Dr Hugh Wirth AM - animal welfare championWorld renowned animal welfare advocate and veterinarian, Dr Hugh Wirth AM, has passed away in Melbourne aged 78 after a battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Dr Hugh dedicated his life to animals and made tremendous contributions to the RSPCA, veterinary science and to animal welfare. He was a tireless worker and a forthright, strong leader who was not afraid to stand up for what he believed was right. His loss will be felt by all those who care for animals and advocate for their welfare.
He began his lifelong association with RSPCA Victoria in 1949, when he joined as a junior member after a presentation at his primary school. By his mid-teens he had decided to be a vet, and after completing his training in Queensland he returned to Victoria to practise. After his first role as a young country vet in Drouin, he joined the Balwyn Veterinary Surgery. In 1967 he bought the surgery and he continued to practise there for 47 years until his retirement, becoming known to generations of Melburnians as their local vet.
In 1967 Dr Hugh joined the council of RSPCA Victoria and in 1972 he was elected President. He held that role for a remarkable 43 years until he retired and became RSPCA Victoria’s Patron in 2015. He also served on the board of RSPCA Australia for decades and as President for 22 years. He was the first non-European President of World Animal Protection and spent 30 years as the resident vet on ABC 774 Melbourne radio, all the while continuing to care for animals at his veterinary surgery in Balwyn.
In 1985 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his service in the field of animal welfare and particularly with the RSPCA. He was the first Australian to be awarded the prestigious George T Angell Humanitarian Award from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In 1997 our own state named him Victorian of the Year, and he was an Australia Day Ambassador for many years.
Dr Hugh’s contribution to RSPCA Victoria has been tremendous and is difficult to capture in words. He led our organisation with great passion and his achievements over the years are too numerous to list. He was the driving force behind the establishment of RSPCA vet clinics - he named this as his greatest achievement in a 2015 interview with the Australian Veterinary Journal. He also famously drove campaigns that resulted in the banning of horses being exported to Japan for slaughter, the end of docking puppy’s tail, and he led the humane foods movement with the launch of RSPCA barn laid eggs in 1997.
In the last couple of years, despite his failing health, Dr Hugh continued his involvement with RSPCA Victoria as our Patron. His passing is a great loss and it is fair to say that there will never be another like him. We will treasure his memory and honour his legacy as the strong and vibrant organisation he helped to create.