Kitty O’Brien has devoted her life to making better lives for animals
MEET Kitty O’Brien from Noosa’s RSPCA animal shelter. But with a name like Kitty, do the dogs miss out? Not at all – in fact, they’re better off than ever.
KITTY is a dog person.
Yep, despite the name, long-time RSPCA Noosa shelter staffer Kitty O’Brien’s family bestowed her with a feline name, but a great love and understanding of dogs.
“My first preference is dogs, but I’ve learned so much about cats here, too. They’re amazing and misunderstood a lot of the time,” she said.
But Kitty is a traditional name in her once Melbourne-based, formerly Dutch family.
“Mum’s sister is Kitty and Mum’s mother is Kitty. “To this day all the girls (at RSPCA) laugh when I
It’s so important to educate people about animals. — KITTY O’BRIEN
answer the phone and say ‘Kitty speaking’. Invariably the person makes a joke about it and the girls will be laughing in the background.”
Kitty is the consummate animal carer, having vowed to work with them while still at school, then achieving and maintaining that goal with a Melbourne RSPCA shelter, Guide Dogs and working in veterinary practices, until age 25.
“Dad and I always had a thing for dogs, horses, and any animal I would see I would have to meet ... I just had an affinity with them,” Kitty said.
“Even as a kid, we had a huge backyard and my first birthday present was a golden retriever. Whenever Mum couldn’t find me she didn’t worry as she knew I was with the dog.”
The move to Noosa Shire was the result of a 1980s holiday.
“I loved it here – and I met my husband here so moved up and have stayed ever since.
They’ve since brought a child into the world – Alec, now 16 – after winning a 10-year IVF battle.
“I never thought I could (give birth) but I did. “Now he’s a good golfer and he’s always had animals around him.
“He’s been used to me bringing home everything from kittens to puppies. He loves puppies. He picks up things with other people; you can tell he’s listened to me over the years on how to look after animals.
“It’s so important to educate people about animals.” That’s a recurring theme with Kitty, who is passionate about helping people to better understand animals’ needs not only for love, but training, socialisation with people and other animals, and regular exercise.
And she wishes that one day the Noosaville shelter would be able to expand so the team could hold educational classes on animal training, and be able to add a quality veterinary clinic to the shelter’s services.
Eighteen years from when she started as a volunteer, and now a key part of the shelter’s core team, Kitty said she had developed a great working relationship with manager Nicole Cleary, who has been on board for 20 years.
“Nic and I have worked together for so long we understand each other well; we wanted the same things.”
And during that time, the shelter has turned from a fairly dingy set of holding pens to a special place.
“There was an old house at the front, a dilapidated old place; I think Nic might have been living in it back then. “Then we did up the cattery and kennels.
“Just doing the place up, making it more inviting, tending to the property as well as animals has made all the difference.
“People sometimes find it really difficult to visit places like this, but we encourage them to; it’s great socialisation for the animals.
“Even for kids who have problems with fear (of animals), having been bitten, we can bring them slowly through so they get used to them.”
The work is hard, but the rewards are huge, such as when a dog or cat finds a new home.
“I’ve fostered a lot, taken a lot home.
“We always have two dogs, and I can’t help getting attached to them, but realistically you can’t take every one of them home, so you prepare them for adoption. “When they are, it’s a big celebration.
“Years ago it took a lot longer to re-home them – with some it might have taken six months, and there’s excitement and elation with every one.
“When it happens we ring those (staff) on their day off and say ‘guess who got re-homed today’, and to us that’s huge because it’s not just a job – you dedicate your life to this.
“You go home thinking about them, you just dedicate your life to them.”
RSPCA Noosa shelter staffer Kitty O’Brien gives some special attention to long-time “guest” Marcella.
Kitty O'Brien with shelter guest, shorthair cat Felix.
Kitty O'Brien at the gates of RSPCA Noosa shelter. PHOTO: ALAN LANDER