In March 2018 I went to the Philippines for a vacation… and I returned with a stray dog.
Mena (as we’ve named her) was a stray dog who stole our hearts when she refused to let us leave Bantayan without her, swimming after our boat as we left the island, and then standing on a sandbar crying for us as we drove away. We met her on our first day on the island and she stayed by our side until we left. She had obviously just had puppies, as she was lactating but the puppies were nowhere to be found. A couple times she whimpered and led us to a spot under a cabin where she dug as if to show us where they might be. But there were no puppies there…
I learned some scary and devastating things about Bantayan while researching Mena’s home island. The dog catcher comes around to get strays (like Mena) and sells them either to the meat market to be turned into meat for human consumption, or places them into cages awaiting euthanasia, often without food, water, or shade. This pound unfortunately does not promote adoption or the welfare of the stray animals it finds. We found a litter of 7 puppies under our cabin on Bantayan – their eyes not even open. What will their fate be? As we travelled around we’ve seen dogs and cats dying on the streets of the Philippines. I’ve been around the world and have never seen worse conditions for dogs and cats as what I’ve witnessed in the Philippines.
I tried to continue on with my trip but couldn’t stop thinking about her and how badly she wanted to leave the island. So I brought her home to Canada. And it wasn’t easy or cheap. But it was the right thing to do. With no viable local adoption option, overcrowded shelters, and the alternatives of death row or the meat market, bringing her home was the only thing I could do.
Everything about this rescue was ridiculous. I attempted to carry on with my vacation, heading south of Cebu city to do some scuba diving. I had been was waiting for the ferry to Bohol for 2.5 hours (Holy Week, earlier ferries were all booked) and when they made the boarding call for my ferry, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get on the ferry and continue on with scuba diving and visiting the beautiful sites of the Philippines. The next thing I knew, I was at the bus terminal for the 7 hour journey back to Bantayan to be reunited with Mena. From there, I devised a plan to bring her back to Canada. And I couldn’t have done it without some of the incredible people I met along the way.
I met some of the most inspiring and amazing people who run small rescues in Bantayan and Cebu. These rescues don’t receive government funding and operate with minimal volunteers and resources. There are not nearly enough rescues to help dogs like Mena who are healthy, as they’re overrun with sick and injured dogs and cats, stretched far beyond capacity. Despite how busy they all are, they took time to sit with me while I cried on the beach with Mena wondering if I was doing the right thing, and met me in a park in Cebu again crying wondering if taking her from her home island was the right thing when we couldn’t find any grass for her to play on in the city. There are no words for the support they provided me as a random tourist on a mission to bring a dog home, but just one of the many selfless acts they perform every day in the name of love for the stray animals of the Philippines.
The Philippines does not make it easy or cheap to export a dog for adoption and most Filipino people do not care for dogs and cats as pets the way Canadians do. The cost to bring Mena home to Canada was approximately $2000, a lot more than I anticipated before committing to this but this sweet girl gave me no choice. She made it clear she wanted to leave Bantayan.
After spending a few more days with Mena on Bantayan, it was time to head down to Cebu City where the amazing people at My Travel Companion prepared Mena for travel to Canada. Less than 24 hours before I was due to fly home, PAL airlines arbitrarily decided to suspend all transporting of animals, leaving Mena stranded in Cebu city as I did not have time to return her to her home on the island before flying home. PAL is the only airline flying direct from the Philippines to Canada and I did not want to try to connect Mena through another country, especially unaccompanied. Through the power of advocacy by a number of people, Mena was granted an exemption and came home on April 19. One of the most emotionally trying moments of my life… Thank you to everyone for your support and advocacy. She was provided A+ treatment by the staff at PAL and I do hope they reconsider their embargo on shipping live animals so others can be given a chance as Mena has been.
We still have more to do for the other dogs of the Philippines.
