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SPCA celebrates its outstanding volunteers in 2023 SPCA Purina National Volunteer Awards

19 June 2023

SPCA is celebrating another year of exceptional volunteers across the organisation in the 2023 SPCA Purina National Volunteer Awards.

SPCA celebrates its outstanding volunteers in 2023 SPCA Purina National Volunteer Awards

The event is about recognising the thousands of volunteers across New Zealand’s largest and oldest animal welfare charity, who dedicate their time, energy and care to make a difference to the lives of sick, injured and vulnerable animals every day.

The Awards showcase the ongoing contribution and incredible impact that volunteers make to SPCA. Whether they’re cleaning cages and caring for animals at the Centres, amending their homes, garages or sheds to make room to foster animals, or dedicating hundreds of hours sorting through clothes and items at SPCA Op Shops – volunteers truly are the heart and soul of the organisation.

SPCA’s General Manager of People, Culture and Safety, Liz MacPherson, says these winners are a shining example of the generosity and kind-spirit needed to keep the charity operating each day.

“I’m so proud of these winners and excited to let them shine this week. Our volunteers come from all corners of New Zealand, whether they’re young or old, work fulltime or part-time, whether they’re students or retired,” says Ms MacPherson.

“They are the hidden gems of our organsiation who are always there for our teams, night and day. Last year we had 120 nominations, which was an incredible number in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns. This year we had 147 nominations, which just goes to show how truly valued our volunteers are across SPCA.”

“We’re also incredibly grateful to our loyal partner Purina who sponsors these awards and provides essential Purina One nutrition to feed the thousands of cats and dogs in our care. We couldn’t care for animals the way we do without their help.”

Purina New Zealand Country Manager Francois Le Berrigaud says, “We are delighted to be a key partner of the SPCA National Volunteer Awards for the eighth consecutive year. At Purina, we believe pets and people are better together and truly feel our passion for pets is shared with the SPCA Volunteer Community. Since 2016, we’ve provided support and high quality nutrition to the pets they care for, including more than 650,000kgs of cat and dog food to SPCA Centre’s nationally.”

These Awards are announced during the broader National Volunteer Week, which celebrates the contributions of volunteers to all charitable organisations around the country.

SPCA uses the week to celebrate their wonderful Award winners, as well as recognising the thousands of others who selflessly give their time to help Aotearoa’s animals. Approximately 5000-6000 volunteers help the organisation every year with essential running of Centres and Op Shops across the country.

“With around 10 volunteers to every one staff member, our network is what keeps the big wheel turning,” continues Ms MacPherson. “Our volunteers really are vital to SPCA and are so treasured. These awards are just one way we can share their incredible contributions with the rest of New Zealand – and hopefully encourage others to join our SPCA whānau.”

Volunteers were nominated across six different categories this year. The winners receive the choice of a Nespresso coffee machine or a $300 hamper, plus a case of Purina ONE. Runners up receive a $50 hamper.

Fantastic Foster Family: Margaret Nixon (Wellington)

If Margaret could be summed up in one word, it would be ‘Saint’. Despite fostering for a number of years, 2020 saw Margaret do something truly remarkable. Using her skills as an architect, she transformed her home to suit the special needs of animals in her care. She included thoughtful details such as extended windowsills for the cats to enjoy the views and the garage door was installed with the windows for the same purpose. Hiding boxes and walkways were placed on the walls for cats to enjoy, with all easily cleanable. To date, Margaret has fostered an incredible 617 animals for the SPCA Wellington Centre. That averages nearly 50 foster animals per year since she began fostering in 2009. In March this year, Margaret calmly took on 14 kittens in one day, due to the Centre being at capacity. The amount of mental and physical relief Margaret provides to SPCA staff, the animals and the Centre as a whole, is incomparable. She saves lives and enriches them. Margaret truly is one invaluable SPCA gem.

