IT WAS on November 21, 2021 when I saw a now-viral post of Dabawenyo Paul Edison Sia Batacan about the construction of a shelter building for stray and abandoned dogs and cats. It immediately caught my attention. I figured, we encounter various stories affecting people around our community daily but seldom do we hear or read stories of homeless animals like stray and abandoned dogs and cats.

November 24, 2021 | 2:06 p.m.

After I messaged Paul on Facebook on November 22 for an interview, he told me that the ongoing project -- an 800-square-meter shelter building for stray and abandoned animals in Binugao, Toril, Davao City dubbed as “ARRF-Davao’s PAWg-ibig Shelter” -- is an initiative by her mother Marites Sia Batacan. He shared he was just supporting her mom and didn’t expect the post to be shared by thousands. Her mother is the founder of Animal Rescue Rehabilitation & Fostering (ARRF)-Davao, Inc.

November 29, 2021 | 11:43 a.m.

When I reached Ma’am Marites through Messenger, I already knew she’s serious and very hands-on with her advocacy because of how she responded to my request. I asked for an on-site interview to discuss her ongoing project, she replied:

“Sure sir. (Magsabot) and update-update lang ta next week kay naa man gud ko ginapadede na kittens gilabay ba. Unta mukaon na (next) week para makainterview ta online if dili mag virtual lang ta.”

(Sure, sir. Let’s just update next week since I’m still bottle-feeding kittens that were thrown. I hope they will be able to eat next week so that we can have our online interview, but if we can’t, then we will have it virtually.)

Marites founded ARRF-Davao, Inc. in 2016. She said it was created with her fellow dog/cat advocates to give the abandoned, sick, and stray animals another chance of survival.

At first, she said she was afraid of dogs because of her traumatic experience as a child. Her uncle’s pet dog, a German Shepherd, ran after her, which caused her to fall into a canal in their neighborhood.

“But my love for pets started when a friend gifted us a Shih Tzu in 2011,” she shared. They named it Momo.

However, the story with Momo didn’t end well as she witnessed it die on May 9, 2012 on her lap. She was helpless and in pain.

“Wala koy (I don’t have) enough knowledge sa pag-alaga sa mga iro, wala ko kabalo unsa akong buhaton (in taking care of dogs, I didn’t know what to do) that time. When it happened, we still had no 24-hour vet clinics, and lisod gyud pud kay wala tay murag (and it’s hard since we didn’t have like) SPMC for dogs,” she said.

The death of Momo affected her so much. This led her to study and improve her knowledge of nursing and caring for paws. She then adopted and rescued a couple of stray animals she found every time she saw one on the road and streets.

The spark to rescue more animals began when a friend shared about the cruel state of their neighbor’s pet dog.

“So giadto namo ang tagbalay (So I went to the owners) and talked to them, from that conversation I was informed that those impounded stray dogs were killed mercilessly. From that moment, dili na gyud mawala sa akong (it could not get off my) mind. How could they be so cruel?” she said.

Davao City Ordinance No. 1457 prohibits the loosening or letting astray of dogs/cattle in the city. The ordinance mandates that when not claimed within a certain period, the impounded stray animals will be subject to euthanasia or mercy killing.

Out of her frustrations, the "spark" developed into a "fire" of advocacy. This is when she pursued establishing ARRF-Davao after a series of conversations with key persons and organizations like the City Veterinarian’s Office, Department of Agriculture, Philippine National Police, and others.

“Kapag makakita ko iro sa kalsada, payat ug gutom, ginapakaon nako maong gadala gyud ko og gallon sa tubig, disposable plates, and canned animal food like Pedigree. Kung makita nako ang tag-iya na ginapasagdan ang iro, naogun gyud nako na ug istoryahon usahay makasab-an nako ,” she said.

(If I see a dog on the street, thin and hungry, I will feed it immediately, that’s why I always bring a gallon of water, disposable plates, and canned animal food like Pedigree. If I see an owner who neglects their dog I will disembark from my car and I will talk to them, sometimes I will scold them.

December 4, 2021 | 10:35 a.m.

On our way to Binugao, Toril where the soon-to-rise shelter facility for stray animals is located, we stopped by a gasoline station. While a staff member was fueling up the vehicle’s tank, someone from the station approached her and asked for details about how to adopt a pet dog.

She was quick to reply to the staff: "Kaya nimo moalaga og iro, pakaonun og tarong, dili pasagdan, mahatagan siyag enough space, bakunahan, ug ipaospital kung magkasakit?"

(Can you take care of the dog, feed it well, not neglect it, provide it with enough space, vaccinate and bring it to the hospital when it is sick?)

The staff just smiled and carried on with work.

“Kung matingala ka, Ace, dili ko basta-basta gapa-adopt og (If you wonder, Ace, I just don’t easily allow anybody to adopt) rescued dogs. I have to make sure that they are capable of being a responsible pet owner,” Marites explained.

She added that before a person can adopt, s/he should pass the screening questions and fill out a contract. Some of the prerequisites are a space where the pet can live and a minimum monthly income.

Marites underscored that a responsible pet owner is like a responsible parent. S/he should prepare financially for the overall welfare of the dog from the very beginning from food, shelter, time and attention, medical care, etc.

