CAPAS, Tarlac—In the news lately is the order of Mayor Carmelo Lazatin of Angeles City, Pampanga, to file criminal charges against three men said to have killed and cooked a dog last week to serve as bar chow for their drinking session. It only goes to show that the law, in this case Republic Act No.10631, is violated in many ways.
In the neighboring province of Tarlac, the Animal Kingdom Foundation (AKF) continues to work to achieve its objective of ending the illegal and brutal trade in dog meat. The group was already waging its fight when other animal welfare organizations in Asian countries such as China, Indonesia and Cambodia were just beginning their own campaign.
“That’s our core program because our campaign really started for the [eradication of the] dog meat trade, and that’s how our organization was built,” says lawyer Heidi Marquez Caguioa, AKF’s program director. “AKF started the campaign in Asia when nobody was fighting against the dog meat trade.”
AKF, which formally started in 2002, is run by Filipinos, but it was through the efforts of a Briton, the late Charles Leslie Wartenberg, that made it what it is now.
In the United Kingdom, Wartenberg had read a newspaper report on the trade in dog meat in the Philippines. This prompted him to visit the country in 1998 to look into the matter. Finding that what he had read in the paper was actually happening, he formed a group in coordination with the police and launched operations to rescue dogs headed for slaughter.
The group eventually became the AKF.
Having no rescue center at that time, AKF linked up with Manila veterinarians who arranged for rescued dogs to stay for a week in the city pound. But as the number of rescues grew, it became clear that the pound could not serve as their long-time haven.
The problem was solved when a permanent shelter for the animals was found in Capas. At present, more than 300 dogs and 42 cats are staying in the AKF shelter.
To help Filipino dogs
During the first few years of AKF, funds were not a problem because Wartenberg was a member of a UK group that raised the money needed for the foundation’s operations. “We just kept working and left the funding to them,” Caguioa says in an interview with CoverStory.ph.
A disagreement between Wartenberg and the UK group prodded him to leave it, leading to AKF’s financial woes.
But even earlier, Caguioa recalls, Wartenberg always told the AKF members that they should learn to raise their own funds and manage their own programs: “He said, ‘You have to do things on your own because I built this organization not for the UK people but for you Filipinos to help Filipino dogs.’”
Wartenberg’s advice prepared AKF to eventually deal with and resolve its financial difficulties, Caguioa says.
AKF believes that it cannot help dogs and stop the dog meat trade unless it also focuses on education, immersion, and legislation. Thus, pet education programs were conducted in Baguio City and La Trinidad in the north, as well as in provinces in Calabarzon and Central Luzon.
“We hired teachers to go around these areas, teaching animal welfare and responsible pet ownership,” Caguioa says.
Using the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) as model sans financial help as incentive, AKF implemented a project in which those qualified under the 4Ps (or living on or below the poverty threshold) are empowered to make a difference in animal welfare.
Caguioa says she met with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Baguio City: “I said, these people have many dogs, they have many pets … If you empower them and give them a chance to become an important member of society through pet ownership, this could change their mindset. It could help erase victim mentality.”
In 2012, Caguioa says, DSWD Baguio and AKF signed a memorandum of agreement on a three-year project involving education on animal welfare. Bearing educational materials, DSWD officers and AKF teachers climbed mountains and crossed rivers in fulfillment of the project. And because back then AKF had a partnership with the Department of Education, the teachers also visited grade schools in Baguio.
Unfortunately, AKF could not continue the educational project beyond the agreed three years due to lack of funds. But there are indications that somehow, its efforts had paid off. “Before, you could see dog meat being sold in the Baguio market or in other areas in the city. Now, if there are those who still sell dog meat, they do it secretly,” Caguioa says.
She says that, prompted by a police raid in July 2022 on a restaurant that continued to serve dog meat despite multiple apprehensions, Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong issued a memorandum stating that the sale of dog meat is illegal and that as mayor he strongly prohibits it.
AKF volunteers monitor the trade in dog meat. “We rely on people, on netizens. There’s no need to put [staff members] on site … We cannot handle the cost,” Caguioa says.
She adds that AKF has a good relationship with vets and the police, whom she describes as always ready to respond to a call.
When RA 10631 (or the amended Animal Welfare Act of 1998) was signed into law in 2013 by then President Benigno Aquino III, animal welfare groups were provided a stronger weapon to help stop animal abusers and dog meat traders.
From a measly P5,000 fine for cruelty cases, the amended law now requires violators to pay between P30,000 and P100,000. Aside from the jail time (the maximum two-year imprisonment is retained), a fine of P250,000 may be imposed if the offense is committed by a syndicate, an offender who makes business out of cruelty to an animal, a public officer or employee, or when at least three animals are involved.
