Just how bad animal homelessness has become in the Philippines?

·Contributor
·14 min read
Cats for adoption, animal homelessness - DO NOT USE
CARA Welfare Philippines, BARK Mission, Inc., Petsery Room, and Cats of Eton Centris are some of the many animal protection and rehabilitation groups in the Philippines that rescue, foster, and rehome stray animals. Recently, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said that the state of animal homelessness in the country has already reached a "crisis point." (Photos: CARA Welfare Philippines, BARK Mission, Inc., Petsery Room, and Cats of Eton Centris)

There were more or less 12 million stray cats and dogs that roamed the streets of the Philippines in 2019, according to the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in a 2020 article. Further, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) recently said that the state of animal homelessness has already reached “a crisis point.” It is pretty apparent, especially for those living in urban areas; stray cats and dogs are, literally, everywhere.

Michaela Mae Ampuan, a volunteer from the Compassion and Responsibility for Animals (CARA) Welfare Philippines, said that the common factors that contribute to animal homelessness are irresponsible pet ownership (such as not spaying or neutering their pets) and pet abandonment, people's preference to buy or breed pets instead of adopting or fostering shelter or rescue animals, and the mindset that the best way to help stray animals is to surrender them to animal shelters

"Surrendering stray animals to animal shelters instead of spaying (for female animals) or neutering (for male animals) them does not work because the adoption rate is way below the animal-rescue rate, hence making most shelters unsustainable and overpopulated," Ampuan added.

This is why many animal protection organizations such as CARA have long been advocating for "Adopt, Don't Shop" and "Kapon, Hindi Tapon". These two calls to action are, for them, the most urgent actions that society collectively needs to do to address the increasing number of homeless cats and dogs.

"We do not believe in the forceful removal of street cats from an area. Apart from being inhumane, this will only result in new, unsterilized cats taking their place. It will become a never-ending cycle," CARA volunteer Armie Ugates said. "We advocate for spaying and neutering of street cats to help stabilize their population and for them to become part of the community where they are given food and remain unharmed."

Debunking misconceptions

CARA Welfare Philippines - DO NOT USE
Some of the cats that have been rescued and fostered by CARA Welfare Philippines are currently open for adoption. Those who are interested to adopt may reach out to CARA's social media pages. (Photos: CARA Welfare Philippines)

As Ampuan said, many aspiring pet owners typically have a stronger preference for buying a pet from a shop or a breeder instead of just adopting from an animal rescue shelter. This preference may be stemmed from people’s usual wrong impressions about rescue cats and dogs.

A common misconception that people have not just about shelter cats but all street cats is that they defecate and pee wherever they want just because they were raised in the streets. Anabelle Sibal, another CARA volunteer, quickly debunked this. "Most cats instinctively know how to clean up or cover up their mess."

She added, "People tend to think twice about adopting cats because they worry about cats possibly scratching or biting them. Cats will most likely become defensive if provoked or approached in a way that they are not comfortable with, which is why it is very important to approach them slowly and gently."

All cats – whether bought from a shop or adopted from a shelter – can potentially display this behavior. "Cats have different preferences, and these are things that can be learned as you get to know your pet," noted Sibal.

We advocate for all cats, whether male or female, to be spayed or neutered. This way, they will not reproduce and create more stray kittens, and people who are open to spaying or neutering their cats should no longer worry about pregnancies if they adopt a female cat.Brigitte Lim, BARK Mission, Inc.

As for the biological sexes of the cats, Brigitte Lim, co-founder of BARK Mission, Inc., a registered nonprofit that fosters and rehomes rescue cats and dogs, said that some people prefer buying or adopting a male cat over a female cat just because the latter gets pregnant and gives birth.

To address this, Lim said, "We advocate for all cats, whether male or female, to be spayed or neutered. This way, they will not reproduce and create more stray kittens, and people who are open to spaying or neutering their cats should no longer worry about pregnancies if they adopt a female cat."

Lim also noted that many aspiring pet owners also always look for pedigreed cats. "We think that a breed should not define a cat's worth. This is why we encourage people to adopt instead of shop, without discriminating against cats based on their breed."

Lim's team takes professional photos of their adoptable kittens and puppies and posts them on social media to show people that Puspin (a portmanteau for Pusang Pinoy) and Aspin (or Asong Pinoy) rescues are just as loving.

"It may take more time and awareness campaigns for people who are not open to adopting Puspins and Aspins to change their minds, but it is not impossible," said Lim.

