Friday, November 16, 2018

Recognition for Companion Animal Rescue organisations

Jet Pets Rescue Awards Companion Animal Rescue rehome adopt
Sahara the rescue dog with Sandy Matheson from Jet Pets and Rescue Awards founder Cathy Beer.

This year I’ve taken some time out to work on some animal welfare related projects about which I will reveal more in due course. One of these was to be a judge for the Jet Pets 2019 Companion Animal Rescue Awards.

Awards like this are important in recognising the incredible work that so many people put into caring for, rehabilitating and rehoming companion animals all over Australia. They were founded by Cathy Beer, from Pets4Life, to provide recognition.

The application process is almost a mini-audit, and required entrants (of which there were ultimately 517) to review their processes. Just entering a competition like this is a fantastic way of reviewing an organisation’s strengths and weaknesses, and a means of benchmarking.

It is important to document and recognise the good work being done to promote animal welfare in a sustainable way. Lessons can be learned from the organisations performing well, helping bring the others up to speed.

Australia has over 900 rescue groups and animal shelters supported by thousands of volunteers.

Following the announcement of the finalists on 9 October 2018, one winner from each of the seven categories was selected by a panel of nine judges, of which I was one. All judges volunteered their time.

All up, 200 organisations registered for the awards, with 89 rehoming organisations ultimately completing a submission in categories 1-6.

Category 7, the Advocate® People’s Rescue Story, was open to people who had adopted or fostered a pet and there were 428 entries.

In reading the applications, it struck me that there is a need for companion animal rescue and rehoming organisations to discuss best practice and innovations to ensure all companion animals find appropriate homes. Awards like this are one way of doing it. If your organisation didn’t apply in 2018, consider applying in 2019 but do allow time as application requires detailed responses.

Category 1: Outstanding Rescue Group Saving Animals from Euthanasia (SAFE)
Category 2: Outstanding Animal Shelter RSPCA QLD
Category 3: Outstanding Council Animal Shelter Shire of Campaspe Animal Shelter
Category 4: Innovation in Rescue Safe Pets Safe Families
Category 5: Community Education and Outreach Program The Good Neighbour Project (Cat Protection Society NSW)
Category 6: Volunteer of the Year Frances O’Connell (AWL South Australia)
Category 7: Advocate® People’s Rescue Story Jason Vallas and his faithful dog, Diesel

For more information/updates on the 2019 Awards, visit, follow the Rescue Awards on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or sign up to the newsletter here. #jetpetsrescueawards2018

Monday, September 24, 2018

Hero the artist's muse.

cat, art, Sammi Taylor, Cat Protection Society NSW
Hero, as imagined by artist Sammi Taylor for the Cat Protection Society's Diamond Anniversary.

Being a veterinarian does not preclude one from worshipping one’s feline like every other cat owner on the planet. Thus I entered Hero in the Cat Protection Society’s fabulous feline brooch competition to mark their diamond (60th) anniversary.

In order to enter I had to take a photo featuring Hero and a diamond in the same frame. This was easier said than done as Hero assumes anything placed in his vicinity is fair game for flicking across the room with his poor. Finally, my friend Elaine leant me her (fake) diamond paperweights which elicited a bit of a sniff and that was all, and the photo was entered.

cat, Hero, Cat Protection Society NSW
Hero poses with fake diamonds.
It was a tight competition, but Hero placed, which means that he is the subject of a limited edition artwork and brooch, designed and crafted by the very talented artist and Feline Services Attendant Sammi Taylor. Sammi has captured Hero’s beautiful features (complete with a bit of cray in his eyes) perfectly. 

And this is very special, because it was the Cat Protection Society who rescued Hero as a kitten in the first place. I'm forever grateful for their care. (If you're thinking about cohabiting with a cat, please consider a pre-loved cat. There are far too many cats needing homes in Australia - and around the world - and they bring so much joy).

