Seriously…how amazing is our veterinary community?! It is filled with people who give, and care, and strive to do better. Dr Jason Rapke and his wonderful team at Glen Iris Veterinary Clinic are going above and beyond everyday. They have created the incredible charity, ‘Best Mates’. ‘Best Mates’ offers free veterinary treatment and emergency pet boarding for people who are homeless, at risk of homelessness and who are struggling in life. We caught up with founder, Dr Jason Rapke, to learn more about him and the charity that is changing the lives of people and pets in Melbourne.

What are your interests inside the clinic?

My interests inside the clinic are reasonably broad but certainly abdominal ultrasound, echocardiography, minimally invasive surgery (laparascopic surgery) as well as general surgery would be areas of interest. I also enjoy the challenge of being an effective leader to the staff I work with.

What do you love about your clinical role?

It’s a job that is mentally stimulating, can be very emotionally rewarding and in which, there are endless opportunities to develop skills and knowledge. 

You are also kicking goals outside the clinic. What inspired you to start the incredibly worthwhile organisation, ‘Best Mates’?

We were doing a lot of work developing our clinic culture and one of the important things that came out of those discussions is that we wanted to give back to our community. Around the same time I had noticed a number of dogs on the streets of Melbourne living with people who appeared homeless. I made some enquires and the Salvation Army Crisis Centre and Sacred Heart Mission in St Kilda. Both organisations were keen for a program to be launched that could help the animals of people who were homeless or at risk of homelessness. The rest, as they say, is history. 

How long has the ‘Best Mates’ program been running?

Best Mates has been up and running for almost 12 months now. We run a ‘pet clinic’ on the first Sunday of every month in St Kilda and also take referrals for emergency cat boarding and other more urgent or complex veterinary procedures that need to be done at a vet clinic. 

How has your operation developed since starting out?

The clinic now operates far more efficiently than it did at the start (when we just turned up and just hoped we’d be able to help those who came to see us). We now have a dedicated team of volunteers and systems in place to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible. Our focus is very much on the alleviation of pain and suffering and preventative health care. 

What have been your greatest challenges in starting, operating and maintaining your charity?

Fundraising! The effort required to do the veterinary work at the charity pales in comparison to the amount of administrative and fundraising work required to keep it going. 

What about your greatest successes?

Our greatest success has been building trust with the community of clients and patients who we help. 

What do you hope to achieve in the future with this program?

The program will hopefully continue to grow and over time, I hope that we can expand the service to help more people in more ways. 

What help do you need to make this happen?

We currently have a crowd funding campaign through Give Now and we of course would be extremely grateful to anyone who can donate to support the charity. Other things that vets and nurses can do to help would be to fundraise on our behalf; donate near expired medications (especially vaccinations, worming treatment and antibiotics and pain relief); and volunteer to help on the day of the pet clinics or through taking on pro-bono work at their clinic (for example, performing a certain number of free de-sexings per year on behalf of the charity). 

What advice would you have for vets who are interested in working with, or are faced with, guardians and pets in crisis?

I think most vets grow very astute about how to manage these circumstances over time, as dealing with clients who have cost constraints is something we face on a day-to-day basis. My advice would be always listen and show respect at the beginning. Trust must be earned and once it is, everything is easier after that point. Many people who are facing difficult times are particularly sensitive to the needs of their pets and become very stressed at the thought of not being able to give them the necessary treatment. Under difficult circumstances, I think it’s particularly important to describe any options available to an owner from the perspective of ‘how will each of these options effect the animals quality of life’. 

Congratulations on your success thus far, and all our best wishes for continued success and expansion in the future! If you would like to donate to ‘Best Mates’, please click here. Follow the charity on Facebook here.