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The pit bull curled up on his side, his face hidden from prying eyes. “Aero,” I called out softly. “How are you, Aero?”
He remained in his position, immobile. Was he feigning sleep or have years of violence and abuse rendered him indifferent to a friendly gesture? His cage was at the far end of the row with nothing but vegetation behind it. I figured most visitors would probably not go all the way there.
I straightened up and took a step backward. Just as I was leaving, I sensed an almost imperceptible twitch of his ear.
“Aero,” I whispered. “I just want to be your friend.”
His ear cocked then he turned around and looked at me. For several seconds, our eyes were locked in silent communication, his cage and his cruel past serving as barriers to an otherwise immediate bonding moment.
He had a big frame but his body thinned out toward his rear. His fur, mostly white, had brown patches on the back and the legs. The most prominent patch circled his left eye, stretching all the way to his left ear.
After some coaxing, he moved toward me but stopped midway. For some reason, I was drawn to his eyes. They were the most melancholy pair I had ever seen at the sanctuary. Brown and glum, they drew me in like whirlpools of dejection. My tears suddenly flowed and I found myself sobbing uncontrollably.
I guess Aero’s eyes disclosed it all – the loneliness, the search for love and acceptance and yet the unwillingness to entrust his heart to a stranger who will stay but a few minutes.
I had just visited about a hundred dogs and spent three to seven minutes with each of them. According to my calculations, I could only stay three minutes with each of the 170 dogs at the Pit Bull Rehabilitation Center in Batangas if I wanted to interact with each one.
A friendly stroke, a few words of reassurance, an eager lick, barks that demand attention, a photo here and there – what else could the dogs and I do in three minutes?
Familiar and unfamiliar names and faces greeted me. There was Dolphy, now named Afro, who was in sick bay. He bit his aluminum dish and threw it in the air like he always does when someone is watching him. But he was much healthier when he was still named Dolphy.
There was gentle Alfonso, a very huggable dog who is one of those up for adoption. There was Athena who called out to me and wouldn’t stop licking my hand. How could I not notice Benjo whose balls shook in sync with the wagging of his tail? And Medusa, whose mesmerizing eyes practically begged for a change of name!
I met Lucio, a demanding black pittie with white paws, who wouldn’t let me leave. Every time I turned to go, he would jump up and bark hysterically. Talk about separation anxiety! A gentle licker, he turned quiet and attentive when I stroked him. To humor him a bit, I stuck around for 3 minutes more, using the time to delete old photos from my camera’s memory card. But Lucio would have none of that. As soon as I shifted my attention away from him, he peed on his water dish!
All the interactions were funny, endearing and pleasant. So nothing prepared me for Aero.
ONCE BETRAYED, NOW READY FOR A HOME
“Aero must have been someone’s pet once,” Nancy Cu-Unjieng, President of the animal welfare group Care and Responsibility for Animals (CARA), told me. “He has very refined manners. He eats the treats gently and not like the others who just gulp them down.”
Nancy and fellow CARA officer Kaoru Cumagun had arrived just in time to witness my embarrassing outburst. We watched as Aero relished the bacon treats, held them with both paws and gently chewed them.
Aero is one of the pit bulls rescued in March from a farm in Laguna where they were used in illegal dog fights streamed online by a group of South Koreans based in the Philippines.
Out of the 230 dogs turned over to the CARA, only 170 have survived. When first found, the dogs had ripped ears, torn tongues and maggot-infested wounds. They lived in rusty steel drums with gaping holes that gave them no protection from sun and rain. Heavy steel chains nailed three feet to the ground prevented their escape. Many were too sick and in pain and had to be euthanized. Others later succumbed to illnesses resulting from poor diet, forced mating, lack of veterinary care and constant exposure to the elements.
Breed experts have assessed and rehabilitated the pit bulls and several are now up for adoption.
We have not adopted any out as of now. We have several who are ready to be adopted and a few potential adopters who have begun the adoption process,” says CARA member Maria Parsons who visits the site twice a week. “As of now, three people are interested in adopting.”
Maria admits she has grown fond of the dogs. “I have several that I plan to adopt... I have been close to them since San Pablo, and I have bonded with them,” she confides.
Nancy is hoping for a lot of adoptions before the end of the year. “We will try to get some organizations internationally to adopt some of the pit bulls. We have some positive advice concerning this,” she confides.