The brooches are available for purchase through the Cat Protection Society web store here OR you can purchase them over the counter at their Adoption Centre. I am told that the Hero brooch can be paired with casual, semi-casual, formal, semi-formal, uniforms, working gear, pyjamas or any other attire you care to wear.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The 2018 Recent Graduate Survival Seminar

Australian shepherd, Aussie shepherd, dog

Being a new or recent veterinary graduate is exciting, but its also a steep learning curve. It can be incredibly stressful and there is a high attrition rate.

This month the Centre for Veterinary Education is holding its annual Recent Graduate Survival Seminar for new, recent and returning-to-practice veterinary graduates, as well as veterinary students. The speakers have been asked to distil their best advice to share with delegates, in order to help delegates and ultimately their patients and clients.

I have been involved in the program for the last couple of years for a number of reasons. I wish something like this had been available when I was a new graduate – all the professional development at the time seemed to be geared towards advanced procedures, which was not so immediately relevant. And I would have liked the opportunity to find out how others were learning, developing their skills, juggling their personal and work lives, dealing with ethically challenging situations and thinking about their future careers.

This is a conference where you can bring your list of questions along and chat to colleagues and the speakers.

You can view the program here.

This year I will be talking about euthanasia of companion animals. It’s a challenging topic, and especially topical for me because of the loss of my own cat, Michael, earlier this year. We need to talk about end of life decision making and care for the well-being of our patients, our clients and ourselves.

For more information, visit the website here.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Enter the 2018 Jetpets Companion Animal Rescue Awards

2018 Jetpets Companion Animal Rescue Awards
Joanne Righetti, Cathy Beer, Michael O'Donoghue, Sandy Matheson, Anne Fawcett and Tim Vasudeva at the launch of the 2018 Jetpets Companion Animal Rescue Awards. Photo: Jo Lyons Photography.

There are thousands of people, and around 900 rescue and animal shelters, across Australia who devote a good chunk of their lives and resources to rehabilitating and re-homing companion animals. From scooping out litter trays to training reactive dogs to helping animal victims of cruelty and doing it all on a shoestring, its tough work. There is sweat, there are tears. But these amazing people and organisations saves lives.

I am very proud to be taking part in a new initiative to recognise the important work of those people: the 2018 inaugural Jetpets Companion Animal Rescue 

The Awards, which launched today, are the brainchild of Cathy Beer, founder of

You can watch a video about the awards, produced by Ruff Diamonds, here.

Cathy has been a huge advocate for companion animal welfare and pulling something like this together isn’t easy. I know she has been working on the project for some time, contacting prospective judges, sponsors and experts in the animal rescue space to ensure these awards make an impact. And everyone will benefit. If we recognise and reward the best, we can also learn from them: what are the best ways to meet animal welfare needs in shelter settings? What are the best animal shelters and council pounds doing? What are the most effective strategies for outreach?

There are seven award categories, with one winner for each category. Award categories 1 – 6 are for re-homing organisations. Award category 7 is for Aussie pet guardians who have adopted or fostered a pet.

1. Outstanding Rescue Group
2. Outstanding Animal Shelter
3. Outstanding Council Animal Shelter
4. Innovation in Rescue
5. Community Education and Outreach Program
6. Volunteer of the Year
7. Advocate® People’s Rescue Story

I am honoured to be one of the judges who will be judging awards 1-6. The other judges are:

Nell Thompson, Coordinator for Getting To Zero (G2Z) and committee member of the Australian Institute of Animal Management (AIAM).

Tim Vasudeva, Director of Corporate Affairs at Animals Australia.

Vickie Davy, Co-Founder & joint CEO of PetRescue, not for profit organisation that brings thousands of rescue pets face-to-face with thousands of potential adopters every day.

Dr Anthony Bennett, Veterinarian & Co-star of Lifestyle Channel’s TV series Village Vets.

Sandy Matheson, Founder & Managing Director of Jetpets, a pet travel company focused on the safety, comfort and welfare of pets.

