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November 1, 2011

Street Dogs in the Philippines

Humane Society International

In 2008, HSI sponsored our first animal welfare workshop in Manila for local private veterinarians and those connected with the government animal control and hospitals. Seventy attendees from across the country learned about humane capture and handling of animals, shelter management, correct methods for euthanasia, spay/neuter procedures, and administration of rabies vaccinations.

HSI provided similar trainings in 2009 and 2010, and then began the first of its kind initiative in Cebu City, Philippines in partnership with the local government.

A shining star for animals

Dr. Alice Utlang, a veterinarian with the Cebu city government who attended the initial 2008 workshop, took a particularly keen interest in implementing her new knowledge on the ground where she worked. She reached out to HSI for their assistance in developing a plan, and presenting it for implementation in her city. She successfully started the first government humane animal control program in the country.

The first change she made was to improve the method of capture to use of butterfly nets instead of iron nooses. She then went to work on shelter management, moving away from small, overcrowded cages which sometimes injured dogs to a policy of one dog per kennel. Next, she helped arrange for veterinary training on best practices for spay/neuter techniques in order to implement CNVR (catch, neuter, vaccinate, release) methods to try to control street dog overpopulation, She has also started up a mobile veterinary clinic, led or organized training workshops in various cities, and taken part in the annual World Spay Day activities of HSI/The HSUS. She has been invited to speak at several events and been given an award for the Animal Birth Control Center she created.

But her greatest achievement has been to change her city’s method of euthanasia from tombachas (gas chambers) to the more humane and internationally accepted method of injection of sodium pentobarbital. Dr. Utlang, along with the support of Mayor Rama of Cebu City, has created a path for the rest of the country to follow.

Humane animal control

Thanks in large part to the dedication of Dr. Utlang, Cebu City can serve as a model for good humane animal population control and management. In recognition of this, and to help further our efforts there, in November 2010, HSI and Cebu City announced a partnership over two years with funding for two veterinarians, medicine and other supplies, and equipment for spay/neuter surgeries to help take control of the city's street dog population. These veterinarians also concentrated on training colleagues from different parts of the country to help spread their new skills and knowledge of humane animal control throughout the Philippines. This “train the trainers” program allows for sustainability of any program within a country, by enhancing the skill set and capacity of the local professionals.

Veterinary training

During our work in the Philippines, we discovered that most local governments resorted to inhumane practices for animal control, such as shooting or poisoning, due to a lack of humane alternatives. Few local vets had the surgical skills to perform spay/neuter and while there was no lack of interest in learning, there was little opportunity for training. To help make this change, HSI developed a partnership with Southwestern University, a private veterinary college on the island of Cebu. HSI expert veterinarians led spay/neuter surgical training workshops, each a month long, to local veterinarians throughout the country. By early 2013, this program had trained more than 75 local vets.

Today, many of those participating veterinarians have returned to their respective provinces and have eagerly replaced their former, inhumane methods of animal control with spay/neuter. As one of those vets stated, “I became a veterinarian to help animals, not harm them,” and now he can live up to his oath.

Setting a positive example

Despite limited resources, many of the veterinarians and government officials we have had the pleasure of working with in the Philippines are dedicated to increasing the standards of animal welfare in their provinces. They serve as a wonderful example for other countries to follow in terms of adoption and successful implementation of improved humane animal capture and population control methods.

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