She says that out of the 170 dogs, only five are aggressive. “I am attached to the dogs that are harder to handle. They will take longer to rehabilitate so you could refer to them as the underdogs. When we first relocated to Batangas, they were not approachable. Now they all wag their tails and have gotten friendlier. It’s a good sign,” she quips.
“The pit bulls are a joy to be with in spite of all the misconceptions about the breed. They are truly lovable dogs.”
To make sure the rescued dogs will be cared for, people who wish to adopt a pit bull have to visit the site more than once to bond with the dog of their choice. CARA will also conduct follow-up home visits to check on the dogs and their new families.
Freelance writer Owen Santos has her sights set on Ruby. Owen has a cat at home, and she intends to bring her feline friend to the center to see how they will react to each other. If they get along, then Ruby gets a permanent home.
“I hope to get the dog as soon as we’re bonded. I need to run and walk with a dog but I need a low level dog for my cat,” she says.
Volunteers like Owen have many stories to tell about their “special dog”. Melody de Jesus recounts how she was challenged to win over a shy young canine named Tinkerbell.
“Every time she sees someone approaching her cage, she becomes very nervous and would just go to the farthest side and look away. One day I brought a toy for her and her eyes lit up. She slowly approached me and started smelling my fingers. That same day, I was able to bring her out, walk her and give her a bath,” Melody recalls.
“Every time I visit the center, I visit her cage, touch her and try to bring her out…To date, she is getting more sociable with other people, wagging her tail and giving everyone a happy face.”
Melody also talks fondly of Mona, a sweet and gentle blue fawn pit bull whom everybody adores. She saw Mona while the dog was being spayed last October. Melody visited Mona at the veterinary clinic when she developed complications and had to be operated on four times.
In order for Mona to get her much-needed rest, she was fostered by CARA volunteers Louise and Carl Pike for 5 days. She had her own room, a queen-sized bed, her own backyard, an electric fan and lots of food and love. But now, she is back at the sanctuary.
“Mona is a sweet and gentle soul. Out of all the dogs at the sanctuary, I immensely enjoy taking her out for a stroll every time I visit because she is such a pleasure to go on walks with. She is the ultimate companion. She would never tug too hard or pull me to another direction even if her strength and weight could actually take me down at any moment,” Louise Pike avers.
“I would have loved for her to stay longer, and I would have wanted to adopt her. However, she was often stressed out by my other pets,” she said ruefully.
Although CARA members and volunteers are optimistic that most, if not all, the rescued dogs will eventually find permanent homes, the reality is that this could take some time. Meanwhile, life for these dogs must go on at the center, where the monthly budget for their upkeep comes close to US 5000 dollars.
“Now we face the problem of finding regular funding for the caretakers' salaries, the utilities, dog food and medical care for the dogs. The lengthy rehabilitation process is the biggest concern at present. The health of the dogs has improved a lot, but there are still many who have health issues that need to be addressed,” Nancy states.
The center relies solely on donations. Nancy revealed that at present, two American ladies and two local groups have expressed interest in donating funds to the pit bulls. “Now it is a matter of waiting for the funds to arrive,” she says.
The Center has become a hub of sorts for people who love pit bulls and those who want to help them. “We are always holding activities at the center, weekly volunteer orientations and open houses,” Maria said.
For this yuletide season, CARA members would like to cheer up the dogs. “We may have a Christmas party for the pit bulls, caretakers, volunteers and staff. Possibly pot luck, as we are always lacking in funds,” Nancy said.
Despite the lack of funds, CARA makes sure the dogs have the food and medical attention they need. But perhaps the best Christmas gifts they could receive are permanent homes.
Louise summed it up best: “My only wish would be for each of them to belong to loving homes and experience family life as soon as possible. Like all of us, they just want to be loved.”
Aero is no exception. For Aero and the rest of the pit bulls, only a forever home with kind people can erase the trauma of a violent past and usher in a new life of freedom and love.
For more information, check out http://www.caraphil.org.
For inquiries regarding adoptions, write to email@example.com.
For inquiries regarding volunteering, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Send all other inquiries to: email@example.com
Published in Animal Scene Magazine, December 2012
Published in Animal Scene Magazine, December 2012