Reprieve for RSPCA, but still bound to go to the dogs

CEO of RSPCA NSW Steve Coleman, with lifetime RSPCA member Bob Kemnitz, who chaired the meeting, and Silvia Ford, who has managed the Blue Mountains branch for 22 years.

CEO of RSPCA NSW Steve Coleman, with lifetime RSPCA member Bob Kemnitz, who chaired the meeting, and Silvia Ford, who has managed the Blue Mountains branch for 22 years.

The RSPCA animal shelter in Katoomba will stay open for another six months but its long-term future is still in grave doubt. And it will still cease to operate as the council pound in November.

A passionate and often rowdy crowd of more than 150 concerned locals attended a meeting at the Carrington Hotel last Wednesday night to discuss the RSPCA's decision to close the shelter.

Silvia Ford, who was instrumental in setting up the shelter back in the 1980s and managed the Blue Mountains branch for 22 years, said the people of the Mountains were the "moral" owners of the Mort Street facility.

She said the property had been bought with money left to the branch by the late Mary Thompson of Blackheath and for more than two decades its work was at least partly financed from proceeds of two op shops, at Katoomba and Springwood, manned by volunteers.

She said after she left the RSPCA in 2002, Sydney head office took control of the shelter, of the branch and of the shops.

She said RSPCA NSW "deliberately" ran the shops into the ground, not restocking or ordering new merchandise until they were no longer viable.

The Katoomba property had been sold off and the Springwood shop, in Macquarie Road, was now up for sale for $680,000.

To cheers, Ms Ford said she had asked Mr Coleman to let the branch run the shelter again.

"I said we ran it successfully for 22 years. I asked if we could have it back if they couldn't manage it. He said no. I said why and he said because you wouldn't be able to."

Ms Ford drew sustained applause from the audience, who then listened to brief remarks from Mr Coleman.

He said that for the last five years the RSPCA had worked at being a lot more "preventative" to keep animals from ending up in shelters.

"So I did cap the number of inspectors and I did cap shelter capacity," he said.

He also told the meeting that it cost $770,000 a year to run the Katoomba shelter and that there were many, many towns in NSW without shelters but where stray or abandoned animals could be cared for.

Mr Coleman is promoting a foster care system, where people could mind animals on a short-term basis.

But when he said the RSPCA had $37 million in investment funds, many in the audience asked why there was no money to run the Katoomba shelter.

Many also offered to donate both time and money to save the shelter but several speakers said since the closure was announced they had changed their will and would now not leave any money to the RSPCA.

When one speaker asked how many people would leave a bequest if they could specify the money went only to the Blue Mountains branch, rather than to head office, more than 80 people raised their hands.

At the end of the meeting a number of residents volunteered to form a small working party to canvas practical options which may help keep the shelter open. Volunteers have also set up a website at www.saveourshelter.com and Ms Ford runs a Facebook page.

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