18 March 2022

Dog's smile makes it all worthwhile as RSPCA team reflects on Weston memories

| James Coleman
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Sarah Macintosh

Sarah Macintosh started as a junior receptionist. Twenty years later, the’s the full-time practice manager. Photo: RSPCA ACT.

Sarah literally broke her leg to get a job at Canberra’s largest animal welfare organisation.

“Ever since I was in high school, I’ve wanted to work at the RSPCA,” she says.

And Sarah can thank her sister who accidentally tripped her when she trod on her shoelace. The mishap put Sarah in hospital with a broken knee.

“One of the rehabilitation agencies found me some work experience at one of the local vet clinics.

“Since I had the experience there, I was then able to apply for a job with the RSPCA, which was actually pretty difficult to get into back then.”

Sarah started in 2002 as a junior receptionist, working her way up through reception, into the clinic as a vet nurse, and onto full-time practice manager where she is today.

The joy of giving sick and maimed animals a second lease on life constantly reminds her that the team’s making a difference.

“The animals might not come out as perfect, but they now have a really good quality of life. It’s a bit cliché, but we’re definitely making a difference.”

Pam and Oscar

Pam, a long-time volunteer with the RSPCA, and Oscar. Photo: James Coleman.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) has had a home in the ACT since 1955. And it’s quite literally, a home.

The current site on Kirkpatrick Street in Weston is zoned as residential property. But it’s equipped with kennel space for about 60 dogs, cages and runs for 40 cats, bird aviaries, stock yards, training yards, a retail shop, vet clinic, and office space for 50 paid staff members and more than 200 volunteers.

Now as the RSPCA plans to move to a new purpose-built facility in Pialligo, long-time staff and volunteers can reflect on the past as they prepare for the exciting next chapter.

READ ALSO After 50 years in a converted house, RSPCA ACT set to get a new home

Caroline started as a volunteer in the dog kennels 16 years ago, before she was jokingly asked a few years later if she would like to be paid. Her reply was quick and simple: “Oh yeah!”

She says the joy of the job is watching sick dogs come in, recover, and find new loving homes.

“I still remember Eddie who came in as skin and bones,” Catherine says. “He was able to jump Colourbond fences in one jump, into a yard, and then back again.

“He was adopted by a guy who lived on a property and used to take him out on his tractor every day. He would also bring him back in every Christmas to see us.”

She says Weston is now a very different place from all those years ago – basically nothing more than a paddock back then. There were also more working dog breeds turning up on their doorstep compared with today’s “staffies” and other family-friendly varieties.

Pam first came to the RSPCA more than 20 years ago after her Labrador-cross died. She wasn’t ready to adopt a new dog, but thought she’d keep an eye out for one. She soon became a volunteer, taking the kennel dogs out for a walk three days a week.

“The best way to start the day is with a smile on a dog’s face,” Pam says.

READ ALSO Meet the two female commanders helping change the ACT police force

“With suburbia developing everywhere, we’re losing our walks. But we’re also meeting neighbours out walking their dogs around the pond.”

The first RSPCA home was burnt along with vast areas of Canberra’s south-western suburbs as the January 2003 bushfires swept over the mountains. Staff and volunteers scrambled to evacuate animals and came back to smouldering remains. But the RSPCA battled on and started from scratch again.

Since then, Sarah has been part of conversations for two different new sites. She says it’s good to finally have some “concrete facts” on the Pialligo facility.

“We’re so excited. We make this work, but it will be so nice to have a purpose-built site.”

Another cause for celebration will be the return after two years of the Million Paws walk. The RSPCA’s biggest annual fundraising event in May invites Canberrans and their pets to join in and help raise funds to rescue, rehabilitate and rehome dogs in need.

“It’s so nice seeing all the dogs together, and you also meet people looking to adopt a dog,” Pam says.

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