This week’s That Girl is Dr Jamie Gallagher, Assistant Senior Veterinary Surgeon at the SPCA Hong Kong. We’ve been to see Jamie with our furry critters far too many times to count (and often at the midnight hours!) – so we couldn’t wait to get her out of those scrubs and discover more about life at the SPCA.
We chat to New York import Jamie about the important work the SPCA does in Hong Kong, her most memorable cases here, her tips for the best dog-friendly spots around town and whether dogs really do look like their owners!
Fill us in on your background and where you grew up. How did you end up in Hong Kong?
I grew up in a small town in New York and got the ‘travel bug’ after my parents sent me to travel around Europe after my high-school graduation. During my undergraduate degree, I participated in a study abroad programme and lived in Australia for six months, which got me even further hooked on living abroad! I then moved to London for my veterinary degree from the Royal Veterinary College. In my second year of vet school, I met my now fiancé Martin; after I graduated, he was trying to get transferred to his bank’s NYC offices but instead got the offer to move to Hong Kong. Keen for a new adventure, we were both very excited about the prospect of living and working in Asia. Thankfully there was an opening at the SPCA, I got the job, we packed our bags and our ‘first-born’ dog Ralph, and started our new life in Hong Kong!
Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
We live in Wan Chai and love it! Our flat is massive by Hong Kong standards and we are very fortunate to have a lovely balcony on the harbour front – you can sit on the sofa and watch the mix of yachts, junks, little fishing boats and big cruise ships float right by the window! When we moved here, one of our first purchases was a giant barbeque and we have spent many evenings since entertaining friends. Outdoor space in Hong Kong is a real luxury, as is the ability to have a barbeque in the middle of our January when you come from a place with very cold winters! The neighbourhood itself is so convenient and Wan Chai is always bustling with a mixture of the old and new, from the traditional markets to swanky new bars – there are always new places to try right around the corner.
Since we have moved quite often, it is very important for me to make any new place seem like home as soon as possible, which can be tricky when you’re renting and not able to renovate! As you can imagine, a house is not a home to us without our pets so our boys, Ralphie and Freddie, are vital to our happiness anywhere we go! Almost as soon as I have unpacked, I get the handyman round to have our pictures put on the walls, which are a mixture of my photography and art we have collected while travelling. Having your memories surround you can be instantly transformative and make you feel more comfortable in a new space.
What are your favourite restaurants and bars in Hong Kong?
This list changes so frequently as fantastic new places open up at a frantic rate (and sadly, also close – RIP Cicada!). Oolaa and Wagyu are great Western all-rounders – you can always rely on them for something delicious, plus the best Bloody Marys in town! Zuma and Kitchen at the W are my favourites for boozy, free-flow Sunday brunches. Shanghai Lane has great xiao long bao (my favourite Chinese comfort food!) and they are handmade on-site by the sweetest owners. I also love many of the local massive dim sum banquet halls in Causeway Bay; they’re loud, frantic and so much fun! Blue Butcher is divine for steak and Sushi O has the most creative sushi and Japanese starters I’ve found in Hong Kong. Motorino is the best pizza I have found in Hong Kong, but I have yet to find a bagel place that comes remotely close to NY…come on restaurant peeps!
For bars, Wooloomooloo in Wan Chai is my favorite rooftop bar for views of both the harbour and the Happy Valley racetrack, along with a relaxed atmosphere. For fancy drinks with a view, Café Gray is unbeatable especially if you reserve a booth where you feel like you are floating above the city… the bathrooms are pretty amazing too! Lily & Bloom has been a long time favorite of mine and does an amazing Kaffir Margarita (now off the menu, but just ask!). I love Le Jardin’s location and fun atmosphere… and no good night would be complete without an end at my all time fave, Dusk Till Dawn in Wan Chai!
Where are your go-to pampering spots in Hong Kong?
I am a bit of a gel manicure junkie and Kiss Your Nail does the best manicures I’ve ever had – they last for weeks! For waxing and threading, I go to Browhaus or Strip. Gao’s Lan Kwai Fong branch is amazing for a good foot massage. You get wrapped up in warm blankets and given lovely rose tea in a pleasantly kitsch environment with a rainforest soundtrack – it’s fantastic! My friends and I often go for a ladies night cocktails and end the evening here.
Where are some of your fave dog-friendly spots in HK?
Stanley is very dog friendly; we are often there on a Sunday, as it has something for both dogs and their humans! There is a fantastic little beach that is dog friendly if you walk by the Maritime Museum and up the hill past the temple… it is well hidden so usually quiet from the tourists! After a fun run on the beach, you can end the day at one of the many cafés on the promenade, all of which are very accommodating towards dogs. Shek O’s “back beach” is also a great little spot with lots of dogs and their people enjoying the sand and sea. It is particularly great after a hike on Dragon’s Back, ending at the beach and grabbing a drink at one of my favourite bars, Ben’s Back Beach – a super friendly and relaxed spot that is perfect for a cold Tsingtao. A day here and you feel like you’ve been on holiday!
Have you always wanted to be a vet? Why animals, not people?
I have wanted to be a vet since at least when I was 7 years old. We took our family dog to the vet and he let me watch a dog spay – I was hooked! It never really occurred to me to go into human medicine as animals were such a big part of my life growing up, and I had worked towards and wanted to be a vet for a long as I can remember!
Fill us in on an average day at the SPCA?
There is no such thing as an average day; every day is completely different which keeps things exciting! With seven static veterinary clinics and two mobile clinics (one for consults and one for spay/neutering), my days are very varied and never boring. On any given day, I may be found consulting or performing a range of surgeries in one of our static centres, de-sexing animals in the New Territories on our truck (which visits remotes areas including the border zone), helping with prosecution cases or the care of abandoned animals, de-sexing street cats in our cat Colony Care Programme, looking after sick animals in our 24-hour Wan Chai Animal Hospital or managing our welfare hospital and adoption centre!
