RSPCA dogfight with rich benefactor

Matthew Denholm | March 11, 2008

THERE was palpable excitement when one of Australia's richest women and philanthropists, Jan Cameron, adopted Tasmania as home and promised to spend part of her fortune on the island's animals.

One year on, the excitement has given way to acrimony amid a spectacular falling-out between the Kathmandu outdoor clothing founder and her once-favoured charity, RSPCA Tasmania.

The Australian revealed last year that Ms Cameron, a Melburnian who had lived for 20 years in New Zealand, had fallen in love with Tasmania, buying 20 properties worth an estimated $12 million and promising to plough millions of her $247million fortune into the RSPCA and other charities.

Ms Cameron, a reclusive animal lover who has entered semi-retirement on a chook farm on Tasmania's east coast, made good on her intent. She helped fund a new $300,000 RSPCA veterinary clinic in Hobart to provide subsidised desexing of dogs and cats.

And she promised millions more to come for capital works, a new animal shelter and three new RSPCA inspectors.

However, that cash is now withdrawn - or returned, depending on whose version you accept - and the new clinic allegedly little used.

Ms Cameron has lost a vehicle for her dream - free or subsidised desexing of cats and dogs - while RSPCA Tasmania is rebuilding after losing a chairman and two board members, who quit in disgust at alleged mishandling of Ms Cameron's generosity.

"It's a huge disappointment - I trusted the RSPCA, I had faith in them, but I won't be doing that again," Ms Cameron told The Australian.

Instead, she revealed she had established a company, Dog's Breakfast, to provide free desexing of dogs and cats at fixed and mobile clinics Australia-wide, with the first six clinics to open before December.

The loss of faith appears to be mutual. RSPCA Tasmania's new chairman, Scott Whitters, accused Ms Cameron of a "publicity exercise" to promote her new business, and of having "expectations" about her donations that did not fit the RSPCA mission.

"The RSPCA has no plans to seek further funding from Ms Cameron as we feel this would compromise our independence," Mr Whitters said.

Ms Cameron had expected the clinic she fully funded at Mornington, on Hobart's eastern shore, to be working six days a week by now, desexing thousands of pets at subsidised rates.

"They were quite happy to take my money and they said that was what they were going to do," she said.

Instead, the clinic, opened to fanfare in March last year, was being "fractionally used" only two days a week. Along with then-RSPCA Tasmania chairman, business leader Michael Kent, and two other board members, Ms Cameron quietly walked away from the society last year after chief executive Rick Butler admitted lying to Mr Kent about progress on the clinic.

In a letter to the board on June 16, Dr Butler pleaded to retain his job, saying: "I admit freely the lies I told to Michael (Kent) regarding the extent of discussions."

Mr Butler apologised and blamed the stresses of his job and concerns about Ms Cameron's growing influence on the RSPCA, along with that of her friend, board member Angela Ayling.

"Without wanting to over-state this, my position at times over the last eight to nine months has been one of confusion about where my responsibilities sit: the board, Michael (Kent), Angela (Ayling) or Jan Cameron," Dr Butler wrote.

When a narrow majority of the board backed Dr Butler, Mr Kent, Ms Ayling and another board member quit.

Ms Cameron walked away with her promised millions.

"They'd rather prop up a mate than do a proper job - in terms of governance, they wouldn't have a f..king clue," Ms Cameron said.

Dr Butler did not respond to requests for comment. However, Mr Whitters expressed "complete faith and confidence in Dr Butler".

Mr Whitters accused Mr Kent and Ms Ayling of "applying undue pressure" on Dr Butler and of trying to take the RSPCA in directions "not consistent with" its mission.

Mr Kent and Ms Ayling accused the RSPCA of wasting a golden opportunity. "They didn't do the things they were requested to do with the lady's money," Mr Kent said.

Ms Cameron, who has bought a Tasmanian wildlife park and set up a wildlife rescue service, said she would continue philanthropy without the RSPCA.