From free meals to veterinary care, these Victoria organizations are serving to pets in want

As cost of living soars, the BC SPCA and Vets for Pets provide free care for the city’s furry friends

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Breanne Beckett, area manager for the Victoria branch of the BC SPCA. Photo: Emily Vance/Capital Daily

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In a small room at the BC SPCA’s Victoria location, manager Breanne Beckett stacks bags of pet food onto shelves loaded down with animal supplies. In nearby rooms, cats mingle and meow and dogs bark with excitement.

The BC SPCA is known for taking care of surrendered animals, but the care they provide extends beyond the doors of the Burnside-based shelter and into the community. Beckett is stocking shelves to support their Pet Food Bank Program, where owners can come pick up food and supplies for their pets, anonymously and free of charge, with no questions asked. The program runs every Wednesday from 1pm-3pm.

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“I think people are in more and more of a situation where they have to choose between filling their own cupboards or feeding their pets, which would be horrible,” Beckett said. “[We’re] hearing it a lot that people have to surrender their animals and break up their families because they can’t afford to care for them or feed them.”

The Pet Food Bank officially launched in 2021, although the SPCA had been informally giving away food to pets in need for years. Since the start of 2022, they’ve given away more than 4,000 kilograms of pet food, and Beckett estimates they’ve supported more than 2,000 animals. She said the need for the program has only grown since they started, especially as the cost of living rises.

The program runs on community donations. Beckett said they have received plenty of support, with people stopping by on a regular basis to donate pet food and pet accessories of all kinds.

“We put a call out for empty shelves a couple months ago, and we couldn’t even open our door the next day,” Beckett said.

The SPCA accepts donations of unopened pet food in its original containers, wet or dry, as well as cat litter, and any kind of pet related objects—litter boxes, hamster wheels, collars, food bowls, and more. They also accept monetary donations, both in person and on their website, that can be directed towards the food bank program.

Beyond the SPCA

The Pet Food Bank Program also extends outside the walls of the BC SPCA. Beckett said they work with anywhere between 10 and 15 local organizations a month, supplying them with free food donations to distribute to the community. That’s partly because their location in Victoria’s Burnside neighborhood isn’t accessible to everyone, and they wanted to ensure they were reaching those who needed the service most.

“We needed to open those up to reach people in other places. I think the need has grown in volume and locations around our city,” Beckett said.

One of the programs they support with free food is Vets for Pets, a monthly drop-in clinic hosted at Our Place Society on Pandora Avenue. The program, which runs on the second Sunday of each month, is a free service for pets belonging to low-income and unhoused people. The clinic runs from 2pm-3:45pm, and tickets to register are given out starting at 10:30am at the front desk of Our Place.

A kitten receiving care at the Vets for Pets clinic at Our Place in Victoria. Photo: Submitted

The clinic was founded in 2009 by Dr. Jane Vermeulen, and is currently run by two veterinarians, Megan McCormack and Chloe Roberts. Between the two of them, and a number of dedicated volunteers, they are able to see between 40 and 60 pets per clinic. Most of the care is limited to preventative care and simple infections, but McCormack said the two do their best to help anyone who asks.

She said the need for veterinarian care in the community is “massive.”

“We’re able to dispense medication and provide care and advice and even follow up care for free, which people are so grateful for,” McCormack said.

Before each session, they pull the pet’s medical record and chat with the owner about what they need. The BC SPCA sets up a table with free food and pet supplies nearby, and people have the opportunity to shop while they wait to be seen at the clinic.

Vets for Pets recently added a mobile component to their work, traveling to different locations within the Victoria area to provide care for pets in need. They’ve started to work with clients of the Cool Aid Society, and hope to be able to expand their offerings even further.

“I would love to be able to offer more in depth care for people and pets, maybe even surgical services like spay and neuter,” McCormack said.

McCormack said that she sometimes hears negative comments about people who struggled to care for their pets, but she said most of the clients she sees take incredible care of their furry companions.

“These are people who would first feed their pets before they would feed themselves,” McCormack said.

“We believe that everybody deserves love. Your family is your pet, and you’re not any less worthy of that than anybody else.”

Maria Green, Manager of Wellness Services at Our Place Society, said that pets can be a lifeline for many of their clients who are experiencing homelessness or struggling with mental health issues. She said Vets for Pets offers “life-changing” care and support to people who may be isolated or struggling.

“Our community members love their pets, and in some ways even more, because that might be the only being that they have that loves them unconditionally, and doesn’t judge them,” Green said. “By caring for the pets, they’re also caring for the individual with the pet, because they’re giving them a companion.”

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