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Volunteering with the RSPCA

The volunteer featured in this article called Lucy is a pseudonym of a real RSPCA volunteer that our resident Pet Care blog vet, Dr Rosemary, has previously worked with. If you want to volunteer with the RSPCA get in touch with your local state branch and check out their website for more information on roles and requirements.

The RSPCA is a household name and is acknowledged as the oldest, largest and one of the most trusted animal welfare organisations in Australia. But do you really know what the RSPCA stands for, and what they do?

RSPCA stands for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The RSPCA’s mission is: “to prevent cruelty to animals by actively promoting their care and protection”.

While RSPCA’s existed previously in other parts of the world, in Australia, the RSPCA’s history dates back to 1871, when the first Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was established in Victoria to address ill treatment of horses. This was soon followed by Societies in other individual states and territories. By 1980, the RSPCA was established as a federation, made up of the eight state and territory RSPCAs with RSPCA Australia as the national unifying body.

In practical terms, the state and territory RSPCA’s provide services to animals in need through shelters and associated veterinary clinics and through assisting animals affected by disasters such as bushfires and drought. They also investigate and prosecute cases of animal cruelty and educate the public about responsible pet ownership. RSPCA Australia’s role is to use scientific evidence to develop sound positions on animal welfare issues and to advise governments and industry on policies and legislation. As the voice for animals, RSPCA Australia provides a vast amount of free evidence-based knowledge about animal welfare through its Knowledgebase, accredits best practice farming schemes and conducts targeted public campaigns on a range of issues. A great example of this is the campaign to stamp out puppy farms.

The story of Mack illustrates why the RSPCA’s work is so important. A small dog who became homeless, Mack spent eight months living under someone’s house, coming out only to scavenge for food and water. When the owners of the house realised he was there, they contacted RSPCA NSW, who immediately rescued Mack by gently coaxing him out. Mack was in a terrible state – matted all over, infested with fleas and mites, in pain and utterly terrified. After receiving veterinary treatment and lots of TLC from RSPCA staff, Mack was given a second chance by being rehomed to a loving family.

There are countless stories like Mack’s. Based on RSPCA annual statistics, in the 2018-2019 financial year the RSPCA nationally received 124,146 animals into their shelters and adoption centres (including 33,863 dogs and 51,170 cats) and investigated 58,487 cruelty complaints. In the same year, 25,980 dogs and 33,770 cats were successfully adopted or reunited with their owners. Programs such as working with smaller rescue groups and adoption partners, community desexing and expanding foster care networks have contributed to an upward trend in both adoption and reclaiming rates over recent years.

Thousands of Australian animals have been rescued, cared for and rehomed by the RSPCA but, as a charity, donations and volunteer support are crucial for their ongoing work. Around 6% of the RSPCA’s income comes from Government funding. Most income is from corporate sponsors, donations and fund-raising.

This is why community support for the RSPCA is so crucial. Volunteers have long been at the heart of what the RSPCA achieves. In NSW alone, 2,128 volunteers and foster carers donated their time and effort to help both animals and their owners. If you’ve ever considered volunteering with the RSPCA, experienced volunteers such as Lucy can offer inspiration and advice.

Lucy decided to volunteer for the RSPCA at 18. She had always loved animals and her dream was to become a vet nurse. Lucy wanted to gain more practical skills with animal handling and care. After being accepted as a volunteer, she worked as an animal care assistant with both cats and dogs of all ages. Lucy’s job was to feed, water and bathe the animals, walk the dogs, play with kittens, offer enrichment opportunities and do a lot of cleaning! She was also allowed to observe in the clinic.

After a year at the shelter, Lucy’s confidence had increased, and she knew that vet nursing was where she was headed. When asked about her most memorable volunteering moment, she replied: “I’d been caring for a three-legged cat called Mishy and worried about how long it would take her to find a home. When her forever family came, they fell in love with her straight away. We all shed a few tears of joy.

That’s the great thing about volunteering with the RSPCA - there’s a role for everyone. You can work directly with animals through animal care at the shelters or by fostering, which involves caring for animals in your home temporarily until they are adopted. Alternatively, you can use other skills such as administration, driving, fund-raising, retail, gardening, marketing, photography or helping at events such as the Million Paws Walk. Volunteering for the RSPCA is just a great way to give back to the community by helping animals, and you’ll also make friends and learn new skills along the way.

You can also support the RSPCA by making donations. By giving a once-off donation, or setting up regular gifts, you can help ensure the RSPCA is able to continue in its mission to care for and protect all creatures great and small.

Australia is a nation of animal lovers, with some of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world. This is the role not just of RSPCA staff but of the whole community.

The amazing work of the RSPCA could not continue without volunteers and donors. If you’ve ever wanted to help out, there are many opportunities for both young and old. And remember, if you have RSPCA Pet Insurance, this will not only give you peace of mind about helping cover the costs of unexpected vet bills for your own precious pet, but will also support the RSPCA’s work to care for other animals in need, with a portion of first-year premiums going directly to the RSPCA.

Image of Dr Rosemary Elliot

Dr Rosemary Elliot 

Dr Rosemary studied veterinary science at the University of Sydney after having established her career as a clinical psychologist, and has qualifications of BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), MPsych (Clin), BA (Hons) as well as previously establishing her career as a clinical psychologist. Her experiences during veterinary training fostered an ambition to focus directly on animal welfare and ethics, with a particular interest in animal sentience and the human-animal bond. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Rosemary combines her psychology background and veterinary skills to contribute to and promote animal welfare, and regularly contributes quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance's Pet Care blog.