The ‘icky’ feeling that drives Michelle to care

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Michelle Robertson with one of RSPCA ACT’s rescued dogs, William… “The RSPCA doesn’t want to be a killjoy but certainly we want to make sure that the animals are always looked after.” Photo by Danielle Nohra

ONLY a few months in and RSPCA ACT’s new CEO Michelle Robertson is still forming an opinion on a lot of things but, she says, there are some objectives she’s already focusing on.

She wants to make sure the RSPCA delivers to its mandate, she wants to put it on a path to get updated facilities and she wants to make sure the ACT branch remains sustainable in the future.

“Any CEO in any not-for-profit organisation is thinking: ‘How do we keep viable and keep good people?’” she says.

She says her first few months have been a yo-yo of truly amazing things but also some terrible ones.

“Every single day when I leave here I get an ‘icky’ feeling,” she says.

“There are animals who have been here for days and weeks and you want them to go to a good home.”

Animals might come into the RSPCA because they’ve been surrendered for complex reasons such as people are physically unable to take care of them or they’re coming out of a domestic violence situation.

Then, Michelle says, there are animals coming in from the inspectorate, a group working for the RSPCA who bring animals in from homes failing to provide proper food, shelter or treatment.

“More than 3000 animals come through the shelter every year,” she says.

“But we’ve got a rehoming rate of more than 91 per cent, which is one of the highest in the country.

“We don’t euthanise unless it’s for complex health or behavioural issues.

“We’re a fairly small shelter and the need is always higher than what we can do.”

As for Michelle’s opinion on the end of greyhound racing in the ACT, she says her predecessor Tammy Ven Dange and the team did an amazing job and hopes she would have been as courageous as her.

“Sometimes you need to take a stand and be courageous and brave,” she says.

As for horse racing, Michelle says RSPCA Australia is trying to reinforce its stance against whipping, but she understands that horse racing is very much part of the Australian identity

“Unfortunately, there are some people who don’t always do the right thing,” she says.

“The RSPCA doesn’t want to be a killjoy but certainly we want to make sure that the animals are always looked after.”

And for Michelle, it’s all about speaking for those who are unable to speak for themselves.

Which is why she made the conscious decision to move from corporate work into purpose-driven work.

“My whole life I’ve had cats, dogs, birds, fish, hamsters,” she says.

“For our [family] getaways [in South Africa] we would go to the bush and see some of the beautiful animals. It was such a privilege to experience that.”

Moving to Australia five years ago from South Africa Michelle says this has been a big year for her because she’s not only landed a dream job but she also became an Australian citizen.

“It was a pretty tough decision because my whole life I had a good career and a good network,” she says.

She and her husband chose Australia because of its similarities in seasons, the social culture of having a barbecue and sports (of course).

But most importantly, Michelle wanted a home where her two children, a daughter 11 and a son 9, could play outside safely.

She says it’s still hard for her to talk about her old home, which had burglar bars on the windows and doors, as well as multiple, secure access points.

“I saw my son standing inside holding on to the security bars and thought he looked like he was in jail,” she says.

“It was a very personal decision but I wanted my kids to have that freedom.”

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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is a "CityNews" staff journalist.


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