedly putting his mouth on his new owner. He also broke down the backyard fence and succeeded in destroying two of the neighbours’ yards. The family had consulted trainers and spent time devotedly working with Sunny, but in the end decided they didn’t have the expertise and experience that Sunny required.

Sunny was then placed back up for adoption and was adopted again in August 2016. This time it seemed to be working out.

But, sadly, after four years, in July 2020, Sunny was returned again. The new owner had gone to superhuman efforts to help Sunny become the best dog he could be. But it became too much. Sunny was not adequately socialized with dogs and would get extremely overexcited when seeing them. Being a large and very strong dog, Sunny had occasionally gotten away from the family members and charged over to the dogs in his vicinity. He also demonstrated resource guarding and had other behavioural issues.

Sunny is incredibly smart and also suffers from anxiety, which makes a very difficult combination. When Sunny did not want to do something, he would have full-blown temper tantrums, often putting his mouth on people. RAPS staff were intensively working on his obedience and behaviour every day to prepare him for adoption. Sunny was also put on anti-anxiety medication as being in the kennel really stressed him out and he would bark non-stop.

After a few months and lots of work and training, Sunny was finally put up for adoption. We were looking for a very specific owner that had German Shepherd or other large breed experience, was a calm, confident, assertive owner and would continue the training we had been doing with Sunny to ensure he was set up for success. Sunny received some interest but nothing that would be a good fit for him.

Then, at the end of October 2020, a retired couple with lots of large breed experience came to meet Sunny and fell in love. Over the course of two weeks, the couple had five meet-and-greets with Sunny to ensure they got to see all of Sunny’s sides and really get to know what his needs were. They were then approved to take Sunny home for a seven-day trial adoption.

Sadly, after two days, they returned Sunny, as he was extremely difficult to handle in the home. The couple had not followed our instructions of using his crate, setting up rules along with other training instructions so, without firm boundaries, Sunny immediately took over and became unmanageable. We were all sad for Sunny as the couple seemed to really understand what his needs were and we thought they were going to honour his training and continue to set him up for success.

We were at a bit of a loss and were hoping someone else would come along, but Sunny’s history was becoming one of successive failures.

In December 2020, Sunny ended up going for seven days of boarding and intensive training with trainer Kelly Argue so that she could better understand him and tell us what his needs would be in his new home. We learned a lot from this and started new training techniques.

Finally, in January 2021, Tyna contacted us. She was interested in fostering Sunny. Tyna had lots of experience working with large, reactive dogs and was confident she could handle Sunny. The only thing was that Tyna had a 10-year-old female Dachshund named Honey, so we were unsure if Sunny would be too much for Honey but he had done well with Kelly’s small dogs during his weeklong board-and-train, so we gave it a shot.

Tyna and Honey came for a meet-and-greet and it went very well. Tyna did so well with Sunny and took him home as a foster in February 2021. We continued to have Sunny posted for adoption, but sadly he received very little interest. Thankfully, Sunny was thriving in his foster home with Tyna and Honey. Tyna went above and beyond for Sunny and Sunny really loves Tyna. Then … another bump in the road.

Tyna learned that she was allergic to Sunny because German Shepherds have similar dander to cats and she is allergic to cats. Even with the allergies, Tyna loved Sunny very much and was happy to continue fostering him until he found his new home. Tyna did a lot of work with Sunny and was able to fully wean him off his anti-anxiety medication, which was a huge step.

Then, in the middle of June, Tyna told us that she wanted to fully adopt Sunny! The entire RAPS team was over the moon because we knew how much Tyna loved Sunny and vice versa – plus she fully understood Sunny’s needs and how to make him the best boy he could be. Tyna spoke with her allergist about how to handle her allergies and she is going to receive a monthly allergy shot so that she can keep Sunny … Now that is commitment!

Tyna officially adopted Sunny on June 16, 2021, after Sonny had been in our care for almost a year!

Sunny’s story has a happy ending. But thousands of stories like his do not.

Most animal agencies do not have the resources and time to rehabilitate, socialize or otherwise prepare problematic or challenging animals for a forever home. In far, far too many cases, a dog like Sunny would be put down.

For more than two decades, unadoptable cats have come to the RAPS Cat Sanctuary, where they live out their lives surrounded by all the love and care we can deliver. But difficult-to-adopt dogs are a different story. Unlike cats, dogs do not tend to thrive in such a setting. They need regular bonding and devotion with a human family.

Until now, we have rehabilitated dogs like Sunny through our amazing fostering network. But we are ramping up to create a designated, permanent facility for dogs – the RAPS Dog Sanctuary & Adoption Centre, made possible by the ThanksVegan Foundation. Unlike our Cat Sanctuary, the Dog Sanctuary will not be imagined as a forever home for the residents. Rather, it will be the place where dogs come for intensive training, socialization and loving care, with experts in every field of behaviour, veterinary medicine and whatever other disciplines are necessary to see them finally succeed in being adopted – no matter how long it takes.

The RAPS Dog Sanctuary and Adoption Centre is another promise kept in RAPS’ longtime commitment to our no-kill ethos. We are building support now to create and open this new facility in the near future.

Saying Goodbye to George

Saying Goodbye to George

It is with the saddest of hearts we share with you that beloved George has passed. George was almost 16-years old.

Beautiful George was found in a Richmond ditch on a rainy, cold day in December 2017 by some Good Samaritans. After some investigation, we discovered that George indeed had a family, but they decided it was in everyone’s best interest to surrender George to RAPS. George was almost 12 years old when he arrived to us. He came in unable to bear weight on one of his front legs – our veterinarians suspect it was from an old injury that had not been treated.

With some significant medical issues, including a heart murmur, severe periodontal disease and muscle atrophy and nerve damage in his leg and shoulder, we determined George should be placed in a loving home under the conditions of being a permanent foster dog. In other words, RAPS would provide ongoing treatment for his medical conditions and absorb all costs of providing George with his best, love-filled life.

In February of 2018, George was welcomed into Kelsy and her partner’s family. George could not have found a more loving, beautiful home in which to live his golden years. He shared his home with his human mums, a completely blind canine sister, Sophia, and many foster pets that were also welcomed into this loving home. (We introduced George to readers a year-and-a-half ago. Read the earlier blog.) George’s mum Kelsy has a HUGE heart for caring for special dogs and other pets.

George lived his last years to the absolute fullest. He loved his trips and treks to Seattle, Galiano Island, Jug Island, Whistler, wineries and celebrating holidays with his family.

Writes Kelsy: “George has ruined us for all other dogs in the best way possible, he was so perfect and kind. Whatever critter we brought into the home to foster; a litter of rats, a mouse, guinea pigs – all of whom came from not-great situations like him – George was nothing but a gentleman to them. We tried to make up for his not-so-great past with all the love, adventures and treats (his favourite) he could handle and if he couldn’t handle it, I would carry him. We love him so much and although it was painful to let him go I would do again in a second, to have a love like his was something I will never forget. To the kindest soul I’ve ever met, my baby boy George.”

In so many other jurisdictions, a dog like George would have been euthanized when he was surrendered. Providing him the best life possible in whatever time he had left is how we kept the RAPS no-kill promise to George. This is a perfect example of how RAPS is different. Every life we save is possible because we have the support of animal allies like YOU!