“Ang uban man gud basta cute pa ang iro, lablab pero pag madako na wala na, pag magsakit pasagdan na lang. Pagkuha pa lang nimo dapat kabalo naka sa imong responsibility. Dili man na stuffed toy na dili masakit no,” she said.

(Others only pet their dogs when they are still cute, but when these dogs grow big, they will lose their affection, they will neglect them when these dogs get sick. The moment you take that dog, you should know your responsibility. These are not stuffed toys that can’t get sick.)

Dec 4, 2021 | 11:45 a.m.

When we arrived at the site, construction was ongoing. The multi-million ARRF-Davao’s PAWg-ibig Shelter is fully funded by the Batacan family. It can cater to up to 50 dogs and cats at a time. To date, ARRF Davao houses 200 paw friends since the organization was founded.

The shelter is targeted to be finished early next year.

During our interview, Marites expressed her disappointment about how poor the implementation of the Animal Welfare Act of 1998 or Republic Act 8485 in the Philippines, even in Davao City.

The law seeks to “protect and promote the welfare of all animals in the Philippines by supervising and regulating the establishment and operations of all facilities utilized for breeding, maintaining, keeping, treating, or training of all animals either as objects of trade or as household pets. For purposes of this Act, pet animals shall include birds.”

Under Section 6 of the said law, “it shall be unlawful for any person to torture any animal, to neglect to provide adequate care, sustenance or shelter, or maltreat any animal or to subject any dog or horse to dogfights or horse fights, kill or cause or procure to be tortured or deprived of adequate care, sustenance or shelter, or maltreat or use the same in research or experiments not expressly authorized by the Committee on Animal Welfare.”

Marites said even with this law being enacted years ago, animal cruelty remains a problem.

“They keep on impounding then killing dogs and cats, these stray animals are not at fault, why should our government not focus on irresponsible pet owners and breeders? They should focus on addressing the root cause of the problem. Walay choice ang cats and dogs pero kitang mga tao naa tay mabuhat (Cats and dogs have no choice, but us people we can do something),” she said.

These animals' inability to vote, she said, might be the reason why the government is giving little to no attention to strays.

Strays’ overpopulation

Like the homeless people, strays also suffer the same fate. Usually, these strays are labeled puspins and aspins—slang for pusang Pinoy and asong Pinoy.

The number of stray animals in the Philippines, Marites said, keeps on increasing daily, no thanks to irresponsible pet owners. Common fate for these strays is violence from their human counterparts as they see them of no value not knowing it is a result of mankind's irresponsibility.

One of the main goals of ARRF-Davao is “promoting neutering and spaying to lessen stray dogs and curb rabies until eradicated, and supports the idea of informing, educating and campaigning about responsible dog ownership/parenting.”

Spaying involves removing the uterus and ovaries of a female animal, and neutering removes the testicles of a male animal.

“It is the humane solution to overpopulation. Ideally, the City Vet should ramp up its spaying and neutering efforts, if possible daily, para masulbad gyud ang (to solve) overpopulation,” she said.

Marites added that one of the things that hold back City Vet to do so is budget and the possibility of killing the businesses of the veterinarians in the city.

“But I don’t think so, there are many procedures where our vet clinics can earn, like vaccination, treating diseases, and operations,” she said.

The ARRF-Davao founder is also pushing to establish a companion animals department in the City Veterinarian’s Office to cater more to the concerns of companion animals like pet dogs and cats, and not just focus on livestock, poultry, and other farm animals.

To further help solve the problem of overpopulation, Marites hopes to launch a mobile spay clinic.

“After the shelter, if budget permits and hopefully if someone or a group can donate a small bus, I plan to turn it into a mobile spay clinic. The idea is to roam around poor areas in our community and we provide them free spaying,” she said.

Low-cost spaying for Aspins costs P3,500. Spaying for purebred and pedigreed pets is more expensive.

December 4, 2021 | 2:15 p.m.

On our way back to the city center, I asked Paul how he generally feels about her mother’s advocacy and dedicated life for the stray dogs and cats.

He admitted, at first, his family was not that supportive to the extent their mother is doing for her advocacy. For them, at that time, it was too much. But they realized how noble and selfless their mother is and that she needed help and support from the family.

“She is allocating some half a million pesos monthly for the overall care of the stray dogs and cats. And she gets nothing monetary in return. Not to mention the stress she gets. But we realized, we are blessed and this is our way of sharing our blessings. And if mom will stop this initiative, who will take care of the strays and abused animals?” Paul shared.

Paul has been rescuing stray dogs and cats. One stray he saved was "Suraya," an aspin that he saw along the Cabantian Road. It was named after a subdivision in Cabantian.

“Suraya was so thin and sickly when I rescued him in 2018, now he’s healthy and is happily living with us,” he shared, adding he has rescued some 20 stray cats and dogs.

At present, Paul along with his father lawyer Ramon Edison Batacan and his sisters are supporting their mom to sustain ARRF-Davao, Inc.

Strays on the streets salvaging food and searching for shelter to survive are but a reflection of how our society deals with pet animals. Strays’ overpopulation is but a symptom of a bigger problem caused by irresponsible pet ownership and people buying and breeding instead of adopting or rescuing animals.

ARRF-Davao is open for donations, contact 09285021446.