Growing pains: Richmond animal shelter taking leap of faith into the future

RAPS' new CEO says charity must change, grow, as it enters its 10th year of City of Richmond contract

Composed and unhurried, Eyal Lichtmann finds the comfy, red faux leather armchair in a quiet corner of Waves Coffee House on No. 3 Road and Westminster Highway.

Moments earlier, Lichtmann had been thrust in front of yet another TV camera to field questions about a dog called Yogi, in the care of the Richmond Animal Protection Society (RAPS), who is seemingly on death row after a mauling incident last week in a local park.

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Despite being only a few weeks into the job, the new CEO and executive director at RAPS appears to be taking the media kerfuffle in stride, as he settles down to talk to The News.

Which is just as well, because Lichtmann’s arrival at the 27-year-old society — which has been without an executive director since RAPS’ founder, Carol Reichert, retired two years ago — has coincided with a catalogue of bold promises to modernize and grow the non-profit organization.

And according to RAPS’ president Fearn Edmonds, the new CEO will not be paid from the no-kill charity’s shoestring budget, 40 per cent of which comes from the City of Richmond contract, now entering its 10th year. The rest comes purely from donations.

Instead, Lichtmann’s salary will have to come from a wealth of Richmond corporate sponsorship he believes is out there, waiting for RAPS to tap into to fuel his vision of a bigger and better future for the shelter.

No one, however, including Lichtmann, is under the illusion the transition is going to be easy, especially at an organization which doesn’t have its troubles to seek, with spiralling vet bills, temporary animal accommodation and vehicles in need of repair.

“I want to re-invigorate the entire organization from top to bottom. I want to take RAPS to the next level,” said Lichtmann, while acknowledging the sterling work of the current staff, volunteers and board of directors.

“In the short-term, we need more sophisticated systems with our hardware and software…to keep better track of things like donations and animal inventory.

“We need more sponsors from the corporate world in Richmond; it could be a lot more. I raised tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship in my previous role.

“And we really need to know what it costs to care for an animal at RAPS. We need to know what it’s going to cost us if someone drops off 50 animals, so we know how much we’re going to need to find.”

RAPS
RAPS’ new CEO and executive director, Eyal Lichtmann said the organization needs a ‘top to bottom’ modernization in order to attract bigger sponsors. - Gord Goble/Special to the News

 

Lichtmann, by his own admission, has no animal welfare experience, other than the rescue husky-cross, Levi, and two rescue cats, Toby and Lorax, he, his wife Mandy and his three young daughters — all of whom volunteer at RAPS — have at their home near No. 1 Road and Westminster Highway.

In order then to realize his ambitions for RAPS, he’ll have to dip into his resume in the non-profit sector where, most recently, as the CEO and executive director at the Vancouver Hillel Foundation, he raised $10 million in 18 months for a major capital project at UBC.

It’s such connections and know-how that Lichtmann will need to obtain his lofty goals, such as RAPS becoming the standard bearer for animal care in Canada and housing an education centre for people to learn how to care for animals.

And to further entice the flow of corporate sponsorship, the new CEO’s long-term target is to achieve a third-party seal of approval.

“We want to find a way to get the organization accredited, so everything has to be run even more openly and ethically,” said Lichtmann.

“It’s a badge of honour to show potential donors that you’re highly efficient in everything you do. All levels of governance and reporting mechanisms need to be open and transparent. Not that it hasn’t been. We just need to take it to another level.

“When you’re small, you can be organic and make decisions on the fly; when you get bigger, you need proper processes in place.”

The growth Lichtmann speaks of will be almost immediate, as he’s already looking for more office space and extra support staff,  both of which will have to, initially, be supported through donations and volunteering.

And it’s no secret the current shelter, near the foot of No. 5 Road, is out-dated and bursting at the seams, with several, temporary mini-shelters erected for the animals.

The City of Richmond is funding a new trailer, to host more animals, which will be installed at the current RAPS site by the end of February.

However, plans for a sorely needed, custom-built new shelter is dependant, said city spokesperson Ted Townsend, “upon the city’s prioritization of its capital needs for the next phase of development.”

Townsend said that prioritization will be up for council review and approval “early this year.”

Lichtmann said he would love to be involved with the design of any new shelter, to ensure it’s capable of handling the growth of Richmond as a whole.

RAPS
RAPS president Fearn Edmonds said the no-kill shelter can’t afford to keep stumbling along. - submitted

 

Edmonds, who has volunteered on the board at RAPS for the best part of 20 years, said the organization was simply tired of struggling and stumbling along financially from month to month and it “couldn’t afford not to hire” Lichtmann, when he offered his services.

“(The CEO) didn’t necessarily need to be someone with an animal background, more someone from a non-profit place of expertise,” said Edmonds.

“Eyal came to us to offer his experience. After a long meeting, it made sense to bring in someone like him to lead us.

“He’s going to raise enough funds to fund himself, so we’re not concerned about money coming out of the budget. We simply don’t have that money and Eyal knows this.

“Without this move, we would survive; but we’d never be able to do all the things...to better help the animals of Richmond.”

Edmonds said the organization and the city has grown so fast that changes needed to be made to “best serve the community.”

“We really need to expand and work with the Chinese community to offer educational programs; but to do that, we need a different approach,” she added.

“Our pub nights and bake sales are great, but they only do so much.”

Edmonds said the rising cost of vet care has been the biggest challenge over the years, but it’s not something that, as a no-kill shelter, they can afford to skimp on.

“We will never compromise our policy. There are animals here that we’ve had in our care for a long time and many of them eventually find new homes.”

 

The current two-year contract with the city expires at the end of January 2017 and there has been speculation that the BC SPCA — which had the contract in 2007, before being undercut by RAPS — might bid again when the RFPs go out later this year.

However, BC SPCA’s spokesperson Lori Chortyk said she’s not aware of any such plans, citing that they already have a successful education and adoption centre in Richmond.

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