Dr Hugh Wirth AM was a towering figure within the RSPCA and the world of animal welfare.
He dedicated his life to animals, beginning his lifelong association with RSPCA Victoria in 1949 when he joined as a junior member. As a young vet he was elected to its state council in 1967, before becoming president in 1972 and serving in the role for a remarkable 43 years.
Dr Wirth was a forthright, strong leader who was not afraid to stand up for what he believed was right. He was passionate, incredibly knowledgeable and tenacious – truly “one of a kind”.
He was at the forefront of many of the improvements we have seen in animal welfare over the last few decades. Dr Wirth led the establishment of RSPCA vet clinics. He famously drove a campaign that resulted in the banning of horses being exported to Japan for slaughter and was instrumental in putting an end to puppy tail docking. He also led the humane foods movement with the launch of RSPCA barn laid eggs in 1997.
Dr Wirth also served on the board of RSPCA Australia and was president for 22 years. He was the first non-European President of World Animal Protection and spent 30 years as resident vet on ABC 774 Melbourne radio. He achieved all of this while simultaneously practising as a local vet in Balwyn for 47 years.
In 1985 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) and in 1997 was named Victorian of the Year. He was also a proud Australia Day Ambassador, and he was the first Australian awarded the George T Angell Humanitarian Award from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
In 2015 Dr Wirth retired as President of RSPCA Victoria and became its official Patron. He continued in that role – and as a member of the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee – until his death in February 2018 after a battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Animals are better off because of Dr Wirth and his legacy will live forever at RSPCA Victoria.