There’s hope for stray animals in surge in pet ownership

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Adopted rescued dogs. —PHOTOS BY LEE ANGELA DE GUZMAN

“If you get a pet, it should be a lifetime commitment” was the message that Sharon Bengzon Yap harped on throughout the interview.

She expounded at length on her message: Raising a pet is somewhat like raising a child. There are boxes to be ticked, from decent shelter to regular checkups at the vet. Fur parents also need to provide nutritious food and tender loving care to their pets, to consistently clean up their poop, to play with them. 

Yap is the education and campaigns officer of the nongovernment organization Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), which, as its name declares, is engaged in saving animals from cruelty and inhumane living conditions. It has at least 300 animals in its shelter.

She and her husband care for 17 dogs; they have no children by choice, mindful of the great responsibility of raising another human being on top of their lifetime advocacy. “If you can’t afford to raise a child, then you shouldn’t have one,” she said.

Yap has observed some couples adopting a dog or cat from the PAWS shelter, eventually having a child of their own. and meeting the needs of both the animal and the child. “We’re happy to see that now that they have a baby, they are not neglecting their pet dog or cat,” she said. 

Lee Angela De Guzman, a rescuer of NGO PAWSsion Project and a fur parent in Malolos, Bulacan, voiced a similar stand about responsible pet ownership and raising a child. 

“For now, we choose to focus on our dogs because having a baby is a bigger responsibility,” said De Guzman, 23, who is in a long-term relationship with her partner, “I’m not saying that I’m afraid of a bigger responsibility, just saying that I’m more needed by the animals for now. But if the Lord gives us a child, then we will be truly blessed. Who’d refuse those two biggest blessings—pet dogs and a baby?”

Unwanted dog

De Guzman, a student of the College of Our Lady of Mercy Pulilan Inc., cares for 27 dogs and three cats—all rescued. 

In 2017, De Guzman was looking for a pet dog as a gift for a debutante. At the time, she was not yet aware of the differences between adopting an animal from a shelter and buying from a breeder, and of the folly of impulsively acquiring a living creature without the necessary tools and mindset. 

This was how she told her story:

One night, her father’s officemate called to ask if he wanted a dog—a Japanese Spitz that had been left at the vet clinic after it gave birth. The breeder no longer wanted it. The family decided to adopt the dog; her parents went to the clinic to collect it and bring it home to Bulacan.

De Guzman came to realize that dogs are being abandoned, neglected and abused, and that there is a grave need for action.

“I still remember that when they got to Bulacan, I was running toward the dog and I was in tears. Grabe!” she said. “It sank in that I was able to save an abandoned dog that would have been scheduled for euthanasia if no one adopted it. On that day, I found an angel that would change my life and lead me to my real mission on earth. That angel is named Snowy.”

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Rescuer Lee Angela de Guzman checks on stray dog

Still, rescuing stray, abused and abandoned animals is only one part of animal welfare, De Guzman said. She cited PAWS’ neutering/spaying service, #KaponHindiTapon, and explained how not only education on responsible pet ownership but also a more active involvement of local government units would cut the number of stray animals on busy streets and other dangerous areas


The January 2020 eruption of Taal Volcano and the enforced evacuation of the people living in the vicinity posed a challenge for PAWS and its volunteers. But they were able to rescue 45 horses and have these taken in by local ranchers before the government imposed a draconian lockdown in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yap recalled the time when the PAWS team was heading home: “I think the lockdown was to take effect at 8 p.m. I told our driver that I didn’t want to spend the pandemic there under the lockdown.”  

The pandemic did not choose its victims, affecting PAWS’ mobility and services. Rescues were limited; De Guzman, for one, could not go out to look out for animals in distress. And PAWS had to tap the vehicle owners among its volunteers to conduct the feeding of stray animals in the streets.

Shelter visits—a requirement for those intending to adopt a pet—were disallowed to prevent Covid infections, leading to a lull in adoptions for nearly six months and a drastic drop in adoption rates.  

And given that part of PAWS’ protocol in admitting rescued animals is a lengthy quarantine period, the matter also posed somewhat of a problem. 