Kara Ramirez and Tabitha - DO NOT USE
Kira Ramirez, currently a cat mom to the Puspin named Tabitha that she adopted and rehomed in November 2019, is one of those who actively advocate for cat adoption today. (Photos: Kira Ramirez)

Kira Ramirez, currently a cat mom to the Puspin named Tabitha that she adopted and rehomed in November 2019, is one of those who actively advocate for cat adoption.

"I wasn't particularly interested in pedigreed cats; I think all cats are beautiful and lovable. I believe that in choosing a pet, you pick the one that speaks to you the most regardless of breed," said Ramirez.

Carrying the heartbreak after her first cat, Mittens, succumbed to Chylothorax, a relatively rare condition in cats in which lymphatic fluid or chyle accumulates in the pleural cavity, Ramirez was not even actively looking for a new cat... until she found a post by Cats of Eton Centris.

"I refused, initially, to even check out the Adoption Fair, until I was later urged by my sister as well to just go and see what happens," she recalled. "I went to the adoption fair anyway and spotted Scar — which was Tabitha's name at that time — in a cage resting patiently on a hammock. I played with her a little bit and looked at her intently. I truly felt it in my heart that this cat spoke to me, Mittens sent her, and that I needed to adopt her. I officially adopted her two days later."

Ramirez has already rehomed and rehabilitated a few and initially unsociable cats, but "I believe that with enough love and attention, some cats will truly change and thrive in an indoor environment," she said — a note to those who remain apprehensive about adopting a Puspin. However, just like people, cats and dogs have different personalities and some may just choose to be wild and free, according to Ramirez. Hence, all cats whether pedigreed or not can display a wilder personality than the others.

Because of her experiences not only with Tabitha but with the other cats that she rescued and adopted, Ramirez, along with her fellow cat-loving friends, started a small TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release) project in 2021. So far, they have already spayed or neutered 12 and rehomed four cats.

‘Adopt, don’t shop’

Petsery Room -- DO NOT USE
Some of the cats that have been rescued and fostered by Petsery Room are currently open for adoption. Those who are interested to adopt may reach out to Petsery Room's social media pages. (Photos: Petsery Room)

There are now more and more nonprofit organizations and animal rescue shelters that have been rescuing, fostering, and rehoming stray cats and dogs – from the bigger and long-operating ones like CARA and PAWS to the smaller and newer ones like BARK Mission, Inc., Cats of Eton Centris, and Petsery Room, among many others. A quick search on Facebook and Instagram can already lead an aspiring pet owner to plenty of groups where they can find and adopt their new pet. After all, June is recognized as National Adopt-a-Cat Month.

Petsery Room, for one, is a nonprofit and home-based advocacy that is committed to providing stray cats and distressed kittens a second chance for a better life.

Its founder, Chat Modesto, recalled, "It all started one rainy evening while I was walking home from our office. I heard a kitten crying and I saw it perched on a ledge by the sidewalk. It was trying hard to find cover from the rain but was unable to. It was soaking wet, cold, and shivering. Out of pity, I took her home. She was my first rescued kitten and I named her Sachi. From then on, I was rescuing practically all distressed kittens that I encountered in the streets."

One year later, Petsery Room's cat rescue and adoption services are now in their first year of operation; they have already successfully matched 50 of their rescued and fostered cats and kittens with their new pet parents and homes.

We believe that adopting a cat is like adopting a child and requires a loving, qualified, and committed pet parent.Chat Modesto, Petsery Room

Modesto clarified that all of their cats for adoption are rescued cats – all rescued from the streets, parking lots, and, in worst cases, trash bins.

"We are not working with other parties like animal pounds or shelters. We rescue and foster cats based on our limited capacity, using our funds. Every time we have a cat or kitten adopted, it opens a new opportunity to rescue another distressed cat or kitten," she said.

This is why they do not give out their rescue cats and kittens to anybody who just wants to adopt; every aspiring foster cat parent undergoes a series of evaluations to determine whether or not they have the physical and emotional capacity to become a foster cat parent.

"Our thorough processing and evaluation somehow restrict our ability to increase adoptions. We believe that adopting a cat is like adopting a child and requires a loving, qualified, and committed pet parent," said Modesto. "All our cats and kittens offered for adoption are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, dewormed, and received a health clearance from the veterinarian before they are released."

BARK Mission, Inc. - DO NOT USE
Some of the cats that have been rescued and fostered by BARK Mission, Inc. are currently open for adoption. Those who are interested to adopt may reach out to BARK's social media pages. (Photos: @bernvcruz/Instagram)

BARK Mission, Inc., meanwhile is another nonprofit that became registered during the pandemic.

