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All Creatures Great and Small

The pandemic and the financial impact it's had on lower income families has resulted in animal abandonment

If you can't feed yourself and your family, you're not going to be able to take care of a pet. - Atty. Heidi Marquez Caguioa


Several years on, she still recoils at the memory.

“As soon as we opened the van, we could smell the rot and the scent of death. There were 70 to 80 dead or dying dogs cramped inside that enclosed van. I remember seeing one dog, and he was looking at me. And I remember his imploring eyes, and I said, there must be more we can do.” For Atty. Heidi Marquez Caguioa, program director of Animal Kingdom Foundation, that raid (sadly the first of many) on a dog meat trader's warehouse, led her to a life-long career devoted to animal welfare.

“From that day on, I’ve worked hard to strengthen animal welfare laws, strengthen enforcement, and save more dogs,” she says

A pioneer in animal welfare, AKF is dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and adoption of animals. A practicing lawyer by profession, Atty Heidi runs a law office in Makati. She was initially hired as a lawyer in the early 2000s by AKF’s founder, Charles Wartenberg.

Before his death in 2016, Wartenberg campaigned tirelessly to end the dog meat trade in the Philippines and involved Atty Heidi in the daily workings of the non-profit beyond her immediate role as legal counsel. His love for animals and belief that they deserve a good life was infectious, she says. When Wartenberg eventually returned to his native England, Atty Heidi became more active and involved in running AKF. She regularly joins rescues and has since drafted three two bills on animal welfare currently pending in the Lower House of Congress in addition to various guidelines she has contributed to the Animal Welfare Committee.

Given the scale of human suffering caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise to Atty Heidi that pets have been abandoned as their owners struggle financially. In Taliptip, Bulacan, AKF’s attention was called to cases of dog abandonment, yet Atty Heidi isn't quick to judge. She knows the financial pressures caused by the pandemic will impact animal welfare and lead to a growing number of cases in the coming months. "If you can't feed yourself and your family, you're not going to be able to take care of a pet," she says.

Atty. Heidi Caguioa, program director of Animal Kingdom Foundation, takes a very active role during animal rescues. She is passionate about animal welfare and putting an end to the dog meat trade.

AKF rescued 53 dogs and 17 cats from Taliptip, Bulacan. The animals have adapted well to their new home, fed and cared for with the support of San Miguel Corporation and the Nutrichunks brand.

Yet, she is firm in her belief that animals do not have lesser inherent value than human beings and it's this belief led her to reach out to San Miguel Corporation for support.  "I had heard that San Miguel has a dog food brand, Nutrichunks, and I was hoping they would be able to send some dog food to help defray our costs.”

What Atty Heidi didn’t expect was the company’s full support. “San Miguel provided us access to the area and linked us up with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, who offered us a truck to help us transport the dogs from Taliptip to our rescue center in Tarlac. With the help of San Miguel and the Philippine Army, AKF mounted three rescue operations over four weeks, rescuing 53 dogs and 17 cats from Taliptip, Bulacan.  Atty Heidi believes that in every difficult situation,  “no animal should be left behind.”

In the weeks since the rescue, three dogs have given birth to 15 puppies.  “We rescued 70 animals and ended up with 15 more!”  The animals are being nursed back to health. Many have worms and skin and bacterial infections.  A few dogs have lacerations and wounds. One dog has since died, weakened by starvation and illness, but the rest are thriving in their new home.

News about the rescue went viral. The alliance to rescue the dogs and cats of Taliptip has seen the addition of pharmaceutical giant Boehringer Ingelheim providing medicines for the after-care. The end goal is to find the dogs’ loving homes and new owners.

“What I’d like to see is more Filipinos seeing dogs as members of the family, and that involves teaching them compassion for animals,” Atty Heidi  says

AKF has run programs focused on responsible pet ownership and animal welfare in Baguio and South Luzon, regions where the dog meat industry is prevalent. "We want to teach people to be involved in caring for their pets. I think caring for animals makes people more human," she says.

Children have responded well to the programs. "They come home from our sessions and tell their families what they've learned about dogs being companions instead of food," says Atty Heidi.  The children's sense of malasakit inspired more compassion towards dogs in their community. "We started seeing families giving fresh water to the dogs to drink, instead of dirty canal water, and they'd use proper soap for bathing their dogs, instead of harsh detergent. Those simple changes in behavior will help us put an end to the dog meat trade," she says.

Atty Heidi reports that there are fewer dog meat traders operating now as many are conscious that AKF will bring their illegal trade to the authorities' attention. Though there have been great strides in the fight towards improving animals' lives in the Philippines, there is still much work to be done.

The first order of the day is finding a new home for the Taliptip dogs. Already one dog has been adopted—his name: Talip.

In the run-up to Christmas, AKF is going to work on giving all of the Taliptip rescues a  thorough health check, vaccinations, and necessary medical care. They will also be spayed or neutered.

Adoption is rarely the first option dog owners think of, and purebreds are still seen as superior, and for some, as a sort of status symbol. “It’s that Filipino consciousness that anything imported you’re buying is better, but it’s not always the case,” Atty Heidi says. "We always say in our advocacy campaigns that regardless of the breed, they're all dogs. They are not inferior because they are ordinary Aspin. They’re friendly, loyal, more resilient, easy to take care of. We always say adopt, don’t shop.”

Atty Heidi advises families to consider the financial and emotional responsibilities, time commitment, and space requirements when getting a dog. "Don't just buy dogs that will be neglected and end up in the rescue center. Having a pet is a lifetime commitment.”

If you are interested in adopting one of the rescues or supporting Animal Kingdom Foundation, visit https://www.facebook.com/AKFanimalrescue, or their website at http://akf.org.ph/.

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