As an animal lover who visited Siargao for the first time, I zoned in immediately on the dogs. From the friendly strays to Instagram beach dogs, these four-legged creatures abound on the island.
If you compare the state of Siargao’s dogs to the strays of Manila and other urban cities around the Philippines, they seem to have a better life. Most are fed and loved by the locals and tourists.
Who could resist slipping them a piece of morsel under the table? The dogs of Siargao have developed this effective modus operandi: You’re in the middle of devouring a meal in an alfresco restaurant when out of nowhere, a warm fuzzy dog nudges your leg or gingerly lays his chin on your thigh and stares at you with his puppy-dog eyes until your heart melts and you share some of your food with him.
They know it works like a charm—and not just on me, the self-proclaimed dog-cat lady. In almost every restaurant or canteen I dined in, I would always hear an “Aww!” which means a Siargao dog has charmed another tourist. It’s a far cry from the anxious, malnourished, and often abused stray dogs of Manila.
The dogs in Siargao’s General Luna area seem pampered, but like the overall status of animal welfare in the Philippines, there’s a dire need for population control and regular vaccination to keep both the animals and humans safe.
Not all Siargao dogs have a master or home; many are neglected strays endlessly wandering around the island, relying on scraps from people. Many lack vaccinations and medical attention. For example, one particular stray dog that came up to me looked fat and well-fed, but he was full of fleas and has a mangled lip, probably from a dog fight wound that didn’t get stitched.
Unlike developed countries like Australia and Switzerland, the Philippines is still far behind in terms of animal welfare, but we have improved. We have many animal welfare groups that have stepped up in the last decade.
If you’d like to help the dogs of Siargao, there are five ways:
If you’re heading to the island, sign up for Puppy Puddle Siargao. Their volunteer work entails more than just assisting the neuter and vaccination programs. You will delve deep into the local life, learning about how the people do love their animals; it’s just that not everyone can afford the medical services for their dogs and cats. You will not only help them address the health issues of their beloved pets but also spread awareness about animal welfare.
2. Donate or sponsor.
The Philippines is currently stuck in the world’s longest lockdown, which means a lot of the animal welfare groups and shelters aren’t getting as much funding as they used to. Our economy is suffering. Fewer resources for humans mean even less for animals. Read Puppy Puddle Siargao’s latest blog post to see the current situation of their dogs and cats now that they don’t have as many tourists on the island. Visit their website for more info on how to donate or sponsor.
3. Drive carefully.
If you’re renting a motorbike in Siargao, please drive with caution. Many strays suddenly dart across the street and you might accidentally hit them—in turn causing you to also skid and tumble. Think of both humans and animals before speeding up.
4. Get a pre-exposure rabies vaccine.
This question always pops up in online travel forums: “Should I get a pre-exposure rabies shot before traveling to [insert name of developing country or remote island]?” For animal lovers, the answer is yes!
You never know how the stray animal will react. I’ve heard of travelers who were bitten by a stray dog or scratched by a kitten that seemed friendly in the beginning. Animal bite clinics are not easy to find here in the Philippines. Most are not open 24/7, and some don’t even have enough supplies. The last thing you want is to go on a panic-stricken search for a rabies shot after getting bitten by a stray in the middle of the night.
My personal experience: I was scratched by one of my rescue cats whose rabies vaccine expired. The wound was deep and bloody, so I decided to look for an animal bite center. It was 9pm. I spent three hours maniacally driving around and found that all three hospitals in my province ran out of anti-rabies supplies eons ago. I drove to another town and found an animal bite clinic that was closed. I called the number—thank goodness someone answered! They told me to come back at 10am the next day, and that I’ll be fine as long as it hasn’t been 24 hours since the bite/scratch. Now imagine being a foreign visitor going through the same situation.
If you enjoy interacting with animals, get a pre-exposure rabies shot for your safety and peace of mind when traveling.
I like reading stories of travelers who fell in love with a dog or cat while exploring an island in the Philippines and decided to take them home—even if it’s all the way to Europe or the US. If you see a stray cat or dog that you’d like to adopt, enlist the help of a local vet or animal welfare group to make sure the animal is medically examined and vaccinated before transporting.
Want to volunteer for other animal welfare groups in the Philippines? Here’s a running list: