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White Rock producer finds winning formula with Pets & Pickers

Popular Animal Planet show returns for a second season
Producer Tyson Hepburn with crew during shooting at a RAPS thrift store for Pets & Pickers. (Contributed photo)

The term win-win may be over-used – but for White Rock born-and-raised television producer Tyson Hepburn it’s the most accurate description of his brainchild series Pets & Pickers.

The Earl Marriott grad’s inspiration has been to combine two of documentary TV’s most potent audience-generating genres – shows about people helping animals and shows about ‘pickers’ finding unexpected treasures among the contents of abandoned storage lockers – in one.

Little wonder that Pets & Pickers became one of the most popular shows on the Animal Planet channel in the U.S. as well as the Canadian version of the channel in its first season, and just started its second season in the U.S. and Canada on May 6.

The “Pets” portion of the show is filmed at the Regional Animal Protection Society (RAPS) Animal Hospital in Richmond, and focuses on the veterinary work RAPS does.

The “Pickers” portion happens at RAPS’ thrift store locations, where volunteers are given the contents of storage units that have been abandoned.

The teams pick through the goods and pull out what could work in their stores, searching for treasures that will help net big bucks to fund the hospital.

Fans and new viewers can catch episodes Saturdays at 5 p.m. (Pacific time) on Animal Planet (the primary airing platform, although the second season may also be picked up for broadcast by the Discovery Channel, as the first season was).

Hepburn said one of the things that drew him to the work of RAPS is that their fundraising through the thrift store operation allows animals needing surgeries to have their operations – even though their owners aren’t in a financial position to afford it.

“It’s a terrible situation to be in,” said Hepburn, who admits to doting on his black Labrador Retriever (named Audrey – although he is quick to add that he has no family connection with the Hollywood icon).

“I imagine what it would be like if she needed help and I didn’t have the resources to pay for it,” he said.

“Veterinary operations can easily add up to thousands of dollars. It’s hard for most people to find that in these tough times.”

Pet lovers can be seniors on fixed incomes, he said, or recent arrivals to Canada with very little money.

“They can be people who lost their jobs during COVID, or people with disabilities who can’t work for some reason.”

READ ALSO: Animal-focused ‘Pets & Pickers’ TV series features Surrey woman who runs RAPS thrift stores

For the volunteer ‘pickers’ connected with RAPS, he said, the excitement of finding unique and rare treasures, and having them evaluated and sold for maximum profit to the organization, is matched by the knowledge it is all going to a very worthy cause.

“RAPS is really unique in this way,” he said, adding that pets helped, in addition to cats and dogs have included everything from rabbits and hedgehogs to iguanas – and one turtle that needed to have its cracked shell repaired.

Having two focal points for the series does create its share of challenges, he said, adding that production of the most recent season started last August and more or less wrapped at the end of April, with the exception of some follow-up footage.

“We have two units filming non-stop during production,” he said.

“It’s a long editing schedule for a small show. For me, the hard work is picking through it all and finding the best moments – weaving the two worlds together.”

Hepburn, who graduated Marriott in 2002, has become noted for rapidly expanding executive producer credits across North America.

Among his successful shows has been Rust Valley Restorers, a popular Netflix series showing the personalities involved in restoring classic vehicles to new life.

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur and I’ve been lucky enough to find some good positions in the film industry. I’ve always loved animals and I love working in the industry, so this series is really combining two passions for me.”

One of those on the opposite side of the camera for Pets & Pickers is Abbotsford resident Alisa Verwoerd, a veterinary assistant at RAPS’ Richmond Hospital who has become a recognized personality on the show.

When she was a teenager, her cat Buddy had to spend a week in the care of an Abbotsford veterinarian.

It was in that week, while she was treated with care and dignity as a pet owner, that she decided to go into the business of animals. She was already an animal lover — Buddy had been adopted as an adult cat into her family through the SPCA.

“During that time the vet technicians and assistants were so lovely and took care of him, and I was able to check in and take care of him as much as I wanted,” she said. “I thought ‘I want to do that, too.’”

What she didn’t anticipate, she said, is that her dream job would result in her becoming part of a TV series.

Verwoerd is featured plenty on the first season of the show, but less in the season that’s just about to begin, she said.

But she said fans of the show will experience even more drama in season two, with some of the more intensive cases of the animals they’ve worked with. It’s been a fun experience to have a film crew in RAPS, documenting their work and sharing it out to the world, she acknowledges.

“At first I was quite hesitant to be on camera,” she said. “I wasn’t sure it was something I wanted to do, and honestly I thought it was going to be more of a disruption than anything.”

But those worries were all settled quickly, and she found it was easier to get comfortable on camera than expected.

“The crew is amazing,” she said, coming in a few times a week over the fall as they gathered footage needed for the series. “It’s something to see how many people it takes to get to what we see on TV,” she added. “It’s not just filming. There is a lot of work that goes into it.”

It’s also led to a little bit of celebrity.

“We do have a lot of clients that come in and say they saw the show, and some even ask our doctors for autographs so people are definitely seeing the episodes.”

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– with files from Jessica Peters

Alisa Verwoerd didn’t expect being a veterinary assistant at RAPS Animal Hospital would be an on-camera experience. (Contributed photo)

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