RSPCA services threatened as cost of living bites

Published on 17 May 2023

Charity makes urgent bid for state budget funding to ease pressure

RSPCA Victoria may be forced to reduce services including its Inspectorate work rescuing animals, along with investigating and prosecuting cruelty if extra funding is not secured in Tuesday’s Victorian State Budget.

Unprecedented demand to care for homeless animals, increased costs, reduced donations, reduced revenue from its social enterprises and lower levels of volunteering are severely stretching the charity’s resources.

CEO Dr Liz Walker said while it is mostly funded by the community, the charity has made a bid to increase the amount of Victorian Government funding it receives to run its Inspectorate due to growing demand for its services.

“The cost of living crisis is affecting people and in turn their animals, and we’re seeing that through increased demand for our services,” said Dr Walker.

“Sadly, there has been a 340% increase in calls regarding surrendering a pet over the last three years and our animal shelters are currently operating at or near capacity.

“To add to that, the number of animals seized by or surrendered to RSPCA Victoria inspectors has risen significantly every year for the past five years, more than doubling from 1035 in 2017-18 to 2172 in 2021-22. We are predicting this to reach more than 3340 animals coming into our care via the Inspectorate by 2027.”

Between 2020 and 2022 annual animal seizures/surrenders rose by 38% (597 cases). The Inspectorate investigates more than 10,000 cruelty reports each year. These investigations often result in large-scale seizures of animals that RSPCA Victoria has to find shelter capacity for in very short timeframes, such as the seizure of 30 cats and kittens in Ballarat at the end of March.

Currently the Victorian Government provides $2.3 million in annual funding towards the $7m annual operating cost of the RSPCA Victoria Inspectorate, which is authorised to enforce animal welfare legislation on behalf of the government. Last financial year the Victorian Government funded around 33% of Inspectorate costs, meaning RSPCA subsidised 67% of the performance of its regulatory duties through community fundraising.

Without any additional funding, and if incoming animal numbers are consistent with projections, the state government will be funding only 19% of the total cost of the Inspectorate by 2027.

“RSPCA Victoria is the only non-government organisation authorised by the Government to enforce its legislation. We deliver a vital public service investigating and prosecuting cases of animal cruelty and caring for thousands of animals every year that have nowhere else to go, sometimes for the duration of protracted court cases that can last months or years,” said Dr Walker.

“While we are extremely grateful for the $2.3 million annual funding we receive, the current cost of living crisis and its flow on effect are really starting to impact our sustainability. This year RSPCA Victoria has increased its funding bid – asking for an additional $4.375m per year over the next four years – to help it remain sustainable and care for the increasing number of animals coming into its care via our Inspectors.

“We’re concerned that without this funding, we may need to reduce our regulatory services, reduce the number of animals in our care, undertake fewer investigations and prosecutions of animal cruelty and reduce the community assistance we provide for emergency relief efforts.”

What are some of the specific challenges?

• The number of animals seized by or surrendered to RSPCA Victoria inspectors has risen significantly every year for the past 5 years, more than doubling from 1035 in 2017-18 to 2172 in 2021-22

• Between 2020 and 2022 annual animal seizures/surrenders rose by 38% (597 cases)

• Sadly, there has been a 340% increase in calls regarding surrendering a pet over the last 3 years

• RSPCA Victoria Shelters are currently operating at or near capacity

• There has been a near 6% increase in overall operational costs, against a 3.95% reduction in the amount of financial donations compared to the same time last year

• Compounding these factors is a significant loss of volunteer numbers – for example, op shop volunteer numbers have decreased from 500 pre-pandemic to around 160 currently and op shops are a vital source of revenue that can’t operate without volunteers.

What is needed?

• This year RSPCA Victoria has increased its funding bid, asking for an additional $4.375m per year over the next four years to help it remain sustainable.

• Under the proposal submitted for consideration in the state budget process, RSPCA Victoria would still continue to fund 38.5% of the Inspectorate’s work through community fundraising and social enterprises such as op shops and education programs.

• However, the increased funding from Government would better match the importance of this service within the community.

• The funding will be used to care for the greatly increased number of animals which are seized by or surrendered to the Inspectorate.

• The funding bid also includes a proposal for three new roles to help increasing complex human issues related to animal welfare.

• Currently RSPCA Victoria Inspectors spend a significant amount of their time working with Victorians with complex psycho-social and financial issues – this often requires liaison with case workers within the human welfare system. The introduction of Community Outreach roles that will interface with human services agencies will free up the current Inspectors to focus on investigating cruelty, improve efficiency and deliver not only better animal welfare but also human welfare outcomes.

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