Animal Welfare

Melbourne vet and animal welfare advocate Dr Hugh Wirth dies aged 78

World-renowned animal welfare advocate and respected local veterinarian Dr Hugh Wirth, AM, died on Monday after living with Parkinson’s disease for more than a decade.

Dr Wirth is credited with numerous successful animal welfare campaigns including ending puppy tail docking and stopping the export of horses to Japan for slaughter.

He was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1985 and in 1997 was namedVictorian of the Year.

“Dr Hugh was a tireless worker and a forthright, strong leader who was not afraid to standup for what he believed was right,” RSPCA Victoria chief executive Dr Liz Walker said.

“He was passionate, incredibly knowledgeable and tenacious. Dr Hugh was at the forefront of many of the improvements we have seen in animal welfare in my lifetime.”

The beloved vet bought Balwyn Veterinary Surgery in 1967 and practised there for 47 years until he retired.

During this time, he became the first non-European president of World Animal Protection and was the trusted resident vet on ABC Radio Melbourne’s Saturday morning show.

Dr Wirth was the president of RSPCA Victoria’s board from 1972 to 2015. He was also on the RSPCA Australia board for 35 years before stepping down due to ailing health three years ago.

In 2012 he told The Age that he had to quit his his long-time position as an inspector at the Royal Melbourne Show because his illness meant he was no longer so adept at dodging wayward cattle.

”I’m not dying or anything silly like that. I’m just not as good on my feet,” he said at the time.

The same year he released his autobiography, My Life with Animals.

The book documented Dr Wirth’s political battles with 1960s RSPCA stalwarts, the Australian Veterinary Association and governments.

In the book, he claimed the federal government gave in to a push to set up an Animal Welfare Advisory Committee in 1980 when then conservation minister Vasey Houghton fell asleep in a meeting.

When he awoke, says Dr Wirth, Mr Houghton asked, ”Now, where were we?” to which Dr Wirth said he and RSPCA colleague Peter Barber replied: ”Well, Minister, you just agreed to form the AWAC.”

RSCPA Victoria said despite his declining health, Dr Wirth remained involved with the organisation in recent years as its patron and as a member of its Animal Welfare Policy Committee.

“Dr Wirth leaves an incredible legacy,” Dr Walker said.

“RSPCA Victoria will treasure his memory and honour his work by continuing to advocate for the continual advancement of animal welfare in our society.”

Source: The Age