NSW is a doggie death row

The NSW RSPCA has by far the highest kill rates of its state peers. Photo: Paul Harris

“We urgently need your help,” wrote Steve Coleman, chief executive of the RSPCA in a plea to Facebook followers on the last day of the financial year, six months ago.

“Please, if you can, help us get across the line in the next 15 hours. We need to raise an additional $17,000 to cover costs and put us in a better position for the next financial year …  multiple seizures and surrenders and an influx of injured animals which has put a strain on our already-stretched finances. Couple this with freezing weather conditions which place extra pressure on our resources – not to mention the animals – and you’ve got a lot of tension (and a few too many sleepless nights for me).”

Steve Coleman must be a restless sleeper. For that same day, June 30, 2015, the balance sheet of the RSPCA showed $10.5 million in cash, another $6 million in term deposits, a $37 million share portfolio, $2 million in investment property and total equity of $100 million. As far as liquidity goes, this is the Sultan of Brunei of Australian charities.

The particularly interesting point about the sound financial position is that  the NSW RSPCA has by far the highest kill rates of its state peers. Data provided by animal rights activist Geoff Davidson show the RSPCA’s kill rate for dogs in Victoria last year was 10 per cent, less than half that of NSW at 24 per cent. The other states, with the exception of WA at 17.6 per cent, were bunched just above 10 per cent.

When it comes to cats, the picture is bleaker. After reclaims, NSW killed almost 49 per cent versus RSPCA Victoria at 31 per cent. WA was again second highest at 38 per cent and Queensland lowest at 12.5 per cent. One fascinating aspect is the reasons for euthanasia. In WA, for instance, more than half the dogs were killed for “medical” reasons, a far higher proportion than other states.

In NSW, most of the dogs were put down for “behavioural” reasons. For cats, “legal/other” and “infectious” reasons were given for the euthanasia.

Steve Coleman, the chief executive of RSPCA, told Fairfax Media he welcomed the work of animal rights activists such as Geoff Davidson and the RSPCA was continually working to improve its facilities to care for animals.

“Our board has just committed another $14 million to upgrade our facilities at Yagoona to provide the ability to care for more animals,” he said. Given the volatility of income from bequests ($13.6 million last year, down from $15.7 million the year before), it was a difficult task, he said, to make sure the income targets were met.

The RSPCA, said Coleman, was considering its position in relation to managing the work from local council pounds.

In Victoria, the market share for RSPCA is lower. The dominant care provider is LostDogs Home, which has undergone pressure to reform, especially with its track record on cats.  Lost Dogs Home is bigger than RSPCA Victoria, and the kill rate for cats is higher than RSPCA NSW.

NSW kill rates have been declining, something which is acknowledged and welcomed by Davidson and other activists but Davidson says the decline has been “glacial” and there is much scope for improvement.

They are, says Davidson of the RSPCA, “open admission” and “their euthanasia numbers are reducing, yes, but mostly due to reduced intake – and it is not nearly fast enough. Compare euthanasia to re-homing ratios for RSPCA NSW and RSPCA Queensland (euthanasia of dogs 10.2 per cent and cats 12.5 per cent) and you get the picture”.

“To me, it boils down to this. In the commercial world, the leadership of any organisation which seriously underperforms its peers is scrutinised; especially when it is a very well-resourced organisation. Here, RSPCA NSW’s board and CEO have been there forever despite underperforming on what the public would consider one of their primary measures, that is, not killing animals.”

It should be said that, unlike some other charities, this is not a “lifestyle charity” where the costs are high and only a small proportion of funds raised actually made its way to the designated targets. This is an institution which is well managed from a financial perspective and the cost of executive salaries is not onerous.

Looking at the accounts, operating expenses were down slightly last year to $47 million and there was a surplus of $4.2 million – or $5.9 million (after $1.7 million in gains on the investment portfolio. Breaking down income sources, donations were up from $3.9 million to $4.2 million, government subsidies down from $806,062 to $502,645, and the group sold assets worth $9.3 million to offset an operating loss.

There was only one related party transaction of note, an $83,820 payment to the law firm of one of the directors, Paul O’Donnell, ($135,520 the year before).

In the dying days of the Labor government in NSW, in March 2011, RSPCA issued a media release threatening to withdraw animal welfare services from the Sydney area for lack of funding.

“Should the Sydney Shelter be forced to close, the result will be increased pressure on the other smaller RSPCA regional centres which do not have the facilities to cope with the increased demand, and, ultimately, it would mean service withdrawal.”

The new Liberal government of Barry O’Farrell made a grant of $7.5 million over two years.