24 February 2022

New RSPCA chief takes scientific approach to caring for animals

| Sally Hopman
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Woman with dog

The new chief science officer at the RSPCA, Dr Suzie Fowler, with one of her pets – RSPCA rescue dog Banks. Photo: Supplied.

It was her father’s love of birds that sparked a young woman’s passion for animal welfare. Today that woman, Dr Suzie Fowler, is in a position to do something about it.

Dr Fowler has just been named RSPCA Australia’s new chief science officer, a job that seemed tailor-made for the former senior university veterinarian at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra and head of the ANU’s animal services. She will use animal welfare science to develop policies, positions and campaigns.

“Animals enrich our lives in many ways,” Dr Fowler said.

“From our pets to farm animals to our amazing natural wildlife, we owe it to them to ensure they live the best possible life.

“I’m delighted to take on this new job – I’ve always been an animal lover. I think I got that passion from my father. I’m so happy that I’m now in a position to really help them.

“It won’t be overnight but, over time, I believe we can progressively improve the area of animal welfare.”

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As chief science officer with the nation’s peak animal welfare organisation, an important part of Dr Fowler’s new role will be to help educate people about caring for all animals, using the most up-to-date scientific information available. From wildlife to domestic pets and livestock, they will all come under her duty of care.

Dr Fowler said using science-based evidence could help greatly when it came to changing people’s mindsets about what was best for animals.

“For example, in the live export trade, there is much evidence to show that animals cannot behave normally in that kind of environment,” she said.

“It shows their health suffers because they have no space to move, no proper access to food and water and also the temperature in there is not good for them.

“Our role is to make sure the government is aware of such situations.

“The live export trade is a tough one. It may not change immediately but the RSPCA will not stop advocating for the welfare of animals.”

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Dr Fowler said her role would be to talk to as many people as possible, from industry to government, using science-based evidence to spread the word.

Battery cages for laying hens was another animal welfare issue high on her agenda.

“It is still an ongoing dispute,” she said.

And does she have animals herself? Yes, two dogs – golden retriever Willow and RSPCA rescue Banks.

RSPCA Australia CEO Richard Mussell welcomed Dr Fowler to the role, and said he was impressed by her experience in animal welfare, her passion and drive for improving the lives of animals and her ability to work with stakeholders to achieve better animal welfare outcomes.

“Suzie will be at the forefront of some of our most important work, including our continuing push to see a phase-out of barren battery cages for layer hens and our campaign to end live animal exports,” he said.

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