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‘Friends are a family you choose,’ says princess

Yulia Khouri / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
The Fox-Smith family will be missed in Cambodia. Supplied

As I started doing animal rescue work – first unofficially eight years ago and then more systematically, through Animal Mama Center – I faced my share of emotional battles. Seeing constant animal suffering and often fatalities is in itself very draining. Having little to no resources to help them adds to the frustration. Thus, compassion fatigue, depression, hopelessness and constant questioning of whether our mission makes a difference is haunting and often paralysing. As such, my greatest salvation has been the people around me – family, friends, supporters, colleagues and volunteers – who share the same vision, see the hard work and still choose to stick around, despite and because of it all.

In fact, I will be honest: there are times when I wake up with no motivation at all. But the amazing group of people whose passion, dedication and love for animals’ welfare are the strength that keeps me going. And while there are many that can be mentioned, I would like to dedicate this column to the Fox-Smith family of Epic Animal Quest (, who entered our center and my life some 7-8 months ago and who have – each family member in different ways – been my strongest source of determination, kindest friends and probably the most dedicated colleagues I have ever had.

Lee, his wife Rachel and their two kids came to Cambodia a year ago from England. Their life story is captivating in many ways and to me personally, is also appealing for many reasons. It’s mainly because of their proactive approach to making the world better against all odds.

In the UK, Rachel was a teacher and Lee – a chef with a successful business. One day, as they recall their story, a documentary called ‘The Earthlinks’ changed their lives forever. “Could it be that the entire world, all our food supply and our environment is viciously tortured and killed without us realising it or was it just a documentary propaganda?”

So, they threw themselves into research about global animal welfare and animal rights. Shocked at what they found and realising the dark side of commercial agricultural complex, the Lee- Fox family became mindful vegans. They are also decided to be proactive promoters and a living example of compassion, love and kindness.

As they tell us, they “sold and gave away almost everything we owned to set up Epic Animal Quest, a social enterprise mission to change the world for the animals; to lead by example to influence others to show compassion, respect and care for all animals”. And while we all know many people who “talk the talk, but never walk the walk”, this family has done exactly what they have set out to do.

Now, I cannot speak for everyone, but from my limited experience, for the carnivores, the vegan culture can sometimes be intimidating and unwelcoming. Paradoxically, it is often because of the people who follow a vegan diet. Many vegans act superior to others, needlessly judgmental and even purposely offensive, picking fights with strangers about their diet just to proclaim their own “veganism” publicly as if it was a medal of honour. To me, it seemed like it was never about the animals really. It was about becoming “aggressively vegan” just to be different.

The Lee-Fox family and their Epic Animal Quest took a different approach: they highlighted the benefits of being vegan, while shedding light on the dark side of the meat business; they shared their experience, their knowledge, nutritious recipes that are vegan. In short, they gave people a workable alternative to change their diet and lifestyle should they be interested and compelled to do so. No force. No guilt trips. No insults.

I still remember when I first read the Epic Animal Quest blog. It felt refreshingly friendly, positive and thought-provoking, without being guilt-driven or dogmatic. And of course when I first met the family in person, it was just natural that they would be behind the blog.

Rachel, Lee and their kids are progressive, kind, insightful, but devoted to their mission. They almost instantly became a part of our Therapy Humans programme ( Every Sunday, I would see the bright faces of Rachel, Laurina and Nicolas coming into our “kitten room” – hearing Laurina singing away with her angelic voice, while Nicolas played with kittens – all under the supervision of their kind mom. Lee would be in our shared office, working away, documenting our animal rescue projects and blogging, among many other things.

As a friend and colleague, Lee has been my constant ethical and moral compass while I was dealing with many animal welfare related issues and projects and a source of motivation and encouragement in these past months.

Lee has many talents – one of them is his unmoving goal to do the right thing against all odds, even if it makes him unpopular in the eyes of others. I watched Lee in his high moments as he was proactively helping to end animal suffering and cruelty, when no one else would. I also saw him in his darkest moments, when the witnessing of suffering and documenting it became too emotionally exhausting and unbearable. And I also saw him pull himself up from that dark space and reconnect with himself and the world, in a way only a strong human being would.

His principles and beliefs are sprinkled with a healthy mix of positivity and skepticism, making him more of a philosopher and scholar, at least in my eyes. And given that his work is not driven by money, fame or material rewards, except doing the right thing, makes his friendship and his dedication to supporting Animal Mama just so much more valuable. He once told me: “I do it because I think it’s the only right thing to do based on what I learn every day. Plus, I always think I am right until I prove myself that I am not”.

When I heard that, I thought, “Yes, same here. Birds of same feathers, I suppose.”

The Lee-Fox family is off to their new adventure to other lands and my eyes tear up each time I think how close their departure is. There are not enough words to thank them on behalf of the animals and many people they have helped, supported and encouraged here. Luckily, Animal Mama and Epic Animal Quest will remain close partners in our goal to make the world a better place, so it is not a goodbye.

“Friends are a family you choose” – my dear friend Princess Soma Norodom told me once.

Thank you for choosing us, Fox-Smiths and Epic Animal Quest.

Stay close.

Animal Mama® Animal Clinic & Welfare Centre provides a wide range of services for animals & pets: vet care, boarding, daycare, pet food & supplies, hydrotherapy, grooming and doggy play dates.
Please visit us at:
Villa #15, Street 500
Toul Tom Pong, Phnom Penh 12311
Clinic: +855888744411
Mobile: +85510500999
Mobile: +85510500888
[email protected]

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