I didn’t intend to have this many dogs and cats. Until 2011, there was only one dog in my life—Kyle. He was the son of my first dog Barkley, a purebred champion bloodline Shih Tzu who died in 2005. Kyle was a Shmoodle who was the king of our home, the king of my heart.
When Kyle died of kidney failure in 2011, I said I would never get another dog again. To say that I was heartbroken was an understatement. I was newly diagnosed with anxiety disorder, so losing Kyle made things worse. I could not eat or sleep.
Then one day in November 2011, a mangy and malnourished dog from the street entered our lot. She was constantly shaking, even when asleep. I asked our gardener and housekeepers to bathe and feed her. I did not want to be attached, so I just watched from afar.
We jokingly named her Lizzie, taken from the word galis or galiz, the Tagalog word for mange. When her mange got worse, I decided to bring her to a vet. The vet said she survived distemper. The shakes are the lifetime side effect. Lizzie got her first dog medical record book, and I gave her a crate where she could sleep in our garage.
Days later, another puppy from the street (there are plenty of strays wandering our town) entered our home. It’s as if there was a sign in front of our house saying, “There’s a heartbroken dog lover here. Come inside for free food and lodging!”
The brown puppy had a broken leg that healed the wrong way. Her tummy was bloated, full of worms. She was scared of everyone. They named her Pinky, taken from the Tagalog slang, pike, which means knock-kneed.
I took Pinky to the vet. “Another one?” he said. I answered defensively, “Oh, I’m just helping our maids take care of these dogs. They’re not mine.”
Days later, the two aspins who slept outside and “are not mine” managed to enter our front door, climb the stairs, find my room, and take over as if the room were rightfully theirs. I gave them Kyle’s old bed, but they soon grew too big for it, so I bought bigger beds.
It’s been nine years since that day. I do not know when Lizzie and Pinky’s birthdays are. I can only surmise that they were less than six months old when they entered our lot. I celebrate their Gotcha Day every November, around the same time they found their way into our property and my heart.
When my sister got married in 2013, she could not take her four Shih Tzu mixes with her. She left them with the maids, but I noticed the quality of care they received wasn’t up to my par, so I took them under my wing.
As for the cats, they just started showing up at my house. I built them a cat tree house outside and had them all spayed through CARA Welfare’s low-cost spay and neuter program.
There was another aspin in our backyard, Bukbok, who nobody could touch because they were all scared of him. He was our previous maid’s dog that she left behind. He never got a bath or proper vaccination. They fed him with scraps for years. He slowly crawled out of the makeshift hideout he slept in to play with my dogs.
Bukbok got Pinky pregnant. I kept one of the puppies, Snoopy, who grew up to be a funny, mischievous, and overprotective dog. All my pets are now spayed and neutered.
My mother was so surprised to see me with Bukbok—the once untouchable dog—giving him a bath, cleaning his ears, putting medication in his mouth, and kissing him on the forehead. It’s true what they say: There are no bad dogs, only bad owners.
“Askal lang yan (That’s just a street dog)” is what people in the Philippines would often say to describe mutts and strays. Askal means “asong kalye” or street dog. They’re often kept in cages or tied to short leashes for life, while the strays endure inhumane conditions. Thanks to the development of animal welfare in my country, askal was deemed a derogatory term, so people now use the word aspin or “asong Pinoy” (Filipino dog). While animal welfare is progressing in the Philippines, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Through my rescues, I realized how loving, intelligent, and protective these mixed breed dogs are. I started supporting animal welfare groups and now am a staunch advocate of “Adopt, Don’t Shop.” My first dog, Barkley, was purchased from a breeder, and Kyle was from his litter. While I loved those angels until their last breath, there’s something more rewarding about rescuing an abused, abandoned, and unwanted dog. I can’t imagine where my aspins came from or how their lives were before I got them, but they deserve the same love one would give a purebred.
At one point I had eight dogs and nine cats. Bukbok died at age 20 (yes, 20!), while one Shih Tzu mix, Cupcake, succumbed to liver failure years ago. I’m down to six dogs and seven cats. To be honest, it’s financially challenging. I had to reject other adoption offers because my plate is full.
Whenever people quip that my aspins are so lucky to have been rescued, I always tell them it’s the other way around. As I battled clinical depression and general anxiety disorder for many years, my dogs kept me going. They kept me alive through the darkness of depression, a taboo subject that society continues to stigmatize. My dogs rescued me.