Sensational Centre Team - Jill Wilson, Kirsty Boyd, Julia Maiden, Sue Diggle, Meegan Walker (Wellington)

The Wellington Centre's Dog Squad truly is a team of superheroes. Together, they organise a monthly collection at our local supermarket and farmers' market. In addition to that, they do weekly waterfront puppy walk with the Centre puppies, which are crucial for their socialisation. These champion volunteers represent the SPCA in the community, fundraise, and interact frequently with the public. They do this all while helping our puppies prepare for life outside of the Centre. This is of course in addition to their individual weekly volunteer shifts. The Dog Squad is both adored and respected by everyone who adopted a puppy in Wellington. This group of volunteers brightens the lives of the puppies and the community around them.

Outstanding Op Shop Team - Mrs Tilly Grobbleloar, Mrs Nicole Reihaua, Susan Williams and Mr Jim P (Te Awamutu)

When the new SPCA Op Shop Manager took over in December, Tilly and Nicole were the only volunteers in the store – then Tilly went on holiday. During that time, Nicole was an amazing support, doing upto five days a week, rather than her normal two days throughout the holiday period. On Tilly’s return, she was a saving grace, from organising day-to-day business, cleaning and general shop tasks, she helped to re-organise the backroom and storage area. Sue started in February and continues to go out of her way to support the team to complete their goals. Jim is always available to pick up or deliver items, to do a rubbish dump run, or to take items to the Centre in Hamilton, all at his own cost. All four of these incredible volunteers are hardworking, caring and truly amazing people and the store would be nothing without them.

Going the Extra Mile – Nina Brunt (Nelson)

As a foster family, Nina has contributed significantly to SPCA’s mission and made a positive impact on the lives of countless animals. During incredibly busy puppy season, Nina has gladly taken on several litters of pups (some of them as young as five weeks) and helped with the crucial socialisation, potty training, feeding and cleaning. She has also volunteered as a driver, picking up and dropping off animals to vet appointments, between clinics and Centres, as well as other destinations. Her commitment to animal welfare is inspiring, and her dedication to the cause has been truly remarkable.

Overall, Nina has consistently demonstrated an unwavering commitment to SPCA’s mission and values, by being kind, serving to help animals, being brave and always up for a new challenge. Her dedication, positivity and willingness to go the extra mile are truly commendable, and we are fortunate to have her as a volunteer and foster carer. Without Nina's help, countless young puppies would have been living in a shelter, rather than a loving family environment. Nina has fostered 28 dogs in 10 months since coming onboard.

Devoted Volunteer Award – Rachael Punton (Napier)

Otherwise known as the SPCA work fairy, Rachael works longer hours for her regular job, so she can free up her Fridays and Sundays to spend the whole day tidying, building, fixing, cleaning and organising the Napier Centre to make it look amazing each week for both staff and public. Everything is labelled and easy to find for the staff.

Rachael also calls to check the Napier team is okay, even after her work hours at 5pm, asking if they need help and if they do –abracadabra, she suddenly appears and will help finish up everything that needs doing. She has also taken the initiative to both build, or organise builders, to assist in new enrichment projects for both Feline and Canine areas. She is also quick to take animals into foster who need it most, until they’re ready for adoption, no questions asked.

Young Volunteer Award – Leila Drummond (Nelson)

Despite being such a young volunteer (she joined the canine team as soon as she turned 18 years old), Leila's dedication and passion for serving others truly surpasses her years of experience, and she is an inspiration to all around her. Leila, now 19, has a warm smile which brightens up every room she enters, creating an atmosphere of positivity and enthusiasm. One of Leila's remarkable talents lies in her exceptional ability to work with dogs. Her calm and observant demeanor allows her to connect effortlessly with our furry friends, creating a sense of trust and comfort. Whether it is providing them with exercise, grooming, or companionship, Leila's natural affinity for animals shines through, making her an invaluable asset to SPCA.

