Siding with the animals

Dr Liz Walker has found a position she loves, as Chief Executive Officer of RSPCA Victoria.

Dr Liz Walker followed a long and winding career path before she finally found her niche as CEO of RSPCA Victoria. The job has been well worth the journey.

The years she spent working in sales, marketing and operations prepared her well for the vicissitudes of working in animal welfare.

“I have really found my purpose,” says Dr Walker.

“It took me almost 50 years to find it, but thank God I have. I really love it, and it’s not always easy. I find it to be incredibly rewarding and challenging at the same time.”

It might never have happened had she not failed to finish a PhD in parasitology at the University of Melbourne. She began work on her doctorate in 1990, a year after she had graduated with a Bachelor of Veterinary Science, the predecessor to the University's Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree.

Three years later, when she ran out of time, money and interest, she began a joyful odyssey that carried her into the world of commerce, further education (a Masters of Management at Macquarie University), marriage and motherhood.

She began her working life in sales, promoting new super-premium cat and dog food to veterinarians. She enjoyed learning about account management, marketing, communications and sales but the job with Mars Petcare was just a first stop on the road to her destination.

There were two more stops along the way. She spent nearly five years with Bayer Animal Health in several roles, including Marketing Manager, and seven years as General Manager of Gribbles Veterinary Pathology, before identifying that animal welfare was where she wanted to work. That realisation was reinforced during the three years she spent as CEO of Lort Smith Animal Hospital.

“I’ve loved every single role I’ve done,” she says. “I’ve learnt something all along the way but I found my true purpose in the animal welfare space.”

The challenges of working with the RSPCA have been formidable, especially at a time when the reports of animal abuse are increasing by up to 15 per cent a year.

At least half of the complaints centre on the animals being denied water, food and shelter.

“There are times when things happen and you’re told about them, and you really have to take a moment,” she says.

“People breach the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act for a number of reasons. One of them is that they’re just bad people and we prosecute those guys. Then there’s another subset of people who are just ignorant and another subset who are incapable.

“We have strategies in place to help the ignorant and the incapable to shift them along the animal welfare curve so they can care for their animals better.”

An analysis of the data has shown that there are certain Victorian municipalities where cruelty is more prevalent than others.

“We know where to target our action. We are working with the communities, local government and other groups so we can make a difference in improving animal welfare in these areas,” she says.

Dr Walker believes that changing people’s behaviour is key to improving animal welfare. “I’m here because of the animals but I also really like people.”

Story by Muriel Reddy. Banner Image: RSPCA World of Animal Welfare / Flickr.