By Jen Freeman
When Dutch national Michel van der Kleij moved, together with his wife Neressa, to the sleepy little town of Andagao, Kalibo, the couple were completely unaware of the very different direction that their lives were about to take.
While settling into their new abode, a small stray cat came strolling in, and as cats are wont to do, decided to make herself at home. The friendly feline, who became known as Mimi, unwittingly set into motion a chain of events which altered the course of the couple’s life – and the lives of countless animals – forever.
Mich, who hails from the Netherlands, is no stranger to animal rescue. The certified dog trainer volunteered for many years with the Dutch SPA, “Dierenbescherming” at the Municipal Shelter of Rotterdam and at the Hong Kong Dog Rescue, while he was stationed there as an IT consultant.
The self-confessed animal lover soon discovered that there was a desperate need for a rescue facility in the Aklan region, having opened his heart to the many more strays who followed Mimi to his home -including kittens abandoned in a swamp, and sick and injured puppies and adult dogs left in the street.
Says Mich, “My wife Neressa and I started AARRC sometime around 2005, but in 2011 we got a proper registration, both in the Netherlands with our Albert Foundation and AARRC itself in the Philippines.”
The Aklan Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation, or AARRC for short, is the formal Aklan chapter of the Island Rescue Organization of Cebu (IRO) - an SEC registered, privately funded and non-profit organization that is dedicated to animal welfare and related activities and is entirely run by volunteers. These activities include the rescue of stray pets, vaccination projects (mostly anti-rabies), humane catching, rehoming rescued animals through adoption, spay and neuter projects, and educational events at schools.
AARRC are active participants in an animal welfare network spanning the entire Philippines (liaising with organizations such as AKF, PAWS and CARA) and routinely work with established local governmental units such as the Aklan Provincial Veterinarian, Aklan State University (VetMed) and the agricultural units of both Kalibo and neighboring towns to reach their common goals.
In particular, AARRC aims to promote the responsible ownership and humane treatment of all animals through cooperation, outreach, and education, and to advocate the development and enforcement of humane and effective animal welfare laws.
To support animal welfare organizations in the Philippines, the Van der Kleijs have also registered The Albert Foundation in the Netherlands, which is responsible for gathering funding for both IRO and AARRC operations, as well as others as the need arises. http://albert.tukcedo.nl
Mich and Neressa (a registered nurse from Sebaste, Antique) normally reside in Europe, but visit their Kalibo home several times a year, at which time AARRC generally tries to facilitate a spay/neuter or vaccination campaign.
Their 4000 square meter rescue facility in Andagao now houses 120 dogs and 90 cats in spacious enclosures, with kennels and a small clinic where local vets, often assisted by veterinary students, treat the sick and injured and perform operations. All rescues are either spayed or neutered as standard procedure, with a view to placing them in loving, permanent homes.
The no-kill shelter also cares for senior and disabled animals (which are often taken over from other organizations) including 14 disabled dogs, most of whom have a special dog wheelchair enabling them to enjoy daily walks to the beach.
Some of AARRC’s recent accomplishments include:
The spay and neuter of 60 cats at Kalibo Airport, in cooperation with Aklan State University, School of Veterinary Medicine
A spay/neuter campaign in the Andagao neighborhood (45 dogs and 2 cats) in cooperation with Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)
The trap Neuter and Release (TNR) of 25 cats at St. Gabriel's Hospital, Kalibo in cooperation with local vets
A vaccination project at Poblacion Sebaste, Antique, with 40 local dogs vaccinated for free.
Awareness projects in schools such as Pilot Primary School, Kalibo (800+ pupils)
The purchase and construction of “Animal Paradise” - a 4000 square meter sanctuary at Linabuan Sur, Banga
And most famously, perhaps, the high profile rescue of Dolores “the half-faced dog”, whose horrific, human-inflicted injuries captured the attention of netizens worldwide.
The story of Dolores served to highlight the plight of stray and neglected animals here on the island of Boracay, and many tourists are surprised to learn that, amidst the luxury and beauty of this thriving vacation hub, there are many cats and dogs in need of help. All too often, AARRC receive reports of abandoned, abused or sick pets, and local volunteers rally to come to their aid and, if necessary, transport them to the safety of the Andagao shelter.
What You can do to Help
AARRC are currently in need of island-based volunteers to assist with their valuable mission. Local help is essential, and currently, the AARRC team are engaged in feeding strays, dispensing treatment for ailments such as mange mites, rescuing emergency or cruelty cases, and fostering young and adult cats and dogs while they await rehoming. Kittens and puppies, in particular, are often found in a weakened and malnourished condition, and require extra loving care during their first few weeks. If you have so time to spare, Mich and the AARRC team would love to hear from you.
Says Mich, “The road forward for animal AND human welfare is that we make responsible pet ownership the law. This solves and contributes to the solution for all the stray pet related problems, such as roaming, overpopulation, hygiene, garbage management, disease and so on.
“Without his law,” he continues “we are allowing careless owners to offload their responsibilities, including financial, onto the community, that therefore must invest heavily in impounding and other facilities that should really be used for healthcare and infrastructure”
If you would like to join the volunteer team (either here on the island or at the Andagao shelter) or make a donation to AARRC, please contact Mich via email at email@example.com, or visit their website at www.aklananimalrescue.com or Facebook page “Aklan Animal Rescue & Rehabilitation Center (Philippines)” for more information.