Sunday 4 July marks 150 years of RSPCA Victoria’s work caring for and protecting animals. Since its formation in 1871 when the first meeting was held in Melbourne to improve the lives of horses in colonial Victoria, Australia’s most trusted animal welfare organisation has worked to better the lives of all creatures great and small, fur covered and feathered, homeless and abused, abandoned or in poor health.
The first RSPCA to be established in Australia, in its 150 years, RSPCA Victoria has worked to rescue, rehabilitate, and rehome hundreds of thousands of animals in need. Since its inception RSPCA Victoria has advocated for changes that would end tail docking of puppies and intensive breeding operations, to improve the welfare of racing animals, to make it easier for renters to have pets, and inform major pieces of legislation, notably the Domestic Animals Act 1994.
Dr Liz Walker, RSPCA Victoria’s CEO, said it was an important time to commemorate and reflect on the charity’s challenges and achievements thus far.
“We are incredibly proud to commemorate this remarkable milestone and to have the opportunity to acknowledge the many dedicated people who have cared for Victoria’s animals over the past 150 years. Since then, the work of RSPCA Victoria has expanded to a federation of nine RSPCA societies across Australia,” said Dr Walker.
“While the organisation and community as a whole can commemorate many achievements, there is still much to be done and we remain committed to continually improving animal welfare to create a better life for animals,” said Dr Walker.
Originally named the Victorian Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (VSPCA), in 1871 the VSPCA hired the first two inspectors in 1871 and in 1875 VSPCA began looking beyond horses to other livestock such as ducks, geese, goats, and sheep.
In 1956 the VSPCA gained royal patronage, becoming the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) a name for which it is well recognised today. A not-for-profit charity that relies on the generous support of the community for more than 90% of operating expenses, RSPCA Victoria’s vision is to end cruelty to all animals.
Across the state RSPCA Victoria provides community services including animal shelters, veterinary clinics, education programs, op shops and an Inspectorate that is authorised to investigate and prosecute cases of animal cruelty. Operating six animal welfare shelters that provide refuge, each year RSPCA Victoria strives to give more than 20,000 animals a second chance.
In 1974, RSPCA’s administration building opened at the current Burwood East location. This was followed in 1982 by the Animal Adoption Centre which was recently renamed the Dr Hugh Wirth Animal Care Centre in honour of long serving President and Patron, Dr Hugh Wirth, who dedicated his life to animals. Dr Wirth began his association with RSPCA Victoria in 1949, became president in 1972 and served in the role for a remarkable 43 years.
Since its inception, RSPCA Victoria has worked to prevent cruelty around the state, growing the inspectorate to investigate cases of cruelty, opening veterinary clinics to service the public, developing education programs and working in advocacy. Throughout its history, it has continued to care for and find loving forever homes for the thousands of animals in need that come through the doors.
In addition to caring for animals in need, RSPCA Victoria has been integral to a number of Victorian animal welfare milestones, tirelessly advocating for changes to prevent cruelty. Since its inception RSPCA Victoria has worked to influence changes to legislation to improve animal welfare, including that which resulted in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (POCTAA). RSPCA Victoria was also instrumental in the Domestic Animals Amendment (Puppy Farms and Pet Shops) Act which was passed in Victorian Parliament in 2017 to reform the dog breeding and pet shop industries in Victoria and better regulate the sale of dogs and cats.
Additionally, RSPCA Victoria played an instrumental role in the new laws on pet rental reform which came into effect in 2020 after years of campaigning. Now, landlords cannot unreasonably refuse tenants with pets, ultimately helping to support people to create better lives for their pets, resulting in positive animal welfare outcomes and happier communities.
Dr Walker said, “RSPCA Victoria’s progressive work in animal welfare has paved the way for the organisation, now part of the RSPCA Federation with counterparts in every state and territory. Backed by 150 years of experience and history, the RSPCA remains one of Australia’s longest-standing, most loved and most trusted charities, strongly positioned to deal with the modern-day challenges of the 21st century.”
Dr Walker also said, “We know animals are good for people and contribute to our lives in a myriad of ways so while we pause for a moment to commemorate and thank those who have supported our work over the last 150 years, our commitment to the Victorian community is to continue to find ways to improve the lives of all creatures great and small.”