How did you get started in charity work?
My father, Dr Yuri Millo, is a surgeon. He would spend weeks away from his normal day job — travelling the world, doing life-saving surgeries for Operation Smile, and helping children with cranio-facial disorders. His selfless work was an inspiration to me.
When I was a student, I was approached by a UNHCR fundraiser, who was a refugee. UNHCR is a global organisation dedicated to saving the lives and protecting the rights of refugees. He told me his story and asked me to become a regular giver. As a uni student, I didn’t have an extra $30 a month, so I said: “If you give me a job, I’ll help you guys make more money, so we can help more people.” I was already studying sustainable development, trying to get into that sector, but that one conversation changed my trajectory, sending me into charity funding.
For the last 10 years I’ve worked in the charity sector. It’s all I’ve known, all I’ve done, and all I’ve loved. I’ve worked in youth suicide prevention at Reach Out, crisis at Jewish House, supported children living with cancer at Camp Quality, and people living with cancer at the Leukemia Foundation.
But animals have always been a huge passion of mine. RSPCA was always my number one charity and once I got the opportunity to work here, I never looked back. Humans are amazing, but animals just have this way of showing you love, affection and gratitude that I don’t think we get from people.
I’m also driven by my own experience. I have my own rescued fur baby — a two-year old Husky/Labrador cross called Nala. I don’t say fur baby lightly, because she’s my child for sure. I’m more than a bit obsessed. She was extremely unwell when we got her. If she hadn’t been rescued, she wouldn’t be alive today. She had canine parvovirus, which has a high mortality rate, and spent two weeks in intensive care.
That experience gave me so much context and understanding about the work of RSPCA NSW. She was a perfect example of how we’re able to provide so much support to animals who would otherwise not be with us. I see that day after day. The work of our inspectors and community programs change animals’ lives and it’s breathtaking to see in action.
Why do you love fundraising for charities?
You can’t do anything without money. That’s why I love fundraising for charities — to empower organisations to carry out their important work.
I also love to empower people. We get letters and calls from our donors every single day, telling us we’re helping them feel good.
People may not have the time to get trained and go to a shelter and volunteer every weekend, but maybe they can donate $100. This makes so much difference in their lives, and in animals’ lives.
As humans, we’re almost selfish in the way we help others because it makes us feel good. That’s what fundraising is. We tell a story to make people feel an emotion. At first, it’s a sad emotion, but they become happy when they understand they can do something to help. A huge part of this job is making people’s lives better, too.
It’s not just animals that benefit. The love, care and connection that people who support or adopt an animal feel is beautiful.
How is RSPCA NSW helping animals in need?
RSPCA NSW works around the clock to help all creatures, great and small. We provide housing and care for animals in need at our six shelters, veterinary support though our three veterinary hospitals and community clinic, behavioural support through our specialised rehabilitation programs, protection and justice for animals through our Inspectorate, and much needed education through our various outreach programs.
One of the things I’m most excited about is the new Centre. We’ve spent the last ten years transforming our shelter and veterinary clinic at Sydney into a state-of-the-art Adoption and Education Centre. As a team member, it is incredibly exciting and satisfying to finally see the completion of the new site. Every decision that went into the build, from the choice of materials to the structural layout, was made to enhance the physical and emotional wellbeing of the animals in our care.
The new dog kennels have noise cancelling glass, hydronic underfloor heating and a designated area that isn’t on display, for the dogs to go to if they need some time to themselves.
A core focus for the new build has been ensuring that each enclosure provides enrichment for the animals. We have planted a variety of fresh herbs near our outdoor kennels, for our puppies and dogs to sniff, as we know that enjoying all different types of smells for dogs is critical for their development.
Another example is how in our new cat and kitten area we have a designated bubble room! When the button is pushed, non-toxic bubbles fall from the ceiling for the cats to play with.
Another key part of the recent upgrade is the Education Centre. Education is pivotal to RSPCA NSW’s mission of preventing cruelty to animals. We believe that every person can make a difference in the lives of animals, and that begins by learning about and advocating for their welfare, whether they’re classified as companions or livestock.
Our Education Centre is a community resource for sharing knowledge, learning and teaching the next generation kindness towards animals. The centre will act as a hub for staff and volunteer training, community events, youth initiatives and school programs, on site.
What would you like to see happen at RSPCA NSW over the next few years?
Over the next few years, I would love to see the work of our community team continue to grow. Our team works tirelessly in different communities, providing the necessary tools and resources to educate people about animal welfare, and empowering them to stay together with their pets.
In the past financial year alone, we have helped 17,500 animals and investigated 13,000 cruelty complaints.
Although it would ultimately put me out of a job, I’d love to see these figures continue to decrease, with less animals needing our support.
Financial circumstances alone are not a reliable indicator of a person’s capacity to love and care for a companion animal, and strong bonds between people and their pets make for stronger communities.
Sadly, a number of factors, including illness, a lack of accessible or affordable veterinary care, poverty and a shortage of pet-friendly housing can result in even the most devoted pet owner having to relinquish a beloved pet to a local rescue group or shelter.
More often than not, the best outcome for a pet is to stay together with their owner. Our community programs work to ensure this happens whenever possible.
While we can’t help every animal in need, I know for a fact we’re doing the best we can. Everyone at RSPCA NSW lives and breathes their love for animals. It’s very special.
With our new Centre open and the growth of many of our programs, we’ll now be able to give even more animals a second chance at life, and that’s a wonderful thing.