Non-profit veterinary clinic founder wants to save every animal life
by Tiff Chan
A kitten jumps on the office table, stretches and basks in the warm light from a window before playfully tapping a man’s arm. It soon becomes apparent the kitten is missing its left eye. The man, 48-year-old Mark Mak Chi-ho, gently pets the feline and explains it was tortured before arriving here. In fact, there are six cats and dogs here, all with similarly sad histories.
Mak is the executive chairman and founder of the Non-Profit-Making Veterinary Service Society (NPV) which rescues animals and treats people’s pets at its clinics for a considerably reduced fee. The former screenwriter says he feels most relaxed and unguarded when he is with animals. He does not use the word “pet” when he refers to them; he thinks humans should never have domesticated animals in the first place. Instead, he prefers the word “companion” to describe his relationship with animals.
“Forget those that have lost an eye or a leg, most animals are euthanised even if they just have dermatosis,” says Mak.
Many abandoned, feral or abused animals are sent to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department or the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Hong Kong where they are assessed for their suitability for adoption. Those that are deemed unsuitable are put down.
Since its founding, NPV has expanded to five branches and treats around 120 to 140 animals a day. Its vets are paid at a similar rate to those in private practice but tend to work longer hours. The clinics treated around 50,000 animals last year. It employs more than 90 full-time workers and has more than 1,000 volunteers. “It proves that if your organisation is doing right, people will naturally rush to help,” says a smiling and confident Mak.
After graduating from the Chinese University of Hong Kong with a degree in sociology, Mak first chose to work in the field of media and entertainment. He has been a television screenwriter, a movie screenwriter, as well as a producer and director of advertisements. One of his biggest achievements in that phase of his career was helping Oriental Press Group Limited to launch the Eastweek and Oriental Sunday magazines.
While climbing to the top of his chosen field, Mak began to see the emptiness and fakery behind advertising. At the height of his career, he quit to study sports science and play tennis in Australia. Although he picked up the game relatively late in life, he threw himself into it and became a fitness instructor and tennis coach. Mak appreciates the spirit of sport because of its emphasis on fairness and the idea that the more you train, the more you gain.
When he returned to Hong Kong in 1997, Mak began to think about how he could pursue another of his passions. He has loved animals since he was young and he began to think about the possibility of founding a public animal hospital. It was his friend, the singer and actress Vivian Chow Wai-man, who gave him the impetus to turn this dream into a reality. Chow encouraged him to implement his plan and followed this up with concrete action. An animal-lover herself, Chow came out of retirement to hold a series of concerts called Back for Love in 2006. She donated all HK$1.5 million to support Chow’s plan and provided the initial funding for NPV. This started Mak on his third career as the full-time executive chairman of NPV and an animal rights activist.
Looking back, Mak has no regrets about the direction his life has taken since he started NPV. The clinic has neutered at least 1,000 animals a year and rescued and saved many injured animals. Mak and the organisation have campaigned tirelessly for the rights and welfare of animals, including pressing for the establishment of an animal police bureau.
Raising sufficient funds is always a big challenge for non-profits, but Mak says the greatest challenge running a non-profit-making veterinary clinic is not finding the money. Mak says NPV gets donations every day from people he does not know. He receives unsolicited donations during demontrations, and while listening to court cases. Once, when he was conducting a radio interview, a cameraman approached him to donate money to NPV. “There are animal lovers in every sector of society,” says Mak.
The real challenge for Mak is not money but educating people, particularly adults, to treat animals well. He says he enjoys giving talks to schools because children and teenagers tend to be more open and have fewer preconceptions. But adults insist humans are masters of animals. They think animals need to obey us, yield to us, and are our subordinates or commodities. “It feels like talking to a wall,” says Mak.
Apart from providing treatment for animals and educating the public, NPV has advocated for a variety of animal rights and welfare. It has campaigned for the setting up of an animal police bureau, for the implementation of a scheme to capture, neuter and release animals that are living on the streets, and against the commercial breeding and trading of pets.
At times, it seems he encounters countless obstacles and setbacks in his mission as an animal rights activist. Ironically, some of the strongest opposition to NPV’s work comes from those who are most familiar with animals – vets from private veterinary clinics.
NPV’s prices are generally around 30 to 40 per cent cheaper than private clinics and Mak says this has put some private clinics out of business.
“Honestly, in this district, NPV is cheaper and b etter than the others, why would people still need to come to see [others]?” On the positive side, the increased competition forces others to improve their services.
Mak simply cannot ignore what he sees as the growing needs of animals, the hundreds of thousands of healthy animals that are euthanised every year and those that are tortured and abused on the streets and in pet stores.
But when asked about his ultimate aim, Mak’s wish sounds deceptively simple. “I want Hong Kong people to think, to evaluate their relationship with aimals, that’s all, since this is never on Hong Kong people’s agenda,” says Mak. For instance, he thinks the government should at least mention animals in the Policy Address. “[The government deems] your voice is not big enough, [it thinks] why should I answer your request?” Mak exclaims.
“If there’s no one in this entire society who thinks that they need to fight for the righteousness of animals, I can tell you that this is the most unbearable society,” says Mak.
Edited by Charlene Kwan