MANILA, Philippines – In a country where the fight for human rights is a difficult struggle, animal welfare is a cause that is often met with indifference.
Many Filipinos pit humans against animals in this regard, arguing that people should be helped first especially here, a place where cruelty against human beings happens too often.
As the executive director of PAWS (Philippine Animal Welfare Society), Anna Cabrera has heard this too many times.
“It’s not animals versus people, it doesn’t mean that when you help animals, you don’t help people,” she argues. “In fact, when you help animals, you also help people.”
Animal welfare, according to her, is connected to human welfare in terms of public health, peace and order, and food production.
To illustrate the connection, just consider the fact that the Philippines ranks 6th highest in the world in rabies incidence, only because we have poor animal welfare standards. During Ondoy, the survivors were sharing their food rations with their livestock and pets because their animals were their livelihood.
Cabrera believes that by teaching kindness to animals and promoting respect for all life, we are promoting a more peaceful society.
She asks this question: “How can you teach people to be kind when you can’t even understand why you shouldn’t kick your cat for no reason?”
Only hopeful stories
As one of its positive campaigns against animal cruelty, PAWS launched its Dr. Dog Program where dogs are used in the medical therapy of hospital patients.
“It doesn’t show the ugly side of animal cruelty. We want to show how animals can help people, and hope that when people see that dogs can do so much for them, they will be encouraged to be kinder to dogs,” she explains.
This kind of positive affirmation and hopeful campaigning characterize Cabrera’s leadership in PAWS. She doesn’t go for posting sad photos of abused animals in order to solicit donations, “because people already know there is so much cruelty — there is no point in making them more grossed out or depressed.”
She would rather work with the media to get the issues out, lobby for the organization’s advocacies, attend government meetings, and campaign hard to try and change people’s hearts and minds.
PAWS will never put out a Before picture of an abused animal without an After picture. Or, at the very least, Before pictures should always appear together with the vet’s assessment and enumeration of the animal’s needs to nurse it back to health.
Cabrera insists on telling people stories of hope.
She also stresses that “the animal welfare movement is not about animals, it’s actually about people.” It’s the people who control how the animals are going to be treated.
For her, changing the fate of animals means changing first the way people think.
The big leap
In 2006, Cabrera left a flourishing career in the banking industry to join full-time the fledgling animal welfare organization. But before this, she had been an active volunteer for PAWS since 1997 and was part of the team that lobbied for the passage of the Animal Welfare Act in 1998.
Cabrera has always felt very strongly about animals. Today as the head of PAWS, she has gone beyond picking up stray kittens and nursing them back to health in her home. She continues to fight to save the lives of dogs, cats, elephants, dolphins, horses, even livestock and fighting cocks.
She has become the current face of animal welfare advocacy in the Philippines and has tirelessly struggled against an indifferent society, against people who eat dog meat, fans of dog fights and cock fights, and even the clueless people who continue to watch dolphin shows.
She is choosing to continue working for animal welfare if only for the happy endings. It makes it all worth it “when we see a dog go into a car with its new family, and we know they are going to have a good life.”
Working with PAWS has also allowed her to see the full spectrum of human character: “We see acts of cruelty on a daily basis, some will make you ask how human beings could possibly have done such things. At the same time we also see how selfless and good people can be, as we meet dedicated volunteers who sometimes don’t eat lunch, don’t need money, who give so much of themselves just to save a cat!
“When you see this, you sort of know it’s going to be easier for the next generation.” – Rappler.com
[For more information on adopting rescued animals and becoming a PAWS volunteer, call the PAWS office at 475-1688 (10am-5pm, Mondays-Saturdays) or email email@example.com.]