Dr Mark Westman is a co-founder of nonprofit Pets in the Park, an RSPCA veterinarian, PhD candidate, and all-round nice guy. Small Animal Talk’s Anne Fawcett caught up with the boy in blue.

Q. How does Pets in the Park work?

Pets in the Park’s mission is to provide assistance to Sydney’s homeless and less fortunate through caring for their pets. We run free pet clinics, where we provide free health checks, vaccinations, flea and worm treatment, and basic medications.

Currently we have two monthly clinics set up, one in Darlinghurst and one in Parramatta. The model for Pets in the Park is to choose a location for our clinics that ties in with human service providers, so that clients have access to support they may need while their pet is cared for by our volunteers. In Parramatta this is thanks to Stepping Stone Community Ministry and Parramatta Baptist Church, and in Darlinghurst this is thanks to St. John’s Anglican Church and Rough Edges Ministry.

We also run a quarterly de-sexing clinic, where animals recruited from our two clinics are transported to
a veterinary hospital for free de-sexing and microchipping.

Pets-in-the-park--Clique-Photography_2Q. Can you tell us about your clients?

Our clients are either homeless in the true sense of the word (i.e. living on the street), or experiencing transient homelessness (e.g. living in and out of shelters or hostels, or other emergency accommodation). Many of our clients suffer from mental illness, and/or have spent time in gaol, so all of our volunteers need to have good interpersonal skills as well as a non-judgmental attitude.

The pets we meet are generally already very well looked after. They are often the most important thing in our client’s lives. They’ll do anything for their pets. We have clients that will go without food and basic necessities for themselves just to make sure their pet is looked after.

Q. How did Pets in the Park come about?

Pets in the Park really came about by chance. I have always had a strong desire to have a net positive affect on this world by donating my skills as a veterinarian to worthwhile causes. I have volunteered my time on de-sexing programs in India, Thailand, Bali, and worked at the RSPCA in Port Moresby. Pets in the Park is really an extension of my work overseas to try to make a difference to animals in Australia.

About four years ago, a friend told me about a food ministry that he helped co-ordinate and about the animals that were brought along by many of his clients. So the next Sunday I took a table and Esky down to the park in Parramatta where this food ministry took place.

It was in 2012 however, that Pets in the Park really took off when three friends (Vicki Cawsey, Linda Warlond and Leah Skelsey) joined me to set it up as a registered charity and to open another clinic in Darlinghurst. Most of the credit for the success of Pets in the Park lies with these three women. My partner, Laura Taylor, has also been a huge support to me and has helped Pets in the Park grow exponentially.

Q. How can pet owners and members of the public help?

Our biggest asset is the amazing group of dedicated Pets in the Park volunteers. We would not be able to do what we do without them. For Pets in the Park to continue to grow, we need to recruit more dedicated people who love animals and want to help those pet owners suffering from homelessness. Being a volunteer requires compassion, time, and a desire to make a positive difference in the lives of people and their pets. Pets in the Park would love to expand into other areas of Sydney as well as other areas throughout Australia, and to do this we need volunteers willing to establish and run programs with assistance from the Pets in the Park team. If anyone reading this article thinks YES! I would love to do that, please send us an email.

We also have 100% tax deductible status and people can donate through our website

Pets-in-the-park--Clique-Photography_9We are constantly astonished at the generosity of Australians – we have had people run morning teas at their workplace and sell books to work colleagues in order to raise money and help us do the work that we do. We have also had one lovely woman offer to make hand-knitted coats for any of the dogs that attend our clinics! There are so many ways in which people can help.

Pets in the Park was successful in winning a City of Sydney Council Grant in January, which will cover about one third of our costs this year. The other two third of our budget is made up of donations, either monetary (we now have tax deductible status!) or in-kind from one of our wonderful corporate partners. We have received amazing support from Virbac Animal Health, Bayer, Advanced Anaesthesia Specialists, Jurox, Purina, City Farmers and Princes Highway Veterinary Clinic.

Recently we were excited to announce that Elanco Companion Animal Health has agreed to partner with Pets in the Park in 2014 and supply flea and worm treatments for all of our furry clients as well as fund our de-sexing clinics and be the major sponsor for our 2014 Gala Dinner. This new partnership will enable Pets in the Park to expand and help more animals than ever in 2014, as well as ensure that the charity is able to continue the good work that it does for years to come. All Pets in the Park health clinics and de-sexing clinics are completely staffed by volunteers.

Pets-in-the-park- Clique Photography_6

Q. Are there any significant non-humans in your life? If so, who are they, how did you meet and what is your relationship like?

Dookie is my 15-year-old Fox Terrier who has been with me since I first started university. Like many pets, she has been a constant and faithful companion through the highs and lows that life brings. She was also the first dog that I ever diagnosed with Addison’s disease! She is the sweetest dog I have ever known, and I dread the day when I will have to learn to cope with her absence. My other dog, Chewie, died last year under traumatic circumstances (my father accidently ran over her). Chewie was a Terrier cross with attitude, a beautiful dog, and I miss her greatly.

Pets-in-the-Park_Vicki-LindaQ. How do you manage to run a charity AND a PhD?

Sometimes not very well! Running a charity does take up a lot of my time, and balancing the two (as well as still working part-time) is often very challenging. For example, I am writing these responses when I really should be reading some articles on feline leukemia virus …

Fortunately, I have a very understanding partner, family and friends (Vicki and Linda –left – have done most of the work this year). When you are passionate about a cause, and motivated to make a small difference in this world, somehow everything manages to fit in.

Linda Warlond also does our photography. Check her out at Clique Photography.

  • Mission: Pets in the Park (PITP) aims to support, build relationships with and improve the wellbeing
    of homeless people in society living with animal companions.
  • Year founded: 2012
  • Annual funding revenue: $20K
  • Geographic scope: Sydney

Anne-FawcettThis article reproduced thanks to the generosity of Anne Fawcett and her blog, Small Animal Talk.

About Anne

I am a veterinarian and a journalist, but is a labour of love. I started blogging because I wanted to promote three causes that are very important to me: the welfare of companion animals; the human animal bond; and veterinary continuing education and reflective practice – that is, continuing to learn well after graduation and thinking about the bigger picture as well as the smaller details. I never get bored spending time with, writing about and photographing animals.