Dr Michael O’Donoghue, Small animal veterinarian and Co-Founder of ‘People and Pets’, a nationwide grief and pet loss counselling service.

The judges for Category 7 Award ‘Advocate® People’s Rescue Story’ are representatives from Bayer and Pets4Life. (you can read more about the judges at

The launch today was a special event, with a talk by renowned animal behaviourist Dr Joanne Righetti of Pet Problems Solved, also the Awards Ambassador.

We were also treated to a K9 Nose Work® demonstration by celebrity animal trainer Peta Clarke and her amazing three dogs – and cat! I’ve not seen a Nose Work demo before, certainly not one involving a cat, and I was totally impressed.

2018 Jetpets Companion Animal Rescue Awards
Peta Clarke does a Nose Work demo at the launch of the 2018 Jetpets Companion Animal Rescue Awards. Photo: Jo Lyons Photography.

If you are involved with a companion animal rescue organisation, or know someone who is, the details are below. The application process itself is a chance to reflect on your strengths and plans for the future - and a chance to be recognised for all the hard work.

How to enter
Entries open 12pm on July 1 and close midnight on August 31. To enter, visit and follow the links.  

For updates on the awards program, please visit or follow the Rescue Awards on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. #jetpetsrescueawards2018

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Free canine science event!

Would you like to learn more about canine science? Our friends at Do You Believe In Dog are participating in the totally free, totally live-streamed canine science bonanza that is SPARCS. You can do it in your pyjamas, you can do it with your best friend right next to you.

The timing looks a little rough for Aussies (it kicks off at 11pm EST and runs til 7am each night from Friday thru Sunday) – BUT it is recorded and will be available for free after.

Do You Believe In Dog blogger Mia Cobb, who is at SPARCS HQ in the US right now, answered our burning questions below.

Who would get the most out of "attending this"?
Dog owners, lovers of dogs, breed fanciers, mutt fans, and anyone else who has ever wondered about the nature versus nurture conundrum.

What are your favourite previous talks?

It's so hard to pick favourites, when there's so much goodness to choose from!

James Serpell presents at SPARCS.
The opportunity to see some of 'the greats' like Patricia McConnell, (the late) Ray Coppinger, Clive Wynne, Hal Herzog, James Serpell along with the 'next gen' of wonderful canine scientists Kathryn Lord, Monique Udell, Simon Gadbois, Bradley Smith, Catherine Reeve, etc. sharing the research they are so passionate about as well as engaging in healthy scientific debate is just awesome and so informative. SPARCS delivers this in a format that is accessible to everyone!

Clive Wynne shares his wisdom at SPARCS.
How will it help canines and their peeps?

People often have misconceptions about genetics, breeds and links to behaviour. This year, SPARCS is focusing on unpicking these relationships so we can learn more about questions like "Do our dogs' genetics predetermine their behaviour?" and "How can and does environment impact on the genes in our canine companions". We're really going to dig into the Nature vs. Nurture debate from the dog's four-legged viewpoint (but three-legged dogs and their people are also welcome to tune in!).

You do not need to be a vet to attend, just someone interested in dogs (which is everyone in our corner of the world...)

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Goodbye, Michael

cats, cat, grief, losing a pet
Michael (left) with a younger Hero - the first moment they sat together.

Today’s post has been extremely difficult for me to write.

Less than a week ago I said goodbye to Michael, the cat I’ve cohabited with for most of my adult life. At 17 years and 7 months old, after several years of very stable, well-managed chronic kidney disease, Mike got worse. Her appetite reduced over the last few weeks, and despite medication, fluids and lots of TLC her quality of life took a nosedive very quickly.

