By Jen Freeman
With an estimated population of over 30,000 people now calling Boracay Island their permanent home, the number of domestic animals - including both pets and free-roaming strays - is now at an all-time high, and animal welfare groups have expressed their concern for the future of the island’s four-legged population.
Last year, netizens were upset and angered by viral videos circulating on social media, showing dogs being snared by officials on White Beach, taken away in cages by van and subsequently impounded in Malay, on neighboring Panay Island. Many observed that the treatment and handling of the dogs was unnecessarily rough and inhumane.
Stiff fines are imposed on those owners who are able track down and collect their pets, while animals left unclaimed face euthanasia after a period of just three days.
Sadly, of the 223 stray and pet dogs and cats captured in the municipality last year, 156 remained unclaimed.
More troubling still is the recent announcement by Mayor Frolibar Bautista, encouraging local volunteers to catch and deliver stray animals to the Municipal Government of Malay, in exchange for a “bounty" of P200 per dog and P50 per cat. Concerned island residents and animal welfare advocates have expressed fears that this strategy will lead to the inhumane capturing or targeting of pets, particularly given these austere times.
Aklan Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Center (AARRC) founder Michel van der Kleij and his team of island-based volunteers successfully rescued some 30 dogs from the Boracay pound last year, along with countless other injured or neglected strays, and the group is dedicated to finding a sustainable solution for this problem, whilst liaising with the local authorities and with the island’s community as a whole.
As per Municipal Ordinance 182 (6.1) “Walking, bathing or engaging a dog in any activity on the beach, the sea, the vegetation area and/or the path road, plaza and any public places” is prohibited; while (6.2) specifies “Letting loose pet dogs outside a confined place or enclosure or a house premises,” noting that “Dogs covered by this subsection are considered stray,”
This, however, leaves very little room even for responsible dog owners, should they wish to exercise their pets outside on a leash, and in reality, most island residents simply allow their dogs to roam freely, leaving them vulnerable to accidents, disease and being impounded or euthanized.
Steps to Responsible Pet Ownership
Spaying and Neutering
Spaying and neutering refers to the process of sterilizing female and male animals respectively, and there are many benefits to having this procedure performed on your pet.
The most obvious plus is the reduction of both the pet and stray animal population. Even conscientious owners are likely to find themselves dealing with unplanned litters of kittens or puppies if their pet is allowed to go outside. For example, your feline companion can give birth to three litters of kittens per year, with an average of four kittens per litter. This could feasibly result in 120 or more kittens produced over a period of just ten years! The ensuing expense and hassle of feeding and finding good homes for them can easily be avoided by having your pet sterilized.
Neutered male animals also tend to be far better behaved, focusing their attention on their human families as opposed to attempting to escape, getting into traffic accidents or fights with neighborhood strays (which may require costly medical care) or marking their home territory with strong-smelling urine. Many aggression problems can be avoided by early neutering, as well as diseases such as testicular cancer.
Spaying females will help to prevent uterine infections and breast tumors, which are malignant or cancerous in about 50 percent of dogs and 90 percent of cats. It is best to have your pet spayed before her first heat, for the best protection from these diseases.
Overall, your spayed or neutered pet will live a longer, healthier life.
Rabies Vaccinations and Registration
Thanks to a successful yearly house to house immunization program conducted by the Malay Municipal Agriculture Office (MAO), Boracay has been declared a rabies free zone since 2013, just two years after the enactment of Municipal Ordinance No. 302 to “prohibit stray, unwanted, unvaccinated dogs from roaming around public places [and] protect inhabitants from the danger of rabies.”
Last year, a total of 1,400 dogs and cats in Barangay Manoc Manoc were vaccinated, 1,056 in Barangay Balabag, and 583 in Barangay Yapak.
In line with this ordinance, dog owners are requested to register their pets at the Barangay office for a yearly fee of P300 which covers the cost of the anti-rabies vaccination and dog tag.
An island-wide system of registration is an important step towards encouraging responsible pet ownership, and as such, one which would hopefully be made mandatory at some point in the near future.
The success of this invaluable project is dependent on the continued support and cooperation of the local community.
Owners wishing to have their pets vaccinated against rabies, or to avail of the yearly free spay and neuter clinic are advised to contact MAO Municipal Veterinarian Dr Deyven Oriondo at Balabag Action Center (036 288 5701/6046).
Keep Them Safe
It is all too easy to take on an adorable puppy or kitten on a whim, but bear in mind that the average lifespan of a pet dog is from 10-13 years, and a cat may live as long as 16 years.
Domestic animals require food, attention, exercise, medical care and safe, secure surroundings – all factors to take into account when considering bringing one into your home.
A dog left chained or tied to a post all day will become frustrated, bored and anxious, with a much higher chance of developing aggression or other temperamental issues. A tethered dog is likely to run away at the first opportunity, and according to the American Humane Association, is 2.8 times more likely to bite. Likewise, if you are considering confining your pet to a cage or crate all day, please reconsider having a pet at all. Keeping him a prisoner in this way will be hugely detrimental to both his health and his mental state – and to your neighbors, when he makes his discomfort known.
In the absence of a secure, fenced yard, your free-roaming dog runs the risk of being hit by a vehicle, getting into fights with other dogs, contracting a disease or being captured, impounded and euthanized, should you let him out to stray unsupervised. In the case of pure-bred dogs, kidnap is also a real concern. Your pet may not be returned to you unless you offer a reward – or returned at all.
Adopt, Don’t Shop!
While there are many valid and convincing reasons to adopt a pedigree or pure-bred dog or cat, a rescued pet will be just as rewarding a companion. There is no shortage of worthy candidates right here on our doorstep, and a local friend or neighbor will no doubt be more than happy to furnish you with a feline or canine buddy.
Mixed breed or aspin dogs tend to be hardier than their pedigree cousins (which are sometimes predisposed to genetic or structural health issues) and on average, tend to live longer. They are also ideally adapted and suited to the climate and environment here, having survived many generations on the island.
The AARRC shelter at Andagao, Kalibo currently houses over 100 neutered/spayed and fully vaccinated dogs and cats which are awaiting loving, forever homes, and Boracay-based volunteer fosterers are often seeking potential adopters for both young and mature animals. They can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their Facebook page: Aklan Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Center (Philippines) for more information.