What are some of the most memorable cases you have had since working at the SPCA?
Dogs have a lovely tendency of eating all sorts of embarrassing things. In addition to the typical corncobs, balls and socks, I have surgically removed ladies’ undergarments and even some “naughty” toys – always an interesting conversation with their owners! Hong Kongers love to dress their pets – I once saw a gorgeous little kitten dressed to the nines in the most beautiful little embroidered pink and white dress, only for me to lift her tail and have to tell the owner that she was in fact a he! His owner was stunned and very concerned what to do with the kitten’s extensive wardrobe!
Sadly, heart-breaking stories are also memorable – the worst ones being when you know the injury or condition was a direct result of human abuse or neglect. Sad but memorable cases include animals with their legs crushed in illegal traps, animals thrown from a height, collars put on so tight they have grown into an animal’s neck and animals starved to death or near-death. However, it is amazing and heartening to witness the “after” in many of these cases, after months of treatment and intensive nursing. Helping cases like these is one of the reasons I love working at the SPCA; it’s such a massive team effort to treat these cases, from inspector rescue and fundraising to the veterinary and welfare staff that diagnose and treat!
The SPCA does such important work in Hong Kong – can you tell us more about it and what we can do to help?
The SPCA’s work covers not just the veterinary side, but also many aspects of animal welfare – including lobbying the government for stronger laws to protect animals, education at all levels (not just school and university students, but the general public and pet owners alike), working in communities to improve harmony between animals and people, and our China Outreach Programme. Each year, we rehome over two thousand animals, but we cannot do this without a massive amount of help, which comes in many forms. Fundraising is vitally important and helps cover hospitalisation, treatment, surgery and general daily care. The SPCA has several fundraising events every year such as the Disney Wag n’ Walk, plus our annual Flag Day and raffle. Participating or volunteering in these events not only helps raise money but also public awareness – and they are often really fun too!
Becoming a foster parent is one of the most important steps in saving and finding homes for abandoned and stray animals. Fostered animals are often more successful in our adoption programmes as they are well socialised to humans. In addition, fostering helps to relieve space pressure at the SPCA and enables us to take in more animals for treatment! We always need more foster parents, especially ones willing to take animals recuperating from an illness or surgery that are not yet ready to be adopted. I would also encourage anyone looking for a pet to consider adoption rather than buying from a pet shop – we have a massive range of animals from purebreds to mixed breeds that come in our centres every year, desperate for a good home.
As well as our fundraising events, we also need regular volunteers to help our kennel keepers and assist in dog walking (especially during the week when many volunteers are at work!). Finally, we also run a Cadet Inspector Scheme and a Volunteer Inspectorate for those wanting to assist in our valuable work of animal rescue, education and protection. For more information on the work of the SPCA Hong Kong, please visit our website at www.spca.org.hk!
Tell us more about your experience of adopting a rescue dog?
My family has a long history of adopting dogs, all of who have become beloved family members. My latest addition is little Freddie, a Chihuahua. Our inspectors rescued all 500g of him from a rubbish dump in the New Territories and from the first moment I saw him, it was love! He had a minor cold and was treated for a short time in our hospital and once recovered, my fiancé and I fostered him with the plan for him to enter our adoption programme when he was strong enough. Needless to say, once we had him in our lives, there was no other home I could imagine him in and we officially adopted him a short time later! He has the biggest personality in the tiniest of bodies, loves to spend his time burrowed under blankets and can tackle some of the most difficult hikes… you should see him take on The Twins to Stanley!
How does the pet scene here compare to other countries you’ve lived in? What is HK doing right – and not so well – for our pets?
The pet scene here is definitely evolving as pets become more and more accepted as integral part of the family unit. The one area we could definitely improve on is pet accessible parks and open spaces in urban areas. On the days where you cannot find the time to go for a hike, the inability to walk dogs in many of Hong Kong’s lovely parks or on the waterfront in certain places is very frustrating, especially as this is a routine part of life in all other cities I have lived in! It would be great to see this change combined with (of course!) responsible pet ownership such as cleaning up after them, with dedicated bins in parks and fines for non-compliance! People and pets need to learn to live together in harmony.
In your experience, is there any truth in the idea that pets look like/take after their owner?!
I have absolutely thought that at times! Although that means I either look like a Labrador or a Chihuahua so…
You’ve travelled all round the world… What would you say makes HK unique?
The city is truly unique in that you are never more than a 15 minute cab ride from a great hike or a beach – I cannot say I know of any other city that is so lucky to have this. One minute you can be in the hustle and bustle of Central and the next, on top of Mount Butler hiking along the peaks of the island where the only noise is that of nature, all while looking down on the bright lights of a city of 7 million people – it’s amazing! As far as work goes, it’s exciting to live in a city where the animal rights movement is really taking off; it’s great to see so many people care about the improvement in quality of life for animals in this city. While this is often a ‘hot’ topic, constructive dialogue between all sides usually leads to great strides being made – I hope to see more of this in the future!
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
My high-school yearbook quote was, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of your dreams”. While it may not seem that profound, this was what my parents encouraged throughout my entire life, what helped get me through my degrees and enticed me to go on adventures and travel around the world. Thankfully, I (mostly!) listened to them; I never really had a plan B for what I wanted to do with my life and while it’s stressful at times, I have a career I love.
P.S. Jamie would also like to mention that the fur coat she is wearing in these photos is most definitely faux!
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