Wildlife rehab plans for Katoomba RSPCA

A plan to open up the RSPCA's Katoomba home for wildlife recovery in the Blue Mountains is underway, with council expected to open a new pound facility next year.

Extra bushfire funding has been secured and new grants proposals are underway, with a top Taronga Zoo wildlife manager taking over last month to make it happen.

But the change has left some local volunteers fearing for the site's traditional role as a home for stray or abandoned dogs and/or cats.

This could be dependent on approval from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, although the RSPCA said its "commitment to the companion animals of Blue Mountains continues".

RSPCA spokesman Kieran Watson said the organisation had received extra funding as a result of the recent bushfires and wanted to add a facility for rehabilitating affected wildlife.

He said the extent of animals affected by the fires showed "the recovery response is bigger than any one organisation can handle".

Experienced wildlife manager, Nick De Vos, was appointed to manage the Katoomba shelter three weeks ago. He is on secondment from Taronga Zoo.

He said they were still going through the application process, "some hurdles to jump through with National Parks to secure a dual purpose licence for the facility so we can maintain companion animals with wildlife".

"If Parks say we can't get a licence, we can't get a licence."

Mr De Vos said it wasn't appropriate for wildlife - such as the bushfire-affected koalas from Kanangra Boyd last year - to have to recover so far from home.

He said council was already looking to build their own pound facility, but the community would still be able to surrender animals or bring stray animals to the RSPCA.

Mr De Vos and the senior operations manager for western region addressed the AGM of the Blue Mountains RSPCA branch on August 1. Vice-president Bob Kemnitz said members were left with the clear impression that wildlife could not be housed in the same premises as dogs because the natives needed to maintain their natural fear of domesticated animals.

This meant finding somewhere else to take stray or unwanted dogs.

Branch president, Tony Nikolich, emailed all members after the meeting, outlining his fears about the future of the facility, in particular whether council could replicate the standard of accommodation and care at the Katoomba shelter.

Mr De Vos said "there has been unfortunately a bit of negative kickback from some of our volunteers who are understandably concerned about losing the shelter, which is what they think is happening, I made it very clear that that wasn't the case".

"Nothing is changing operationally. We need to work out ways to work around it, that's our plan.

"I know the RSPCA is committed to domestic companion animal care, so we just have to do whatever it is that is required of us to mitigate that risk and gain the approval for the licence."

Victory in 2014: Tony Nikolich, Bob Kemnitz, Lorraine MacDonald and Bill Boldiston after RSPCA head office reversed its decision to close the Katoomba shelter.

Victory in 2014: Tony Nikolich, Bob Kemnitz, Lorraine MacDonald and Bill Boldiston after RSPCA head office reversed its decision to close the Katoomba shelter.

The local branch fought RSPCA head office in 2014 when the CEO, Steve Coleman, announced he would close it down for financial reasons. Mr Coleman reversed his decision after a public outcry.

The shelter was built by the Mountains community whose members raised funds and ran op shops to generate the money. In the last financial year, it accommodated and/or treated 289 dogs, 299 cats and 47 other animals.

Council told the Gazette their current agreement with the RSPCA for pound services expires on June 30, 2021.

"Council received a letter from the RSPCA in May 2020, advising that they intend to phase out the provision of all impound services at all its shelters across the state," the spokeswoman said.

She said a number of options, both for a transition period and a more permanent arrangement were being considered.

Council is meeting with RSPCA management this week for further discussions.