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Fundraising row erupts over sick Richmond dog

Robyn Wilson claims RAPS kept her in the dark for months over how well the fundraiser was going for a pacemaker for little Rhoda
Robyn Wilson (right) and her husband, Keith, with little Rhoda

A relationship between a Richmond-based animal charity and a pet owner – which started with a fundraiser to save a sick dog’s life – has turned sour.

It all started back in December, when Robyn Wilson was one of four families hit hard financially by COVID to be nominated to receive free, in-house veterinary care at RAPS Animal Hospital in Richmond.

Wilson gratefully accepted the offer and took her three rescue dogs into RAPS to get a free check-up, including a diagnostic rundown of their health.

Unfortunately, one of the dogs – a nine-year-old Chihuahua-mix called Rhoda – was found to have an extremely low heartbeat and required a pacemaker to potentially save her life.

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

However, between late December and last week, Wilson claims that her repeated attempts to find out how much money has been raised for Rhoda, she has only been told the campaign “wasn’t going well.”

Being under the impression from several family and friends that they’d donated at least a few thousand dollars, she began to question RAPS, (via an email trail which she shared with the Richmond News) on how much had been raised.

Wilson also claimed RAPS had, before the online fundraiser kicked off in December, offered to put $5,000 into the pot, courtesy of a recent donation. She claims the offer was part of a phone call, however, and she has no proof it was made.

RAPS’ CEO, Eyal Lichtmann, meanwhile, vehemently denied Wilson had been kept in the dark over the fundraiser’s running total and said his organization would never offer to throw money into the pot for a procedure which would have to take place outside of RAPS.

Lichtmann told the News that Wilson “cannot provide anything in writing” about the $5,000 kick-in from RAPS and that she was simply “making it up.”

In terms of Wilson’s claims of being kept in the dark over the fundraiser’s running total, Lichtmann dismissed her as being “distraught.”

“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.

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.

“I realized, I don’t get to see who’s donating and how much, there’s no tracking it to see how well it’s doing (on RAPS’ website),” Wilson told the News.

“I was regularly going on Facebook, saying to people, I’m so sorry, I don’t know for sure who’s donating, but I thank you anyway.

“Then all these people were contacting me saying they had donated this and that so I had a kind of a rough running tally in my head.”

Wilson said she was told in early January by RAPS that the fundraiser wasn’t going that well and they would re-launch it in mid-January.

However, Rhoda’s health was waning a little and Wilson was eager to know if the operation was going to happen or not.

That’s when, she claims, in a phone call with a staff member at RAPS, they offered to buy a plaque in Rhoda’s name – something that Lichtmann completely denies, even stating the plaque was Wilson’s idea.

“I told him she’s still alive and that I don’t think that’s the goal of the fundraiser,” said Wilson.

“If I can share how close we are (with the running total), people might chip in to get it over the top. After that, they basically ignored me.

“One of the vets called me to ask how she was doing and expressed his frustration over them not keeping me up to date on the fundraiser.”

Wilson said that, if people are donating for a specific cause, they should be allowed to see who’s donating, how much and what the outcome is.

Lichtmann told the News that it specifically states on Rhoda’s fundraising page that, “if the entire amount is not raised, the money would go to other RAPS programs.”

He said people were, for whatever reason, simply not donating to Rhoda’s cause and that RAPS was “transparent about everything.”

“We’ve pushed this (fundraiser) to the full extent we can, but people didn’t donate to this,” he added.

As for not being able to see the running total on a fundraiser, Lichtmann said he wasn’t sure that was standard practice, but was “definitely something we’re going to do in the future.”

“It’s very rare that we do something like this and it’s not that we can’t get better at it.”

Lichtmann said, if Wilson manages to come up with the remaining $4,500, RAPS will transfer the $5,500 raised to Canada West, where Rhoda could get the pacemaker fitted.

Four RAPS directors, two vets resign

Meanwhile, Lichtmann explained the recent resignation of four directors from its volunteer board and the departure of two of its vets was a result of RAPS’ “re-positioning” and the charity taking a different direction.

Among the four who resigned were former Richmond city councillor and MLA Ken Johnston and former newspaper publisher and journalist Martin van den Hemel.

The News reached out to both Johnston and Van den Hemel, but declined to comment on their reasons for resigning from RAPS.

“We’re going through some re-positioning of the organization and looking at ways that we can do more for the community,” said Lichtmann, noting RAPS’ recent loss of its animal control contract with the city to the SPCA.

“So there was a re-positioning on strategy and what we wanted to do and there was a minority on the board that didn’t agree with that direction.

“The majority of the board consists of people that have been around for 20 years or so and are really the heart of the organization.”

Lichtmann said RAPS has already replaced one of the departing board members with “two more interested in joining.”

As for the two vets resigning, Lichtmann said a specialist was brought in to review RAPS’ hospital operations, in terms of its aforementioned “new direction.”

He said at least one of the vets “didn’t like the changes that we wanted to make at the hospital, so he decided to move on. He was a contractor, not an employee.”

Lichtmann said RAPS received eight applications in 10 days to fill the void and were in the process of hiring five new vets at the hospital, adding that “they’re knocking down the door to come here. We’re looking at running extra hours with more vets. (We’re) hopefully going to run 24/7.”