Founder of SAFE, an organisation that cares for homeless animals before finding their forever homes, Sue Hedley OAM established the organisation 19 years ago in Karratha, and now has 11 branches across regional WA and has rehomed more than 32,000 companion animals.

Pet Industry News sat down with Hedley to discuss her goals for SAFE, her career accomplishments, and the impact she hopes to leave on the pet industry.

Pet: What led you to a career in the pet industry?

Hedley: After working in the Pilbara for many years, I became aware of the existence of an extraordinary amount of homeless animals and discovered that there were no animal rescue services to assist them. I felt a strong need to take action. I wasn’t aware that the need was across the whole state and consequently no idea of the magnitude of what was to evolve to meet these needs.

I had worked extensively in the de-institutionalisation of disadvantaged adults and children in the 1970’s in Melbourne so it was a natural progression to seek foster carers (not institutions) for the many homeless animals in need. It was this passion to make positive change that led to the establishment of the first SAFE Branch (Saving Animals From Euthanasia Inc.) in Karratha in 2003.

Since that time, we have established 11 branches across regional Western Australia and rehomed over 32,000 companion animals. This would not have been possible without the generosity of the SAFE team committed to this life saving work.

SAFE as an organisation care for homeless animals in foster care where they remain connected and a part of our community. The fostered animals are then adopted into permanent homes with SAFE always available to support them through any life changes.

Pet: What is your proudest achievement so far in your career?

Hedley: SAFE’s model of foster care has a proven track record since it was established 19 years ago. No healthy, rehomeable companion animal has been euthanised for simply being homeless. Given that SAFE only has two and a half paid team members, there are literally close to a thousand volunteers throughout WA who dedicate their energy and resources in connecting with community to foster and adopt the lost, abandoned and relinquished animals. SAFE is a much loved organisation within communities who rely on the trust and empathy we show to humans and animals alike. Of this I am immensely proud.

Whilst I was deeply honoured and proud to receive an OAM in 2019 for services to Animal Welfare, I am equally as proud when SAFE branches or SAFE Inc are recognised at a community level, or by our peers. As an example, in 2021 SAFE Inc. were awarded the RSPCA WA Gold Community Action Award and in 2020 SAFE Broome won the Triple M Best Community Organisation voted for by listeners. SAFE Karratha also won this same award in 2019.

I am also proud that SAFE have produced a children’s book called Nellie to the Rescue, which is designed to demonstrate resilience to children by following the journey of a foster dog until she finds a permanent home.

Lastly, the TV documentary-series Take Me Home, which is airing on Channel 9, is a dream come true, raising awareness of the foster care model and the lifesaving work of SAFE for animals who deserve a second chance at life.

Pet: Do you have any goals or plans you would like to achieve in the coming year?

Hedley: It’s important for SAFE to become a sustainable organisation so that we can continue our lifesaving work. We aim to develop and grow so that we can continue to make a difference to the over population of companion dogs and cats, particularly cats.

In this regard, SAFE have just undergone a Strategic Review for the coming five years and have increased the size of our Board with some amazing talent and expertise. All members are passionate animal lovers, many of whom have rescued companion animals over the years.

The aim for SAFE is to be able to provide enough funding and resources so that our Branch Coordinators no longer have to work entirely in a voluntary capacity, and to have some permanent, paid and skilled positions occupied on a fulltime basis so that SAFE can grow and expand to meet the over-population of companion dogs and cats.

Pet: What impact do you hope to leave on the pet industry?

Hedley: That the foster care model, as the primary source of care for healthy, homeless companion animals until adoption is achievable utilising community reach and connection, instead of cages being used for long term care. SAFE will continue to deliver our mission of awareness and education of this low-cost model of care within our community

SAFE is currently the WA representative on the Board of CANA (Companion Animal Network Australia) and issues of animal welfare are addressed at a national level. It’s important for the CANA representatives to work collaboratively and represent the various states of Australia to make change for the animals in our country.

My dream one day would be to have SAFE not only in WA, but across Australia utilising the foster care model.

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