Said Yap: “It was difficult for me—I usually conduct the tours for visitors—to explain the quarantine, what it’s for, and why we cannot take in an animal if we don’t have space in the quarantine area. After all, we don’t yet know if the animal is bringing a disease. But after the pandemic, it was quite easy to make people understand why we have a quarantine protocol in place.”  

Social isolation

Danielle Parreño, a part-time psychology lecturer at the University of the Philippines Diliman, said there was a surge in pet adoptions during the pandemic.

“We were physically isolated from each other, which kind of facilitated the social isolation. And people looked for ways to connect,” she said, citing the “Zoomustahans” and interactions with “plantitos/plantitas,” or those who took up gardening during the lockdown. 

Also a psychosocial support specialist at UP Diliman Psychosocial Services and a research consultant at Communitails Inc., Parreno said animals adopted during the pandemic served as companions to ease people’s loneliness and depression.

The animal “became their source of joy, distraction from worries,” something they could pay attention to and interact with while cooped up at home, she said. 

Stories from Parreño’s and Yap’s networks and certain Facebook groups show an emerging trend of families and young heterosexual and LGBTQ+ couples (with children or not) choosing to raise pet/s. 

There are no studies yet in the Philippines on the drivers of animal adoption during the pandemic and on pets serving as adopters’ surrogate children, but in the United States and the United Kingdom, researchers have found that a growing amount of young people regard their pets as their children.

Parreño, who cares for four rescued dogs and, indirectly, at least 10 more, is undertaking research on childless Filipino couples who are raising pets. She also has interest in qualifying and quantifying the state of animal adoption as well as lifestyle changes among pet owners as the pandemic winds down.

Maximum capacity

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A rescued cat waits to be introduced to other cats at the PAWS center. —PHOTO BY GODFREY TARRAS

PAWS’ animal rehabilitation center now houses and is at a maximum capacity of 300 cats and dogs, with 100 more in foster homes. According to Yap, 90% of the animals were victims of cruelty rescued by PAWS, and 10% were rescued by concerned persons. The foster homes managed by volunteers serve as temporary shelters for rescued animals waiting to be adopted or admitted to the shelter.

“Somehow, we’re back at our prepandemic adoption numbers,” Yap said. 

The adoption process, which includes a panel interview, is mostly conducted face to face. A PAWS volunteer visits a prospective adopter’s house, and the adopter visits the shelter to interact with the prospective pet. This practice was severely hampered by the pandemic lockdown, prompting the use of an alternative yet safe and affordable means of vetting: a prospective adopter teleconferencing with PAWS volunteers to show their house, which was then judged appropriate or not. As the lockdown began to ease in the last quarter of 2020, adopters were able to visit the shelter to check their compatibility with their prospective pet. 

One requirement that remains firmly in place is the visit, said Yap. “We want to ensure that your temperament is compatible with the temperament of the animal you are adopting.”

There are no official data available on the number of animals rescued, or the number of animal cruelty cases during the pandemic. Inquiries made by at the Bureau of Animal Industry and the Philippine National Police were fruitless. 

Exiting the pandemic

With the pandemic protocols eased, Yap expressed concern about pet owners formerly on a work-from-home setup inquiring at PAWS about possibly rehoming their pets as they get called back to office work. But she remains optimistic that prospective pet adopters and buyers will think hard before pursuing a lifetime commitment.

PAWS shelter

She sees a brighter future as PAWS gears to exit the pandemic despite a clear recognition that it is understaffed, and that an indifferent and condescending view of animals continues to exist in the country.

Parreño said it would be “simplistic” to say that pet owners giving up their pets to animal shelters were irresponsible. She said the difficult act of surrendering dogs for rescue and rehoming may be caused by various factors, such as the owner’s lack of resources and time to sustain their pets, or the incompatibility of certain dogs living together. 

For Yap and De Guzman, the challenge is still the dissemination of information to educate Filipinos on responsible pet ownership and the laws safeguarding animals from abuse.

“It’s more on the education,” Yap said. “If all of us are educated, and we know the laws, then there would be no need for rescue.”

Godfrey Tarras, a fourth-year journalism student at the University of the Philippines’ College of Mass Communication, is an intern of

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