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September 30, 2012

Faces of the Animal Protection Movement: Alice Utlang Stands Up for Street Dogs

Filipino veterinarian transforms inhumane program into national spay/neuter model

All Animals September/October 2012

  • Alice Utlang                      AP Images for The HSUS

by Arna Cohen

Cebu City, Philippines

Overhauled street dog control program into a national model for humane practices

Advice for advocates: “Never stop doing what you have started; even when others don’t agree or join your cause, just go on. Share your success with the people who believed in your advocacy.”

Attending a 2008 Humane Society International workshop was like “a slap in the face,” says Alice Utlang, lead government veterinarian in Cebu City, Philippines. Realizing that everything about her department’s street dog control program was inhumane, she invited HSI’s Rahul Sehgal to the island. Sehgal, who led high-volume spay/neuter programs for street dogs in India and Bhutan, didn’t sugarcoat his criticisms, denouncing practices such as housing 10 dogs or more in a cage. “Rahul at first really challenged us,” Utlang says.

"Her hard work and dedication to making this happen, and convincing her local mayor to follow suit, have jump-started a movement towards furthering animal welfare."  — HSI director of companion animals and engagement Kelly O’Meara

With ongoing HSI training and funding, and support from the city’s mayor, Utlang revamped the department, switching to kinder methods of capture and euthanasia and embracing spay/neuter for population control. As a result, euthanasia numbers have dropped from 8,800 dogs in 2007 to 311 in 2011. Last year, two HSI-funded low-cost clinics sterilized 3,000 dogs; this year’s goal is 14,000, which Utlang hopes to achieve with a mobile spay/neuter unit that Sehgal helped pick out. A new dog adoption campaign is also saving lives; the shelter holds events outside City Hall every Friday afternoon to catch the attention of people attending the church next door.

Utlang’s work has had far-reaching effects. “Veterinarians, especially the local government unit, are really following us. … We train, then they go back home and start it.” Cebu City now funds two permanent public spay/neuter clinics, and Filipino veterinarians are learning advanced sterilization techniques through a partnership between Southwestern University and HSI. “They didn’t know how to do anything except a killing campaign to deal with the overpopulation problem,” says Kelly O’Meara, HSI director of companion animals and engagement. “Many of them are very emotional about the fact that they have to kill animals when they’ve gotten into the veterinary field to help animals. Now they have a humane alternative.”

In recognition of her commitment, Utlang received an Outstanding Animal Protection Award at The HSUS’s Animal Care Expo in May. “[Being] supported by HSI is already a big accomplishment for us,” she says. “To be awarded makes me proud. [I realize] that I really make a difference.”

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