Runners Up


  • Estar Wallace - Ashburton Centre
    • In Ashburton, long-standing SPCA supporter Estar plays a massive part in fostering! Estar has fostered nearly 20 felines. With an open-door policy at her place, Estar also takes great photos and does fantastic write ups when her foster felines are ready for adoption. The adoration and tender loving care that she puts into her foster kittens shines through in the kittens' temperament. She even brings the Centre staff treats and coffee vouchers which always put a smile on their faces. Estar is a great advocate for SPCA and promotes us everywhere, telling the community about adoption animals, foster and volunteer programs. She even keeps pamphlets in her car to hand out! Estar is always on the look-out for things that would benefit the Centre and will often buy and donate cat carry cages and other items we may need for the Centre. The team can't thank her enough.
  • Annette Flynn – Wellington Centre
    • Annette is as a warm and caring person. In her 11 years as a fosterer, she has taken home and cared for an astounding 127 canines. She provides an amazing home for them, regardless of whether they are doing a quarantine period, recovery period or just needing a break from the Centre. Annette and her dogs are so helpful to the canines in our care, the team always knows that pups coming back from her house have been cared for and are socialized. Annette has a buggy for young puppies so that they can experience the world when they can't go for walks yet. She even carries them up what seems like a million steps to her house! Annette has a big heart and the best smile. She is a wonderful person and always wants to help. The Centre team is so thankful to have Annette as a fosterer.


  • Cherie & Stephen Rybinski - Wellington Centre
    • Cherie and Stephen are dog walkers that the Wellington Centre can always rely on. This dynamic duo is amongst the most dedicated team of dog walkers the Centre has come across. Rain or shine, you know that you can expect this amazing family to be in the Centre with all the energy in the world! They are extremely capable and are of a very select handful of volunteers that have been cleared, and trusted, to walk even the most challenging dogs. Their experience and levelheadedness means that the Centre team can also trust them to provide straightforward feedback on the animals so they can put necessary training plans in place. Stephen and Cherie lead by example and their daughter is following in their footsteps. They are a beacon of all the SPCA Values and the Centre is truly grateful to have them. With all the dog walking they have done for SPCA, they have truly gone the extra mile - quite literally!
  • Stella Pearson & Louise Tunnicliffe - Wellington Centre
    • Louise currently volunteers in the Dog Run and has been volunteering for nearly 30 years. Stella also volunteers in the Dog Run and has been volunteering for 15 years. With a combined 44 years of volunteer experience, both Stella and Louise are a quiet force that go out of their way to ensure the dogs are taken care of. They both regularly stay past their morning shift in order to walk as many dogs as they can, in all types of weather. Stella and Louise are so thorough with the cleaning and tidying of the dogs' rooms and general working areas. They are also committed to taking the dogs for walks and giving them the extra enrichment.


  • Kaiapoi Op Shop
    • The Kaiapoi Team goes up and above the boundaries of the name of a volunteer. There are volunteers that sew, fix clothes, take clothes home and re-cycle, make new items, wash clothes that would otherwise be thrown out, check toys, do jigsaws. There is a volunteer who checks and cleans all CD/DVDs, a volunteer who creates great window displays and another who makes the shop stands and shelving. All 45 work as a team and are such a great crowd and back up for the Store Manager. This shop could not be the success it is without these awesome volunteers!
  • Gisborne Op Shop
    • The Gisborne Op Shop team of volunteers are described as amazing, thoughtful, compassionate, community-minded, kind, generous, loyal and committed. They work fantastically well as a whole team, like a family, often going above and beyond what is expected! They practice and display the SPCA values every day. Their kindness to each other and customers stands out and is often complimented on by the customers themselves. They often brave moments in the face of the public when dealing with difficult situations and they serve not only the customers each day, but each other too, looking after and caring for one another and always with our animals in mind. They thrive as a team and the Op Shop could not survive without their efforts and energy.


