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Jacqui Green of PALS talks cats, dogs and the good old days

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Animal advocate and island inspiration, 27-year Mui Wo resident Jacqui Green talks cats, dogs and the good ol’ days, with Elizabeth Kerr.

Sitting in a standardised coffee shop at Citygate, Jacqui Green’s silver-white hair pops out against the greys and neutrals of her surroundings. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Lantau’s Most Inspiring Woman (voted by Around DB and Life on Lantau readers) is indeed a force unto herself. Few islanders were surprised when the Mui Wo resident romped home as the winner of Bay Media’s International Women’s Day Competition in April, or when she modestly accepted the award on behalf of others: “I feel blessed for the support. I never think of myself as a person. What I do – my supporters and volunteers, people who foster and adopt… It’s not just me.”

Jacqui took the honour largely for her work with Protection of Animals Lantau South (PALS), the rescue organisation officially incorporated in 2004. Some 20 years ago, Jacqui recalls seeing “kittens in rubbish bins and puppies in paddy fields or cardboard boxes” across Lantau and Peng Chau, and that was when the activism began. She and a few friends set out to remedy the situation – either by education, taking on LegCo (more on that later) or simply finding homes for abandoned animals. It’s taken most of her time and energy for the past two decades, and she’s ready to step away. But assuming Jacqui is simply the sum of her animal parts would be to drastically underestimate her – and how inspirational she truly is.

At home in Mui Wo – since 1989

A self-described late bloomer, Jacqui was 29 in ’79 when she landed in Hong Kong at the tail end of the disco era, recovering from a failed romance. “That was one of the reasons I came here. It’s the reason my mother sanctioned it – to mend a broken heart with a change of scenery,” she says. “The idea was to get a new start. And it worked wonderfully.”

Upon landing in the colony, she took a job at the legendary Bull and Bear on the ground floor of the stock exchange. “In those days there was a glass ceiling for women. It was all women; we were Tudor maids. The highest I could get was supervisor – of the women,” she says of the job she had for eight years. Figuring her time as a barmaid was running out, one friend at the British Council lured her into private tuition at the same time another friend, with a weekend home on Lantau, went back to the UK. Jacqui took his Mui Wo flat. That was 27 years ago.

Though born in London, Jacqui spent much of her childhood in the English countryside, which is the reason she gravitated to Lantau. “I don’t think I could have stayed in Hong Kong if I hadn’t found Lantau,” she says. “I’m not a city person. I love the beach, the sun, the mountains.”

Early on, Jacqui started travelling around Asia armed with Tony Wheeler’s trusty, bright yellow Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, the only Asia guide in print at the time. She recalls hitting the highlights – Fuji, Tiger Leaping Gorge, Kinabalu – most of them solo. In her time, she’s seen nearly as many changes in the region as in Hong Kong and laments the commercialisation of China’s (and the world’s) greatest historical sites. These days, she’s not interested in returning to formerly “charming” Lijiang or Shanghai, and wouldn’t even recommend “crowded, polluted” Hong Kong for visitors – Lantau excepted. “It makes me feel really old, you know, talking about the good old days,” Jacqui reasons, while remaining unapologetic about calling it like she sees it.

Ask if she has a lesser half or children and the response is a scandalised: “Noooo!” Jacqui never married and knew at 14 that children weren’t on the cards. Contrary to popular belief, she’s happy, and is an inspiration for 40-something women who are still being asked when they’re going to settle down.

Animal instincts

In between trips Jacqui founded PALS. “The animal rescue thing raised its head when I started living in Lantau full time,” she says. “It wasn’t intentional; it just started in a very small way and escalated.” That escalation led to addressing LegCo, re-homing on Lantau, and rubbing people the wrong way. Jacqui bristles at animal returns: “PALS has quite a detailed questionnaire that tries to prevent such an event but we are constantly being asked to ‘re-house’ pets that have come from other sources. The reasons are endless and not a single one surprises me anymore. I’m not the most tactful and I have gotten abuse for calling out slack pet owners.”

Aside from re-homing and rescue, Jacqui is on a mission to put an end to the way unneutered, mistreated guard dogs are abandoned and left to proliferate at construction sites – like Disneyland and Ngong Ping. Getting new regulations for breeders pushed through LegCo – putting an end to puppy mills – is also high on her agenda, something PALS is fronting along with 18 animal charities and societies, including the SPCA.

“The last meeting with the government [was in May], to convince them to bring in new regulations for breeders,” she explains. “The regulations will be much more controlled, with inspections, authorisations, licensing, to try to weed out the hobby breeders. It’s not perfect, there are plenty of groups that won’t join us because [the proposals] don’t go far enough, but it’s a start. We’ve been talking for years and now we have a chance to get this into legislation in September and we have to take it. Once it’s passed we can make amendments.”

Now 66, Jacqui is looking at retiring to the UK where her sister still lives, though she admits she’s been ‘leaving’ Hong Kong for about a decade. Determined to stay on long enough to see the policy changes she’s dedicated to made into law, Jacqui will, however, make one sad prediction: PALS is likely to close down when she goes. “It’s very stressful and time-consuming, and no one else wants to do it. There’s a lot of politicking that goes on, and it’s true: You can’t please all the people all the time,” she comments, referring to her support of less popular, media-unfriendly animal welfare positions, like euthanasia. “People don’t understand about homing. Unless you want overcrowding and animals suffering, euthanasia is an alternative. It’s quite contentious.”

Contentious is something overly deferential Hong Kong will miss and it’s part of what makes Jacqui an inspiration. After being voted Lantau’s Most Inspiring Woman, her phone was loaded with congratulatory messages. “And I couldn’t think why,” she says self-deprecatingly. But as one friend put it: “Who else was in the competition? No one.”

Image: Terry Chow

Find it: Protection of Animals Lantau South (PALS), www.pals.org.hk

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