This week: unsung heroes Volunteering for a good cause is something I have always wanted to do but have rarely had the time for. I have been known to volunteer to do workshops and seminars at primary and secondary schools, but that pales in comparison with friends who volunteer their time to help build schools on the mainland, help out on a semi-permanent basis at old people's homes or raise funds for disadvantaged children in the developing world. My godmother, Lucy Wong, is one of the very few permanent volunteer staff at the city's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and is one of the longest serving. I remember her being there 10 years ago when I started working in Hong Kong. She has worked tirelessly for all these years helping dogs and cats for no reward to speak of, except for the satisfaction of a lick and a purr from the little lives she helps to save. My first encounter with Lucy was because of her beloved shih-tzu, Partner. The poor dog had progressively worsening lameness that eventually meant it couldn't walk at all. X-rays helped diagnose Partner as suffering a rare auto-immune disease that destroys all the joints in the body. Partner had been lying on its side for years and it was because of the dedication of Lucy and her husband that what looked like a hopeless situation for Partner could be turned around so it could have a reasonable quality of life. I am forever saying to Lucy that if anyone else was the owner of Partner, it would probably be better to recommend the animal be put down. Lucy Wong, with her tenacity and love, is in charge of the SPCA's puppy and kitten fostering programme, which was started primarily because of the large number of kittens and puppies that were being dumped and needed to be put down. It is impossible to forget the experience of having to euthanise whole litters of healthy puppies and kittens. I remember having to put down more than 50 puppies in one day; it was unavoidable at the time because there simply were not enough cages or the resources to find homes for so many. Also, many of the kittens and puppies were awfully small and sickly. In most adoption programmes worldwide, dogs and cats are available for adoption only when they have grown to a suitable size and age. The minimum age for adoption is usually two months. In the old days many animals that were less then two months old were put down, so the advent of the fostering programme has saved a lot of lives. In the programme, kittens and puppies that are less than two months old or in some cases too ill to be part of the adoption programme are fostered out to temporary foster parents. Good foster parents are difficult to find. A lot of skill and experience is required to be able to help a sick little cat or dog pull through tough times. Surprisingly, a useful attribute for a good foster parent is an inability to keep pets permanently. It is inevitable that many foster parents end up adopting their wards after having developed love for them over the weeks of tender loving care. For Lucy, this means she has sadly lost another foster parent. So there is always a continuing need to find new foster parents for the programme. One of the main difficulties for me was when I was doing my rounds of the dog kennels for strays, deciding which animal lived and which animal died. There was horrible competition for limited resources in the adoption cages and, to save as many lives as possible, I had to select animals based on their health and age, and their potential 'adoptability': to put it simply, how popular was that breed of dog to the general public. The quicker the animal got adopted, the quicker a cage was available for the next animal. The dilemma meant that given the choice between a Dalmatian or other purebred species and mixed-breed mongrels, the purebred was selected first every time, given that their health and age statuses were equal. It's a cruel world requiring hard decisions. Under the foster programme many mongrels are fostered out and successfully brought back to health, ready to be adopted, only to be left in a cage with no one interested in adopting them. Then the mixed-breed mongrel starts to develop behavioural problems because it has been caged up for much of its younger life and eventually loses its adoptability and in some cases is eventually put down. Not only is this a sad situation, it results in a huge waste of resources. So if you're looking to adopt, please give mixed-breed dogs a chance. Sure, they may not be the fashion with royalty, but they are loyal, intelligent and low-maintenance. Here's to all the unsung heroes who volunteer their time for the betterment of others.