Is the dog meat trade still rampant despite RA 1063? “I would say that it’s still existing but … it’s not as big as it used to be,” says Caguioa. “It never really stopped. The cases only decreased.”
AKF’s hope is for the trade to be stamped out—still impossible at this point, according to Caguioa, but the organization is thankful that the Philippines is being recognized in Southeast Asia as the first country in the region to take an active role in the campaign.
Like other untiring animal welfare advocates, Caguioa considers the signing in 2016 of a National Plan of Action to Eliminate the Dog Meat Trade, also an important achievement. This was a brainchild of Caguioa and AKF in collaboration with the Department of the Interior and Local Government; the Bureau of Animal Industry with stakeholders like the police, local vet offices and local government units; the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples; and NGOs.
AKF wants to share its achievements in its campaign against the dog meat trade with its counterparts in Asia. Thus, it has partnered with the Thailand-based Soi Dog Foundation, which was founded in 2003 by John Dalley and his late wife Gill, both good friends of AKF founder Wartenberg. For years Soi’s focus was on stray dogs and cats, but it has now begun its fight against the dog meat trade in Thailand.
“The partnership is doing ok. We’re really happy with our [respective] success and we [know] that we would be mutually helping each other,” says Caguioa.
For its campaign to fully succeed, AKF knows that public awareness of animal welfare in general and the dog meat trade in particular is imperative. Steps have been taken via education information; projects like spaying and neutering (AKF conducts these procedures for a minimal fee in its Tarlac shelter every Saturday and Sunday starting at 8 a.m.); antirabies vaccination; and lobbying for pertinent legislation.
Seminars are conducted depending on requests made to AKF or issues that it wants highlighted. In 2022, it held online seminars for companies and schools. And since AKF also has a farm animal welfare program, partner schools visit the shelter and are shown its model poultry farm of cage-free chickens.
“The biggest cruelty happens, not with our pets, but with farm animals,” Caguioa points out. “We immerse the students so they’ll understand the difference when they go to other farms.”
Other means of helping
Actively fighting the dog meat trade doesn’t mean that AKF has focused all its energy and resources on this matter alone. Its volunteers are ready to help other animals in need, especially when calamity strikes.
“Our volunteers are divided into different groups,” Caguioa says. “For example, if a fire breaks out in Tondo, Manila, a volunteer in the area can coordinate and relay information on the help that is needed.”
The eruption of Taal Volcano in 2020 decimated AKF’s calamity fund but did not stop its efforts to help animals in need. “It’s a good thing though that when disaster strikes [and we need funding], people’s donations pour in right away,” Caguioa says. She equates this to the people’s trust in AKF and the knowledge that their donations are spent judiciously.
Animal welfare awareness has improved in the provinces, especially among the youth, and this may be attributed to social media, Caguioa says.
She says pet ownership expanded greatly during the pandemic lockdowns: “[For these people] owning a pet started to have a purpose and made them feel good.” But in 2021 when Covid cases began to wane and people were returning to their workplaces, and others were having financial problems, many wanted to give up their pets.
AKF helped by providing veterinary access to those who could no longer afford their pets’ medical expenses. A “Barkyanihan” pet pantry was also set up. The same assistance was provided after Typhoon “Odette” hit Cebu in December 2021, with vets, donors, and volunteers playing a big part.
One of AKF’s important programs is pet adoption. Many adoptions of dogs and cats were made in 2022 and AKF intends to double the number this year through “Find Love Online” and events in malls in Manila. A strict screening process is conducted and follow-ups are made for two months, after which the adopters are randomly visited by AKF.
To be sure, not all adopted dogs find their “forever home.” For various reasons, Caguioa says, “there are instances when we take a dog back to the shelter or when dogs are returned to us.”
She has this to say to those with vague intentions of helping voiceless animals: “If you want to help them, please do so, and please do so actively. If you want to protect them, do something. We cannot be keyboard warriors all the time. If you cannot help because of whatever factors, you can always donate. You can help educate. You can make people be aware. You cannot just say you love animals. You cannot just say ‘I’m concerned about animals’ without really doing something. I have always been a believer of Nike’s tagline to ‘just do it.’”
Speaking for myself, in 2008 I stopped the transport of a female dog to a northern province. She was to be butchered and served for someone’s birthday party. She was chased by men wielding a big fish hook and smoked out of the drainage canal in which she tried to hide from them—quite an ordeal.
I managed to claim her, decided to bring her home, and named her Lucky. She died of old age last year.
With resolve, and as long as animal welfare groups like AKF are there to show the way, there will be a hundred more Luckys that we can save.
For updates and information on donations, visit AKF’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AKFanimalrescue. —Ed.