  • Pam Howard - Christchurch Centre Vet Clinic
    • Pam is outstanding, but perhaps this word doesn't even describe just how dedicated she is to the SPCA! The team affectionately says that she is their 'on call' volunteer for the vet clinic and says that whenever they are overwhelmed with a busy day of surgeries and unwell animals, Pam is there to save the day. She jumps between shifts on the ambo team, animal care team and vet clinic and puts her back into everything she does. Even at a recent catch-up desexing day held on a Sunday, along with all the nurses and vets Pam was there slaving away too! Pam makes the teams lives easier and the animals lives better.
  • Margaret Philips - Wellington Centre
    • Margaret does it all. It is no surprise that Margaret has previously been nominated volunteer of the year! Not only does she volunteer in the puppy run every week, she fosters dogs and she puts her natural crafting skills to use time and time again. She produces a vast quantity of handmade toys for the puppies and felines. Over the past year Margaret has also been extra supportive of the vet team, sewing dozens of surgery drapes and recently making specialized rabbit jumpsuits to help stop rabbits chewing out their stitches after desexing. She has also made surgery drapes for the new mobile desexing clinic. All of this crafting saves money and provides things that the Centre might struggle to get otherwise, like extremely specific designs for surgery animal warmers. Margaret is always willing to work with the vet team to get the latest project right. The team is always so happy to see Margaret, as are other volunteers on her volunteering days.


  • Colin Wheeler - Whanganui and beyond!
    • Most of the lower North Island staff will know Colin. He's not just a Whanganui volunteer but is called on by any Centre in need of an urgent transfer. He has been a volunteer ambulance driver for over four years and is key to moving sick/injured animals to Wellington SPCA on short notice and transfer long stayers around the country to better their chances of finding a home. From weekly trips to Wellington, Whakatane, New Plymouth and everywhere in between, Colin has delivered animals, supplies, Op Shop goods, vehicles or people and done so with his infectious sense of humour. It's estimated he travels over 40,000km per year for SPCA! Colin has helped change the lives of thousands of animals and provided a busy team with a much-needed laugh along the way.
  • Uncle Steve - Levin Centre
    • For almost five years, Uncle Steve has quietly been doing extra handy man jobs around the Levin Centre. He is a great volunteer worker and in the Centre Team's words "smashes out ISO, he gets the job done". He has built cabinets, fixed wall hangings and is always altering furniture to enable the Centre's space can be used safely and efficiently. He has put together the dog yard shed, dismantled caging and assembled caging. He consistently keeps to his three shifts a week and often comes in for working bees or extra projects. Uncle Steve does not like to be in the limelight, but he is always a big part of the team.


  • Zara Osbourne - Hobsonville Centre
    • Zara has been volunteering at the Hobsonville Centre since it opened in 2019. In that time, she has earned herself the title "Timid cat whisperer" for the patience, love and understanding she shows timid cats. Her calm demeanor enables her to get cats to come out of their shells even when some of the staff haven't been able to crack them yet. No matter how long it takes her, Zara gives each cat the reassurance that everything is on their terms and that she is a safe person for them. Zara's dedication to SPCA is second to none. She has been through lock downs, always checking in on the animals and staff even when not physically able to volunteer in the Centre during these times. More often than not, Zara stays beyond her shift to ensure that all of the tasks have been completed in her area and that everything is ready for the next morning. Zara is truly an asset to the team who say they would be lost without her!
  • Jesse Beaton - Tauranga Centre
    • Jesse is hard working, has a great attitude and eye for detail. The Centre team has seen him grow in confidence so much over the past year and he now works across all species. Jesse started as a school student and was very quiet and kept to himself, now he is confident in his skills and communicates really well with staff and other volunteers. He is always kind and welcoming to all and is always ready to help. Jesse treats all animals equally, making sure that they all get the love and care that they need, especially rabbits which many volunteers overlook. Jesse has a gentle, warm manner and puts shy animals at ease. He always says yes to extra little jobs and isn't afraid to get stuck in when the Centre is busy. Jesse has just taken on a second shift so he can spend even more time with the animals.
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