Two of the five board members who resigned recently from a Richmond animal charity have broken 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, claim in a statement given to the Richmond News that they departed from the Regional Animal Protection Society (RAPS) board over allegations involving previous RAPS’ fundraisers.
Van den Hemel and Johnston claim the majority of the five directors who resigned “requested an internal review into several allegations involving RAPS fundraisers, among other matters.
“We felt it would be beneficial to the organization in order to clear the air. A majority of the board did not support the internal review despite the concerns raised by fellow directors.”
Both former RAPS directors chose to speak out after their resignations – and that of two vets - were explained earlier this week by RAPS’ CEO Eyal Lichtmann as a result of a disagreement over “re-positioning” of strategy for the organization.
“It certainly was not a difference of opinion about the organization’s vision or future direction that led to our departure,” Van den Hemel and Johnston’s joint statement read.
“We never got the point of discussing the future plans as we debated fiduciary responsibilities.”
In response to the former board members’ claims, RAPS’ president, Fearn Edmonds, told the News that allegations were made by some directors about funds received from a fundraising campaign in 2019 for a very sick dog called Rocky, who was involved in a car crash, along with its owner, who was homeless.
Edmonds said the allegations surrounded the possibility that the money raised was “not all utilized” for Rocky, who sadly passed away a month or so after the fundraiser kicked off.
She explained that RAPS have a disclaimer at the bottom of all its fundraisers, stating that any funds not used will be applied to RAPS emergency fund for other animals in need.
As for the apparent refusal to carry out an internal review into the matter, Edmonds refuted that, claiming RAPS did, in fact, carry out an internal review.
“We were satisfied with our findings and provided evidence to address any of the concerns brought forward from some of the directors,” said Edmonds.
“The majority of the directors were satisfied with our conclusion, and we had our outside corporate lawyer involved to review our findings and provide direction with governance.”
Van den Hemel categorically denies a review of the allegations took place and no findings were produced to the board while he or Johnston were directors.
“The public deserves complete transparency and accountability from RAPS and its directors, and, in our experience, that was lacking,” according to Van den Hemel and Johnston.
“Sadly, the inaccurate statements made by RAPS management about our resignations is entirely consistent with the type of troubling behaviour we witnessed while we were on the board.
“And as a result, we could no longer in good conscience remain as representatives of RAPS.”
Rhoda funds transferred to animal hospital
The claims being made by Van den Hemel and Johnston come just a few days after a row went public between RAPS and a pet owner over a fundraiser for a dog which apparently needed a pacemaker for a dangerously slow heart rate.
The owner of the dog told the News that throughout the fundraising campaign she was never given a running tally of how much money had been raised to date, despite asking numerous times. Moreover, she said she has just learned that the facility where RAPS said her dog would need to go to receive the pacemaker doesn't even perform that procedure.
It all started back in December, when Robyn Wilson was one of four families nominated to receive free, in-house veterinary care at RAPS Animal Hospital in Richmond.
However, while at RAPS, Wilson’s nine-year-old Chihuahua-mix – Rhoda – was diagnosed with an “extremely low heartbeat” and required a pacemaker to potentially save her life.
To pay for the $10,000 operation – which had to take place at a specialist facility outside of RAPS’ hospital – RAPS offered to kick off a fundraiser on behalf of Rhoda.
Between late December and last week, Wilson -- who knew of several family member and friends who had donated several thousands of dollars -- claimed her repeated attempts to find out how much money had been raised for Rhoda were only met with comments that the campaign “wasn’t going well.”
When asked about the situation, RAPS’ CEO, Eyal 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.
Over the past weekend, when Wilson took to social media to express her frustration with RAPS, it became apparent that $5,500 had been raised.
That was, according to Wilson, the first time any kind of figure had surfaced, despite her sending several emails to RAPS in January and February.
That money is now in the process of being transferred to an account in Wilson’s name at Boundary Bay Animal Hospital, as the facility where RAPS had intended to send Rhoda – Canada West in Vancouver – can’t perform the pacemaker procedure as it doesn’t have a cardiologist, according to Wilson.
Wilson said RAPS seemed to be unaware that Canada West were not even in a position to perform the operation that the RAPS’ fundraiser was based on.
The News has reached out to Canada West for clarification and comment.
After the Richmond 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.”