For Jon Mack, saving animals went from a hobby to a full-blown addiction.
The actress, musician, producer and lifelong animal lover, who has spent her life helping animals, has launched a new organization meant to help protect animals from illegal poaching across the world.
“I'm from Michigan, and I was born and raised on a 180 acre farm," says Mack. “I was an only child so my whole life was animals. I always had a bond with them, and they were my friends as a kid."
Mack eventually uprooted from her bucolic background, where she had dogs, cats, chickens and pigs as pets, and moved to Los Angeles to follow her dream of acting and music. Once in California, she began to rescue cats and soon realized that there were so much work to be done to help animals live better lives.
“I would humanely trap and release cats and I learned more and more about how animals there were out there without homes," says Mack, who adopted two stray kittens from the street. “They were few weeks old hiding in tree. They were feral so at first you couldn't even touch them. Now they are the biggest babies. I've had them for nine years, and they are what got me into helping more animals."
Mack, who is the lead singer for electronic rock band, Auradrone, says she soon found herself addicted to animal rescuing. She next became involved in Heaven On Earth, which was founded by Seth McFarlan's mother, Perry, who is also a passionate animal rescuer.
“They take in every cat, old or young and are no-kill," says Mack, who sits on the organization's celebrity board. “I have been an ambassador for Heaven on Earth for several years now. Not only have I adopted some of my own from them, I have helped also raise awareness for the great work they do. I love that they will take high risk cats and give them forever homes regardless of their health issues or whether someone adopts them or not. These are good people doing good things."
Mack's desire to help animals intensified in 2012 when she visited Thailand and spent time with elephants. During that trip Mack said she was horrified at seeing beautiful rare animals for sale at the market. After doing research, Mack became more aware of the poaching crisis over the past few years and decided to do something about it.
“I really bonded with elephants in Thailand and one in particular I took care of for several days. This is where I saw the majesty and high intelligence in these creatures," says Mack. “I've traveled to many places with colorful eco-systems and varied wildlife such as Brazil, Costa Rica and Bali to name a few. Part of my incentive to take any trips these days has to do with what kind of wildlife there is and what I can learn from it."
The more Mack dug, the more she saw the corruption that is deeply embedded in countries where poaching is at record numbers.
With only between 2,000 and 3,000 rhinos left in the world as of 2016, Mack is focused on working with various animal-protecting organizations in South Africa, which is the worst offender in the poaching industry, to develop new technology that would help protect rhinoceroses. Mack is looking to raise funds to help this and other charitable initiatives.
“The South African government refused to publish numbers this year," says Mack. That means it's bad and they know it's bad. Everything has gotten so corrupt. It's such a huge trade. These countries demand the ivory or rhino horns for 'medicines' that don't actually work. It boils my blood. It's all for superstition or little knick knacks no one needs. They are getting more sophisticated. There is big money behind them. They are basically militarized."
According to Mack, just one rhino horn can go for $20K to $40K and possibly much more on the black market, which traffics them from countries like South Africa into countries like China.
“I thought I want to do something against poaching and trophy hunting," says Mack. “ If nothing is done we will lose rhinos and elephants in five to 10 years. The governments turn a blind eye to it. Poachers get a slap on the wrist."
“I'm so concerned that we are going to lose these species that we take for granted; that our children and grandchildren will only see them in picture books. That scares me."
In order to fix this immense problem which plagues our world, Mack is focused on education and exposing the trade.
“I think education is the number one thing that needs to happen now," says Mack. "People in South Africa know what is happening but people don't realize how bad it is. I want to educate people so that they realize how serious it is."
Mack, who has two films, MindBlown and Doomsday Device, coming out later this year, also has released a music video for her band, called Weapon Of Choice, meant to help raise awareness. Mack says she worked with a director to come up with a concept about poaching that could ring true to people who watched it.
“The video puts people in the place of animals," says Mack. “We did the video I thought this is powerful and different. I wanted to make an impact with art."
In 2015, Mack took her love for animals a step further, by creating and launching her own organization, Defending The Endangered, which she describes as a “collective of artists" who donate their time and money to protecting and rescuing animals. Throughout the year members help raise money for various animal-oriented charities like the Rhino Rescue Project and the Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit. On March 25, Mack will throw her first charity's first celebrity gala, meant to celebrate those making a difference in the lives of animals, and to raise more capital to support organizations that do.
“I wanted to gather creative and compassionate people together and use all of our unique talents to raise awareness as well as donate our gifts to raise much needed funds for various charities working to protect and rehabilitate endangered animals," says Mack. “Defending the Endangered is all about joining together creatives, passionate animal lovers and thinkers all over the world to make art and create events that will not only raise awareness, but celebrate those who have gone above and beyond in their own way to protect threatened species on this planet."
According to Mack, who describes herself as heartbroken by what has happened thus far, yet hopeful that a new generation will step up to the plate, is especially focused on investing in technologies that will help.
“We are working with Rhino Rescue Project at the moment and they have created a new dye that is injected into the rhino's horn without harm to the animal," she says. "This dye makes the horns set off radiation detectors so this makes is much more difficult for even higher level travelers to smuggle horns out of the country. This will be a deterrent and hopefully save several rhinos from being sought out for their horn and murdered. This has to stop and it has to stop now."
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.