It was paramount to me that she did not suffer. She died in her family’s arms, in a room full of people she loved and who loved her. She was a uniquely outgoing cat – she would approach visitors (one – a cat lover – said she could be “intimidating” in her enthusiasm!). She chased large dogs out of the house. She would solicit a chin scratch or belly rub from anyone. Inspect any suitcase/handbag/backpack or shopping bag. Conquer paper bags and cardboard boxes. Go through the groceries before they were put away.

cats, grief, Michael, Mike
Boxes were also fair game.
I adopted her when I was a veterinary student undertaking a volunteer, live-in position in a local veterinary hospital. At just four months old she had been picked up by a good Samaritan, having attempted to cross the treacherous Parramatta Road by herself. She was put up for adoption, but quickly moved into my bedroom.

I did a cursory examination and thought she was a boy. I named her after Detective Mike Hoolihan, the lead character in the Martin Amis novel I was reading at the time: TheNight Train. This was fortuitous. Detective Mike Hoolihan was female – as Mike turned out to be.

She put up with a lot of time away on my part doing prac work, sat in on study groups (sat on where possible), and was always there at home when I was working long hours to comfort me after a day at work.

When the vet clinic I was living in was broken into, she was the one who woke me, with her hackles up and her coat so puffed up she looked twice her size. She was growling at the door and ready to take on the intruder, who fortunately fled the scene.

She’s moved house with me, supported me through several intensive periods of study, and motivated me to try to improve the world for companion and non-companion animals alike.

I really believe that until her last day she enjoyed a life worth living. It was the right time to let her go, although being in a home without her feels empty. She would normally wake me. Realising his food source was sleeping in, Hero eventually woke me this morning and we both looked for Mike. Normally Michael would herd me down the hallway and into the kitchen. It was always about food, except when her kidney disease really kicked in. In the last few months she would usher me into the bathroom first, demand I fill the bath a little with cold water, and have a drink before breakfast. And then chase that with a glass of water on the coffee table, before heading back to bed.

Michael, feline chronic kidney disease, polydipsia
Like other cats with kidney disease, Mike was constantly drinking. She preferred drinking from glass - preferably someone else's.
There are a hundred daily routines she won’t be part of anymore and each one, right now, is an unexpectedly painful reminder of her absence.

Grief is a very personal thing and people experience it differently. Losing someone after almost 18 years, someone I connected with on a daily basis in a very real and tactile way, is hard. Being a vet possibly made the decision easier, and I was able to euthanase her myself, respecting her preferences. She deserved that – she put in at least as many hours in the study as I did over the years (if she wasn’t in the kitchen, we’d say “Mike is in the office, doing the hard yards…).

cat, Michael, cat on textbook, Clinical Medicine of the dog and cat
If you could learn by osmosis by sleeping on textbooks, Michael would have been an honorary professor by now.
But it hasn’t made grieving any easier, nor has knowing she was old and “had a good innings”. Despite what I know about grief, I think I really thought it would. 

In our work, veterinarians experience the loss of patients far more frequently than doctors do, but it doesn’t give us mastery over grief.

I’ve been flooded with memories. Michael, the times we lived through, the patients she met and comforted, and the losses she comforted me through. The friendly head-butts, the gentle paw in the face to get me up in the morning. All I could do the day she died was look at every Michael photo I had. She was in the midst of every family gathering. She put up with Hero through his annoying kittenhood phase. She helped teach veterinary students – she appeared (photographically) as a case study in classes, her tufts of discarded fur were donated to a research project on humane rodent deterrence. She spent much time being warmed by this very keyboard and it still contains tiny traces of her fur.

A colleague sent me a paper about the dual process model of grieving, which holds that we tend to oscillate between loss-orientated and restoration-orientated processes for a while, and I’ve found myself fluttering about in this space. Loss-oriented processes are things like grief work, intrusion of grief, denial/avoidance of restoration and breaking bonds or ties. Things like poring over old photos or formally recording Mike as deceased on the Companion Animal Register. Restoration-oriented processes include attending to life changes, distraction from grief, doing new things, and establishing new roles, identities or relationships(Williams and Green, 2016). This is the bit I am working on at the moment, but its still a bit raw. A veterinary colleague who lost his dog late last year said to me "its like feeling demyelinated". 

