British Columbia

Charlie's Christmas treats Downtown Eastside pets to gifts, photos with Santa

The B.C. SPCA and Charlie's Food Bank brought holiday cheer to Vancouver's Downtown Eastside with a holiday party for pets.

Unique holiday gathering is an annual tradition for Vancouver's Downtown Eastside community

Charlie's Christmas offers a chance for downtown eastside residents to celebrate the holiday season with their closest companions. (CBC)

Vancouver's Downtown Eastside pets were treated to gifts, goodies and photos with Santa at Charlie's Christmas Thursday, an annual event put on by the B.C. SPCA and Charlie's Food Bank.

Huddled under tents outside of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside street market, volunteers in Santa hats and reindeer antlers gathered to hand out the donated presents.

Pet owners took home bags loaded with pet food, toys, leashes and professional portraits of their dog or cat perched on Santa's lap.

The event also offered a drop-in veterinary clinic where animals could get checked out free of charge.

The annual gathering is a joint effort of the B.C. SPCA, Charlie's Food Bank, Mission Possible and the Downtown Eastside street market. (CBC)

Kim Monteith, manager of animal welfare at the B.C. SPCA, said the event allows Vancouver's Downtown Eastside residents to celebrate the holiday season with their best friends.

"For a lot of people down here, maybe they're isolated, and their pets are the only one that they have and they mean the world to them," she said.

With an unusually long cold snap and a surge in overdose deaths over the past few months, it's been a difficult year for Vancouver's Downtown Eastside community. ​

Donations for Charlie's Christmas are collected through a pet gift drive every December. (CBC)

Monteith said the holidays can be a particularly challenging time for low-income people and people without housing.

"They care about their pets and they want to take care of them, especially over the holidays. They may just not have the network, the family or friends, the resources to help," she said,

"For us to be there as that person that can help them or can point them in the direction of help, that's huge."

Several attendees said they were coming to volunteer and donate because the event helped them at a time when their pet was in need. (CBC)

Karen Lahay, a Downtown Eastside resident, dropped by with her dog Tye, who she called her "pride and joy."

"I can't afford much. I rely on these people you know," she said. "So, I wanted to drop off $20 to help all the animals."

Rick Benner, another attendee, said the SPCA helped him take care of his dog Axel when his own health prevented him from working.

"I think pets are very important for people that are alone," he said.

"I can meet the most troubled person walking down the street and I can see their mood change when they see the dog. Sometimes all they want to do is just pet him for a minute, and it makes their day."

The B.C. SPCA has been partnering with Charlie's Food Bank, Mission Possible and the Downtown Eastside street market for six years to put on the annual holiday event.

Charlie's Food Bank provides free pet-food and litter every Thursday, and holds free monthly veterinary clinics for low-income pet guardians.