“During the COVID-19 community quarantine, we noticed more cats and dogs on the streets. So we wanted to reach out to the larger community for support in funding the medical bills for spaying or neutering of animals, and also to reach out to more people who would like to adopt stray animals," said Lim of BARK Mission, Inc.

Lim was already rescuing and rehoming stray kittens since 2012 but it was only in September 2020 when she, along with co-founder Beatrice Lim, decided to formalize it.

"We did this because we saw how our barangay workers would catch and torture stray dogs by keeping them in a small cage without food and water for days while they waited for the Quezon City pound to get them. The dogs would literally weeks inside the cage until they were just skin in bones," Lim recalled. "Seeing this torture and knowing that millions of stray cats and dogs around the country suffer through something similar made us want to help more cats and dogs, and spread awareness on responsible pet ownership and the effectivity of spaying or neutering in controlling the population growth of strays."

Most of the cats and dogs that they rescue, foster, and rehome are from their neighborhood or other independent rescuers who are regular citizens and want to help lessen the stray population. As of now, they have already rehomed around 40 cats since 2020.

Be committed pet owners. Do not dump or abandon your pets when you no longer want them. Having a pet is a commitment that should last for a lifetime.Armie Ugates, CARA Welfare Philippines

"We do not do pound rescues because we do not have the facilities or resources to do that properly,” stressed Lim. “We are disappointed with some organizations that do regular pound rescues because they end up desperate and may adopt out animals to irresponsible owners instead.”

To cite an example of irresponsible pet ownership, Lim shared, "Our neighbor adopted one female dog from the Antipolo pound in 2020. However, our neighbor is not usually home and just left the dog under the care of his house caretaker. The caretaker let it roam outside when the dog was in heat so she got pregnant and reproduced. Now, we have many stray dogs from that dog that was 'rescued' from the Antipolo pound. In effect, the Quezon City pound keeps coming to try and catch them. It just became such a big problem because it was not done properly."

A need to look at animal rescuers’ mental health

Cats of Eton Centris - DO NOT USE
Some of the cats that have been rescued and fostered by Cats of Eon Centris are currently open for adoption. Those who are interested to adopt may reach out to Cats of Eton Centris's social media pages. (Photos: Cats of Eton Centris)

Marjorie founded Cats of Eton Centris because she found a lot of stray cats in Eton Centris – a commercial district located on the corner of EDSA and Quezon Avenue in Quezon City – who served as "stress relievers" for many employees around, and yet nobody was relieving these stray animals' stress.

Hence the birth of Cats of Eton Centris, a social media-based community of like-minded volunteers that organize animal welfare activities that promote the well-being of the community cats in the commercial district, such as regular feeding, vaccination and other veterinary treatments, adoption, and fund-raising drives.

Previously, kitten and cat dumpings left the organizers of Cats of Eton Centris with a whopping P64,000-bill for their veterinary services. Marjorie and her team had to do several donation drives to generate the needed amount for their cats' medical needs.

Marjorie, one of the four persons behind Cats of Eton Centris, said that while many animal rescuers are focused and dedicated to rescuing, adopting, and rehoming rescue cats and dogs, many of them suffer from anxiety and depression, too, due to the overwhelming challenges brought about by the animal homelessness crisis.

Many people, once they find out that we are dedicated animal rescuers, think that we can just be a dumping ground for their unwanted animals. This is hard because we do not have a lot of human and financial resources – we simply do not have the capacity to adopt every unwanted animal that they give us.Marjorie, Cats of Eton Centris

"Many people, once they find out that we are dedicated animal rescuers, think that we can just be a dumping ground for their unwanted animals," she shared. "This is hard because we do not have a lot of human and financial resources – we simply cannot adopt every unwanted animal that they give us."

This is also partly why she declined to give her last name for this interview; she worried that people would reach out to them for the sole purpose of surrendering their unwanted pets.

To solve the animal homelessness crisis, CARA believes that while activities such as adoption and spaying or neutering are important, the most effective solution remains to be the advocacy of responsible pet ownership.

"Always make sure your pets are safe and secure. Do not allow your pets to roam outside on their own, unsupervised. Be committed pet owners. Do not dump or abandon your pets when you no longer want them," Ugates, the volunteer from CARA, said. "Having a pet is a commitment that should last for a lifetime. Educate the young about responsible pet ownership and be good examples."

Juju Z. Baluyot is a Manila-based writer who writes in-depth special reports, news features, and opinion-editorial pieces for a wide range of publications. He covers cultures, media, and gender.

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