By Beng Garcia
ANIMAL Rights, particularly the rights of canines, and to some degree felines, is a very fraught issue in Baguio City. There is the conflicted history of Dogs being Man’s Best Friend versus the now outlawed dog meat trade that has roots in the traditions and rituals in Benguet.
There is also contention between pet lovers who form deep, familial bonds with their dogs or cats and those who keep dogs in particular as mere unpaid, often mistreated, and abused laborers to guard property against trespassers and burglars.
There are many concerns that rise when talking about Animal Rights and some of them are the following: Ordinances that dictate the impounding of dogs caught roaming the streets and strays; the euthanasia of supposedly unclaimed; impounded dogs; or more recently the microchipping of dogs. These and other issues have caused emotionally charged debates amongst dog owners, fur parents, dog breeders, Animal Rights advocates, and even that segment of the public that has no love for dogs or other pets and finds them a nuisance.
Last February 1, 2021, a Facebook post in the group Rescues and for Adoption by Furvent Animal Rescue and Advocacy – Baguio by a Miss Boblee, one of the group admins, concerned many Animal Rights Advocates and dog lovers in the city. Gaining 117 reactions, and 51 shares, the post spoke about the efforts of the group to help get impounded dogs at the City Veterinary and Agriculture Office (CVAO) re-homed or adopted to avoid being euthanized. An allegation was made that a certain dog due to being adopted was no longer in the pound when a prospective adopter went to CVAO. Speculations about what happened to the dog ensued, and these deeply concerned Animal Rights advocates in the city.
Furvent Animal Rescue and Advocacy is one among six Animal Rights Advocates and/or Rescue groups in Baguio, and is the newest group. Formed in the heat of the debates about dog microchipping in November 2020, Furvent advocates state on the post that they have spoken with CVAO to find ways for impounded dogs to be adopted by putting up an FB page to inform the public, post photos about impounded dogs, and to mobilize dog lovers to adopt them before they are euthanized.
A snippet from the Feb. 1 post states, “Nagmeeting kami ng CVAO (Baguio City Vet) at ni Ms Josephine Verceles Wong [also admin of Furvent] last year kung paano naming mareresolve ang mga issues sa pound. Sabi nga nila, we work with them (We had a meeting with CVAO and Wong last year on how to resolve the issues in the pound. They said that we work with them). “
However, earlier on January 26, 2021, the CVAO FB page contained the following post: “Please be informed that this Office did not authorize anybody to post dogs for adoption at the City Pound. Interested adopters are to transact directly with the personnel in-charge in this Office. Likewise, this Office did not authorize anybody to screen adopters. CSOs [Civil Society Organizations] who would like to partner with CVAO on Dog Adoption must be accredited by the City Council.”
Then again on January 31, 2021, CVAO posted: “To all claimants of dogs and to all interested adopters of unclaimed dogs in the city pound. Please be advised to directly transact with the personnel in charge of screening. The city pound did not authorize nor recognize anybody to post dogs for adoption nor screen adopters. “
In an interview with Dr. Brigit P. Piok, Head of CVAO, on February 3, 2021, she confirmed that Dr. Silardo Bested of CVAO met with Ms. Boblee and Ms. Verceles [B1] of Furvent about ways they could help CVAO with impounded dogs. Still, Dr. Piok clarified, that after the said meetings between CVAO and Furvent, no Memorandum of Agreement that clearly delineates the terms and responsibilities of the extent of their helping had been drawn out. Dr. Piok also emphasized that partners on Dog Adoption must be accredited by the City Council.
According to a reply posted by Ms. Verceles on the Feb. 1 Furvent post, she wrote: “The proposed partnership has been discussed during the public consultation, headed by the author of the City Ordinance 60, Coun Betty Tabanda. It was attended by both our group and asst cvao head. It was agreed upon during the session that cvao will partner with ngo advocates regarding adoption in the city pound, kaya nga po twice na kami nakipagmeeting sa kanila after the public consultation.”
One commenter suggested: “Paaccredit po tau sa city council mam. May accreditation po ang ngos. Ang alam ko na pagkukunan ng reqts and forms is dun sa may office ng senior citizen, coops ganyan, sa may baba ng stairs, tabi ng post office ng city hall, mdam, kahilera ng ABC and registry of deeds. ” To which Miss Verceles replied: “In process na po. ” This was about two weeks ago on February 4, 2021. The meetings with CVAO happened in November-December 2021.
Dr. Piok reiterated that CVAO is very willing to work with NGO advocates to help all impounded animals get a second chance at having loving homes, but she stressed that procedures must be followed, meaning that these NGOs must be accredited and there must be a written MOA. She also clarified that the missing impounded dogs weren’t missing at all and had been claimed by their rightful owners[B2]. Miscommunication as to the fate of the dogs happened as different CVAO personnel had been on duty during the claiming of the dogs versus when the prospective adopter came for the dog.
Dr. Piok finds the incident of miscommunication unfortunate and CVAO is doing its best to improve its communications. As to allegations that dogs were being secretly passed on to dogmeat traders, she strongly stated that such things may have happened in the past but they have ramped up their vetting procedures and security to make sure that this no longer happens to impounded dogs. She strongly encouraged those making allegations about such activities to report them to CVAO and the authorities, if indeed anyone has knowledge of such goings-on.
On the question about the euthanasia of dogs, Dr. Piok made it clear that no one in CVAO finds joy in such a task and that it is always the last resort. For impounded dogs, the first priority is to reunite them with their owners, and in this regard, 60 percent of impounded dogs are reclaimed by owners. Dr. Piok stressed that owners have to be more responsible and keep dogs within their own properties. Finding the owners and making them accountable for their pets is one of the goals of the amended dog microchipping proposal, which now includes the options of proper tagging or collaring, with complete details of pets if the owner is averse to microchipping.
The second option is to have the dogs adopted, after going through a thorough vetting procedure at CVAO. Once Furvent and other such NGOS are properly accredited, CVAO would be very pleased to work with them in getting more dogs adopted.
The third and last option of euthanasia is only considered to prevent outbreaks, especially when the dog is very sick and might infect other dogs. When population control is a consideration, Dr. Piok stated that they would rather spay or neuter animals rather than euthanize them, but to be able to have greater coverage of animals, they partner with charitable organizations that help them offer the service to the public for free.
In terms of strays and the argument about penalizing the dog and not the owner, she said that it is very difficult to punish an owner that you cannot identify and the fact that the dogs are strays, begs the question who do we punish?
As much as CVAO would want to go after irresponsible owners for neglecting, worse harming pets, especially dogs, Dr. Piok stated that that is not their mandate. This is where officials at the barangay level should step in and where the aid of Animal Rights Advocates to push forward such cases is very important. The mandate and emphasis of CVAO are raising public awareness on responsible pet ownership and educating the public and dog owners on how to be more accountable, spreading the word about proper vaccination, spaying/neutering to help control the animal population, and keeping a proper registry of pets in the city.
When the post on Furvent came out on February 1, attempts were already being made to meet with the administrators of the group. However, a set date for a meeting has not yet been finalized.