I’ve had many people offer to help with the funds which is amazing but there is so much need beyond Mena. There are dogs and cats literally dying on the streets. The strays are rampant and spay & neuter programs just aren’t widespread enough. The knowledge just isn’t there as the problem continues to grow exponentially. Mena came home to Canada on April 19, 2018 after a crazy amount of bureaucracy and an emotional rollercoaster, but so many others are left in the Philippines without a chance.
I want to help and I know many of you do as well. Now that I am home, I’d like to do more as the needs are immense and would love your help in setting this up.
A few of the needs are:
1. Ongoing donations for vet bills, animal care and the running of rescue facilities.
2. Volunteers to assist with animal care, maintenance/construction, cleaning, etc. and to give the hard working people who run these rescues 24/7 a break.
3. Assistance providing awareness about spay/neuter clinics and humane treatment of animals, including advocacy with the Philippines government.
4. Website development and internet awareness.
5. Assistance in developing avenues for adoptions to suitable homes. For info on how to adopt a dog from Bantayan Click here
6. Advocacy with Philippine Airlines (PAL) to lift their embargo on shipping live animals, and requesting they develop a low cost option to ship rescue dogs to loving homes in Canada or other countries. PAL is the only airline with direct flights to Canada leaving it as the only real option for dogs wanting to escape the Philippines (other airlines require a stopover, and possible quarantine in other Asian countries). This embargo prevents the international adoption of all the dogs needing homes. I will be submitting a proposal to them in the coming weeks at which point will ask for your support in advocating for this.
Please do not feel obliged to donate any funds or help as there are more than enough important causes at home. That being said, the homeless dogs in Canada are treated far better than the ones in the Philippines which is why I need to do something and have spent my vacation doing this.
There are other ways to help, especially if you are travelling to the Philippines or looking to adopt your own rescue dog (or cat). Please email me if you can volunteer or want to adopt.
If you can help with any of the above, please let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d like to send a donation, Canadians can e-transfer to: email@example.com (preferable to avoid the fees of PayPal) and international can use this PayPal link:
If you make a donation, please indicate if you would like the money to go to:
1. Mena’s transportation costs and ongoing veterinary bills.
2. The sanctuary in Bantayan, Mena’s home, who are expanding to keep strays away from the dog catcher. habitat island sanctuary santa fe bantayan island philippines
3. The rescues in Cebu, who have very high medical bills due to the severity of the injuries and illnesses. MARO – Mayari Animal Rescue Organization, Inc.
4. Split between the above.
If you’re worried about amount, keep in mind most costs are lower here than in Canada. A set of shots and medical check up at the vet is less than $20 CA. Your donation does not have to be large to make a difference.
And remember, adopt, don’t shop. There is absolutely no need to buy puppy mill dogs or backyard breeder mutts when dogs like Mena are dying every day here and at home in Canada.
To purchase dog mom products with proceeds going towards bringing Mena home Click here
Here are a couple of the rescues who helped me figure things out for Mena. I suggest following them on FB to learn more or donating to them directly.
Mena update: Approximately 3 weeks after coming home to Canada, Mena became very sick. 4 veterinarians, several expensive emergency clinic bills, 2 rounds of antibiotics, and a surgery later, we found out that Mena had a mastitis in one of her breasts, as well as TVT, a common sexually transmitted infection that causes cancer in dogs. This has raised the ethical dilemma of bringing a stray dog back from a foreign country to Canada. Have I unknowingly exposed my other dog to a highly contagious form of cancer? Could the thousands of dollars spent on vet care for Mena been spent on helping other stray dogs at home or in the Philippines? I am constantly wondering if I did the right thing but then I look at Mena and how much she loves life in Canada, and can’t imagine leaving her on Bantayan where she surely would not have survived.
The prognosis for her cancer looks positive. The tumours started to regress after the surgery and we will continue to monitor before making the decision to start chemotherapy. The mastitis has cleared and she is back to her energetic, playful, self, ripping around the dog park chasing other dogs. Mena has changed my life but is a daily reminder to me of all the other dogs in the Philippines I wasn’t able to save. The ones who die every day on the streets not knowing what it is to be loved.
To watch the video of Mena’s first day home in Canada click here