In Michael’s honour I am raising funds for the Cat Protection Society of New South Wales. They do an extraordinary amount of advocacy for cats, from rehoming cats to making important submissions on animal welfare policy. Thousands of cats and kittens have enjoyed better health care and welfare, and avoided suffering, due to their work. Donations over $2 are tax deductable. If you wish to donate you can do so here.


UPDATE: before I finished this post, Michael’s page raised over $1500 which was our modest goal. I am so grateful to the people who have donated. If you would like to make a donation to the Cat Protection Society via Michael’s page you can still do so.

Michelle de Kretser, in the Sydney Morning Herald this week wrote a beautiful article about losing her dog Minnie.

You can read the full article here.

I am very grateful for the kind words from clients, colleagues and others who have shared the impact of losing animals they bonded with over the years.


WILLIAMS, B. & GREEN, R. 2016. Understanding bereavement in animal owners. In Practice, 38, 140.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Veterinary palliative care

How do we best care for senior pets, companion animals with chronic or terminal illnesses? When I grew up, diagnosis of a chronic disease was a one-way ticket to the vet. Fast forward and we now have successful triple therapy and monitoring for patients with heart disease, prescription diets and medications for animals with kidney disease, veterinary oncology surgeons and chemotherapy protocols, and a suite of analgesics that work on different pathways.

Veterinary palliative care is not about extending quantity of life, but extending quality of life. Quality of Life, or QoL, refers to states of comfort or discomfort, and a combination of physical (for example disease-related) and non-physical factors, such as satisfaction, sense of control, social relationships, extent of emotional or physical discomfort, and management of stress(Lavan, 2013). In one study, 86 per cent of owners of companion animals with heart disease said they would trade the animal’s longevity for their quality of life(Oyama et al., 2008).

One of the tricky issues for vets (as it is for paediatricians and medical professionals working with patients who cannot report their own QoL) is that we rely on proxies – the owners – to report an animal’s QoL. While people are very in tune with animals they live with, there is the potential for a mismatch between an animal’s actual QoL and one’s assessment of it.
Different interventions can impact QoL positively or negatively, which is why it is important to talk about and assess QoL. As companion animals are living longer overall, and living longer with disease, there is scope for our profession to learn more about palliative care.

In 2017, the AustralianVeterinary Palliative Care Advisory Council was founded as forum for discussion of this important area. One of the founders and a huge driver behind it is Dr Jackie Campbell. As the owner of Sunset Veterinary Care, Jackie’s dayjob involves helping people navigate end-of-life decision making (you can see her TED talk here. She is the first Australian vet to achieve certification in Animal Hospice and Palliative Care (CHPV), and also holds a diploma in Canine Myotherapy. She has an interest in degenerative joint disease and pain management.

In May, the Australian Veterinary Palliative Care Advisory Council, of which I am a member, is holding its inaugural conference on palliative care. The day-long conference includes, a palliative approach to pain (Dr Jackie Campbell), palliative care in the terminal cancer patient (Dr Kathleen O’Connell), physiotherapy of the geriatric patient (Brooke Marsh) and supporting clients through grief and loss (Rosie Overfield). I will be reviewing QoL assessment and ethical decision making.

If you are a veterinarian, animal physiotherapist or allied animal health professional with an interest in improving the QoL of patients, you can find out more and register here.


LAVAN, R. P. 2013. Development and validation of a survey for quality of life assessment by owners of healthy dogs. Veterinary Journal, 197, 578-582.

OYAMA, M. A., RUSH, J. E., O'SULLIVAN, M. L., WILLIAMS, R. M., ROZANSKI, E. A., PETRIE, J. P., SLEEPER, M. M. & BROWN, D. C. 2008. Perceptions and priorities of owners of dogs with heart disease regarding quality versus quantity of life for their pets. J Am Vet Med Assoc, 233, 104-8.