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The long goodbye: A fond farewell to Jacqui Green of PALS

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Lantau legend Jacqui Green is going home to the UK, and leaving a gaping hole in animal rescue when she does. Elizabeth Kerr reports.

Jacqui Green barely had the patience to hide what she was really thinking when it was in her and animal rescue organisation Protection of Animals Lantau South’s (PALS) best interest. Now, as Jacqui prepares to return to her native UK for good, she has none.

“Nothing is private in social media,” she mentions of a ‘private’ message a niece posted on Facebook a few weeks back. “If I can see this stuff, so anyone can. I’ve got Facebook because of PALS, but… there’s a big message that says contact me on WhatsApp. Not a week goes by I don’t get a message about how someone sent me a Facebook message. What part of ‘don’t message me here’ do people not understand?”

Jacqui gives her tousled silver head a shake and rolls her eyes. She sounds like a crank – the neighbourhood curmudgeon. It would be easy to make jokes about her standing at her front door with a rifle shouting at the kids to get off her lawn, but that would be a disservice to the nearly 40-year Hong Kong resident who landed here on an adventure in 1979 and went on to set the standard for animal rescue on Lantau.

Closing the book

It’s a dull, rainy morning when Jacqui sits down at a corner table in a DB eatery and orders a pot of tea, which she promptly loads up with brown sugar. She’s getting ready for a short, penultimate jaunt back to the UK to check on the state of her house renovations.

“Yes, I am leaving for good,” she declares with a combination of wistfulness and relief. “I’ve seen the writing on the wall as far as Lantau is concerned. There’s a big difference in the Hong Kong civil service and in civil servants – the lack of initiative is distressing, the contracting out. We can’t even get rubbish picked up. It’s a small thing. But when you add all those small things up, it feels like one step forward two steps back.”

What Jacqui sees as massive changes for the worse in the SAR have finally taken their toll, and she’s throwing in the towel. With it, unfortunately, goes PALS.

The driving force behind PALS for the last 20 years, Jacqui isn’t passing on the mantle – there’s no one to pass it to. Essentially a one-woman show now, PALS is much more than just picking up strays and spaying them.

“To run PALS, you’d have to live in South Lantau, and ideally you don’t work. It’s very hands on – trapping and fostering and so on. I’m finding the physical side of it very hard now, and I can’t do it the way I could years ago. I’ve got 11 animals at my place, which is too many,” she laments. It may be a fulfilling job, but it’s not without its downside.

“It’s too stressful, too time consuming, too physically taxing. 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.

“Everyone is making a fuss about my leaving but no one seems to be stepping into the void,” she adds.

Animal activism

Again, Jacqui sounds bitter – but she’s not, and she’s had her share of victories. PALS was a crucial service 20 years ago when there were no other organisations on Lantau to pick up the abandoned and abused animal slack from the SPCA, but there are more groups chipping in now, notably Hong Kong PAWS Foundation (PAWS).

So, what kicked off Jacqui’s activism in the first place? “The animal rescue thing raised its head when I started living in Lantau full time some 20 years ago,” she says. “I’d see kittens in rubbish bins and puppies in paddy fields or cardboard boxes. Founding PALS wasn’t intentional; it just started in a very small way and escalated.”

Aside from rescue and re-homing, Jacqui’s mission has been 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.

And there’s no doubt she’s made a legislative difference. PALS’ 2016 LegCo petition for more strident puppy and kitten mill laws (tougher regulations for breeders) was passed last March and came into effect last June. “So, the animal trading farm rules have been tightened up with regard to breeders,” she points out. It only applies to dogs currently, but it’s a start. Of course, without a wholesale shake-up of how people view pets, the law’s efficacy will be limited.

Jacqui bristles at the very thought of 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].”

Jacqui also laments that so many of the people looking to home animals now want pedigrees. “It’s like we’re going backwards,”she says. “There are so many local dogs that need homes and they’re not getting them. And you can’t keep rescuing if they’re not going out.”

A new chapter

Lantau will miss Jacqui, there’ll be no more PALS Homing Days in DB Plaza, but she’s at peace with packing it all in. “I don’t think this is an old person’s place,” she reasons. Coming up on her 67th birthday, Jacqui’s earned the right to kick back.

Ask if she’s going to restart her animal-rescue activities back in England and the question elicits a quick, “No.” Fight her on that by suggesting she’ll be bored and the response is a confident, “I’ve never been bored in my life.”

She’s going back to an old house currently under renovation, which means ongoing projects. The house comes with a big garden that Jacqui fully intends to play around in. “There’s plenty to do,” she scoffs.

As Jacqui gathers herself to make a dash to the bus in the rain, she reflects on a lifetime in Hong Kong, and how she’s now more familiar with Asia than with Europe. She’s aware time moves in one direction, and though she’s quick with her clear-eyed criticism, Hong Kong has been home long enough to earn a bit of philosophising.

“I wanted to finish [with PALS] two or three years ago, so I could have a bit of time to myself in Hong Kong. I wanted to revisit so many places in Asia – even though there are very few places I haven’t seen, and I know they’re totally different now,” she admits.

In typical, unpretentious Jacqui fashion, she reaches into a plastic pharmacy bag instead of a wallet as she offers to pay the bill. It’s unclear if she’s talking about heading home to feed the animals she’s still fostering or the UK when she makes her last comment.

“It’s time.”

Photo courtesy of Life on Lantau 

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