A Lower Mainland animal hospital is turning to reality television to help raise funds so they can, in turn, help pet owners – including those on Vancouver Island – with costly major surgeries on animals.

The Regional Animal Protection Society in Richmond (RAPS) promotes itself as Western Canada’s largest non-profit animal hospital, performing major surgeries on pets and helping owners with the costs. The group also pays for the hotel accommodations for pet-owners who travel from distant locations.

“Our goal is to reach across British Columbia to help as many people as possible one, with the cost of vet care, and two, because of how long people have to wait in outlying areas just to get an appointment,” says RAPS CEO Eyal Lichtmann.

Lichtmann estimates his hospital can help humans save $10 million in emergency fees once it gets to the point that it's able to operate around the clock, but fundraising of about $1.4 million will be required to reach that point.

He says clients are asked to make a small down-payment and then a payment plan is worked out based on what is affordable.

“If you can only afford $50 a month, let's work it out. If you can afford $100 a month, let’s work it out. We’re not adding any interest on top of that. This entire program is subsidized by our donors,” he says.

Lichtmann says the hospital, which opened in February of 2018, also provides veterinary care to animals in its care for adoption and offers assistance to other rescue groups in the province.

The hospital receives private donations and raises funds through the sale of used items in its thrift store. RAPS produces a reality television series called Pets & Pickers, which streams on ctv.ca.

He says the series is one-of-a kind and is popular across Canada. He describes it as a mixture of Storage Wars and Animal Hospital.

“We got 175 storage bins donated to us that are abandoned and we don’t know what’s in them," he says. "It’s the fun part at our thrift stores of opening them, we follow the great items being sold and then taking that to help people that can’t afford vet care.”

Port Alberni’s Jessi Howden is familiar with RAPS after taking his American Pit Bull Terrier Zeus there for surgery.

“I think it was about three or four years ago that he had to have a big knee surgery done and everywhere on the island was pretty expensive," Howden says. "He needed his ACL repaired and his cruciate."

Howden says he was facing an $8,500 bill back then and knows the surgery could have been performed in Victoria, but would have cost more, and the waiting list was lengthy. He spreads the word on the efforts of RAPS whenever he can.

“I’m a delivery driver and my favourite part of my job is seeing all the dogs, and if I see a dog that’s limping or has any issues, I always ask them and RAPS is always brought up,” he says.

RAPS recently launched a Vancouver Island initiative to assist pet owners on the island who have pets requiring major surgeries. He says the group has a staff member and a society director who now live in Nanaimo.

“They’ve been telling us about the crisis for quite a while now, and then we’ve been seeing the media on it as well with not just the cost but the wait times,” he says.

Lichtmann says season one of the series wraps up this week and hopefully will renew again for season two.