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Animal charity failed to do checks before kicking off fundraiser

RAPS claims it took the information from its now former vet about where an apparently sick dog would have to go for a special operation
Robyn Wilson (right) and her husband, Keith, with little Rhoda, who RAPS kicked off a fundraiser for, without double-checking how much it would cost.

A Richmond animal charity didn’t check if a specialist facility could carry out an operation on a sick dog or how much it would cost – before kicking off a public fundraiser to save the pet.

After a free health check-up, the Richmond Animal Protection Society (RAPS) told dog owner Robyn Wilson back in December that her nine-year-old Chihuahua-mix, Rhoda, had been diagnosed with an “extremely low heartbeat” and required a pacemaker to potentially save her life.

To pay for the apparent $10,000 operation – which had to take place at a specialist facility outside of RAPS’ hospital – the charity offered to kick off a fundraiser on behalf of Rhoda.

After a row between RAPS and Wilson went public last week – amid accusations from Wilson that she’d been kept in the dark for months over the fundraiser’s progress – RAPS’ CEO Eyal Lichtmann told the Richmond News that if enough funds were raised, the operation was to be done at Canada West veterinarians in Vancouver.

It emerged on Friday morning, after Wilson called Canada West, that the facility hasn’t been able to perform such an operation for three years and that no contact had even been made by RAPS to Canada West with regard to Rhoda’s care.

RAPS’ spokesperson, Pat Johnson, told the News later on Friday that they were only informed by one of their now former vets, back in December, that Canada West was “the place that does (the procedure) and it costs $10,000.”

Johnson doesn’t know where the vet in question got the information from and acknowledged that Boundary Bay Veterinary Specialty Hospital in Langley was the closest place to go for Rhoda.

“In the process of the whole fundraising (for Rhoda) we actually never mentioned Canada West publicly, we only mentioned it in the clarification this week.

“It was based on information that we didn’t double-check. The issue here is that, there’s a bunch of moving parts, and this just added to the confusion unfortunately.

“We just have the simple misinformation about which veterinarian did this surgery and how much it costs.

“In retrospect, obviously we wish that we had confirmed that information but we certainly thought we didn’t need to.”

Johnson refused to name the vet, but the News understands from Wilson that it was the same vet from RAPS who called her in the last few months, who was keen to know how Rhoda was doing.

And she clearly recalls being told by Lichtmann that RAPS had been in touch with a specialist and received a $10,000 estimate for Rhoda’s operation.

“Not once did the vet mention an estimate for anything. But that’s not his job. He does the diagnostics,” said Wilson.

“I think (RAPS) are just blaming anyone who’s not there anymore, including me. They told me that they’d consulted a specialist and they’d gotten the quote for $10,000. The first time I’d heard Canada West was this week in an email.

“How can you kick off a fundraiser for an operation that they haven’t even checked if it can be done at this place and how much it’s going to cost?”

After the row between RAPS and Wilson went public on social media and the News’ story broke on Tuesday, the charity divulged that $5,500 had, in fact, been raised and that it would be transferred to an account at Canada West to go towards Rhoda’s operation.

Since Wilson discovered the Canada West can’t even do the procedure, those funds are now being transferred to the aforementioned Boundary Bay vets in Langley.

However, she still needs to find at least $4,500 for the operation to go ahead.

The News reported yesterday how two of five recently resigned RAPS board members broke their silence over their reasons for leaving.

Martin Van den Hemel, a former newspaper publisher, and Ken Johnston, a former Richmond city councillor and MLA, claimed in a statement given to the News that they departed from RAPS’ board over allegations involving previous fundraisers.

Van den Hemel and Johnston claimed the majority of the five directors who resigned “requested an internal review into several allegations involving RAPS fundraisers, among other matters.” A review, they say, never took place.

RAPS’ board president Fearn Edmonds flatly denied the allegations had been ignored, stating that an internal review did take place and the majority of the board “were satisfied with our findings and provided evidence to address any of the concerns brought forward from some of the directors.”

Another of the board members who recently resigned, Natasha Kulusic, took the Facebook on Friday, indicating that she was also ready to speak out about the internal rift at RAPS.

However, when contacted by the News, Kulusic declined to comment, stating that she had been served with a defamation threat from a lawyer representing Lichtmann.

The News understands that Van den Hemel has been issued a similar letter from Lichtmann’s lawyer.

The News reported earlier this week how Wilson claimed her repeated attempts to find out how much money had been raised for Rhoda were only met with comments from RAPS that the campaign “wasn’t going well.”

When asked about the situation, Lichtmann told the News that Wilson was “distraught” and claimed she had been updated on the fundraiser via a phone call.

“She wants to save her dog and I understand that. We get a lot of crazy animal people doing different things when they’re distraught,” he said earlier this week.

After the News story broke on Tuesday evening, RAPS issued a public apology the following day to Wilson, and the local community, stating that the matter “could have and should have been handled much better. Stress and anxiety, instead, surrounded this case and for this we are deeply sorry.”

The apology continued, “We attempted to be transparent with our online communications by posting that the funds would be redirected if adequate funds were not raised, any residual monies would be used to care for other animals in need at RAPS.

“The family has said that we have not been clear in our communications around the amount of money raised and, while we have different recollections of telephone conversations, we accept that our communications could have been more responsive.

“We are sorry for the way we handled this matter and we hope we can make it up to the community by being more responsive and doing things better in the future.”