Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/11/2016 (184 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s Monday afternoon and my buddy, former Winnipeg Blue Bombers long-snapper Chris Cvetkovic, and I are happily stuffing our faces in a booth at Falafel Place on Corydon Avenue.
But we’re not just here to eat; we’re here to talk about Chris’s four-year-old non-profit organization. The message emblazoned on his black T-shirt says it all: "Cvet’s Pets Helping Vets."
In 2012, Chris, a 39-year-old father of two, founded Cvet’s Pets, a volunteer-run, non-profit group dedicated to raising cash and awareness for Manitoba’s animal-rescue programs.
Six months down the road, the focus changed to helping Canadian military veterans and first responders who have received specially trained medical-service dogs to help them cope with the nightmare of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Cvet’s Pets covers the cost of providing the $500 to $600 "starter kits" given to every veteran or first responder who receives a service dog.
"What we do is basically supply all the supplies they need to own a service dog," Chris said. "We make sure everything is free of charge. They don’t have to panic and run to a pet store."
A starter kit includes a dog crate, bed, leash, collar, chew toys, treats, canine First-Aid kit, travel bowls, backpack, poop bags, dog dishes — anything and everything a first-time dog owner requires.
"We’ve gotten to the point now where we almost can’t keep up with the demand," said Chris, who also runs his own company, Full Contact Construction. "We have outside organizations that are referring vets to us.
"In the last three weeks, we’ve sent out 18 kits, and we have another 20 veterans waiting for kits. A kit costs us about $500 to $600 to assemble. Cvet’s Pets is growing and we couldn’t do it without the amazing help we’re receiving."
And that’s the point — Chris isn’t here to toot his own horn; that’s not the way he rolls. He is desperate to sing the praises of groups throughout Canada that have stepped up to help Cvet’s Pets help vets.
"I get way too much credit," Chris said quietly. "I played 12 years of professional football and I know you can’t do anything alone."
He went on to say that a growing number of Canadian veterans and first responders are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, which prevents them from working, making it hard to put groceries on the table, let alone feed a service animal.
To meet that need, Cvet’s Pets has partnered with The Canadian Legacy Project, a national charity that offers programs to help veterans mired in poverty, including operating food drives for the Veterans Food Bank in Calgary, the only Canadian city with a food bank dedicated to veterans.
Thanks to the Legacy Project, Cvet’s Pets is able to provide vouchers that veterans in financial difficulty can redeem for dog food for their service animals.
"They can go to any pet store and get that bag of food for free," Chris said. "There’s a real need. They (the Canadian Legacy Project) are 100 per cent funding our pet-food voucher program that we’re doing for vets and first responders."
Dave Howard, president and founder of the Legacy Project, told me in an interview from Calgary that Chris’s made-in-Manitoba charity meets a staggering need throughout Canada.
"Chris is a great guy, a selfless guy," Dave said. "We really believe in what he and his team are doing. Not only are they helping get these packages out to the vets, but they’re educating the country that there are vets that have service dogs and need them.
"Across Canada, there are veterans that are suffering. We have thousands that are homeless. All of a sudden, they’re broke and some have families and service dogs and they can’t put food on the table. We’ve heard of vets providing food for their service dogs and they (the vets) go hungry."
He noted that service dogs can mean the difference between life and death for traumatized veterans.
"Putting food on the table is not easy," he said. "What Chris has done is fill a need for soldiers transitioning to civilian life. It’s not an easy process. I’d say half the vets coming out now are struggling. You leave the military, you have PTSD and can’t work, and it takes up to a year to get your pension or disability. Think about it!"
Chris would tackle me if I failed to mention his volunteer board — Dawn and Tara Daley, Ginny Lechman and Melissa Michalski. "They run all the events and assemble the kits. Cvet’s Pets doesn’t do anything without these people."
Petland has stepped up to the plate by holding in-store fundraisers for Cvet’s Pets. "They’ve raised thousands and thousands of dollars for us," Chris said.
"It’s massive. That probably accounts for up to 40 per cent of our funding. It’s more than 25 stores in Western Canada. Because of the Canadian Legacy Project and Petland, we are able to help that many more people. I could not do this alone. I’m surrounded by people who love veterans and love animals."
The truth is, love is all we need, Chris. And possibly a big bag of dog food mixed with a little dogged determination.