Gimme shelter: A day of volunteer work (and play) at a pet sanctuary

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MBY Pet Rescue and Sanctuary, a dog and cat shelter in Morong, Rizal, does not turn away any stray. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The drive up to MBY Pet Rescue and Sanctuary begins to traverse less familiar territory after a while. Spectacular views of the Rizal mountainside become scarce, roads turn narrower and more beaten, and trees start to outnumber man-made structures. On its street are rows and rows of identical-looking housing developments with bright red roofs and not much else. The gate of the pet sanctuary is a slightly more subdued shade of red, and the only sign that you’ve arrived is a small tarp with the name of the shelter over images of cats and dogs.

Once inside the gate, there is a bigger welcome: Around five or six dogs surround the car and greet you as soon as you exit the vehicle. There are several kennels containing hundreds of rescued animals, located all over the vast expanse of the lot. Employees, meanwhile, occupy nipa huts. It’s overwhelming in a good way, approaching the largest dog kennel at the far end of the lot and hearing its four-legged residents barking all at once.

Dogs that have been neutered are separated from the newer ones that haven’t undergone spaying. In the new arrival kennel, recently rescued dogs share the space with litters of newborn puppies from rescues that came pregnant. Some of them are in delicate conditions — necks burned by their collars, bruised, unable to look humans in the eye — but the rest show signs of liveliness and health, thanks to the dedication of the people at MBY.

dog shelter - staring cat.jpg The cats huddle or pile on top of each other in their kennel. Photo by JL JAVIER

Marita Baquiran Yasuda, its founder, admits that she wasn’t a cat or dog person at all until she “fell in love” with her first cat. It’s a little difficult to believe as she cradles nervous puppies in her arms and playfully, adoringly scolds them when they fight with each other. In 2007, she opened her pet sanctuary in a subdivision in Rizal. It amassed 300 furry residents before she was asked to leave and find another place, because her neighbors found the animals too noisy. But she persisted. “Hindi naman namin pinag-aaway yung mga aso [para sa pera],” she says. “Inaalagaan namin sila.

In 2014, she found the lot on which her animal shelter now sits. Its size and surroundings make it the perfect home for the dogs and cats under her care. Everyday at 4 p.m., the dogs are given free rein of the place, and there is nothing quite like the sight of them running and playing together once they’re released. The cats, meanwhile, are content piling on top of each other in their kennel, chasing after toy mice and climbing onto various elevated surfaces built just for them, like a Neko Atsume dream come true.

Even with hundreds of rescues, the people of MBY Pet Rescue and Sanctuary manage to name and keep track of, not to mention care for, every stray that becomes part of their family. There’s Kian, a dog with curly fur who walks around with his nose on the ground and has a habit of bumping into the legs of his human pals, because he just so happens to be blind. There’s an energetic fluffball by the name of Sakura who, according to Baquiran Yasuda, is the “mascot” of MBY and greets every guest who comes with an infectious amount of affection. The names of the cats are enough to amuse visitors to no end: Jovit, Fantasy, Margaret, Charisma, Zeus. Denver likes pouncing on your leg and hooking his claws onto your clothes because he wants to be carried. Aries will do anything to get his paws on the toy mouse. And Juan, regal and just a bit grumpy, has a black patch across his lip that makes him look as though he has a mustache.

dog shelter - a dog walks.jpg Sakura, an energetic white fluffball, is the “mascot” of MBY and greets every guest who comes with an infectious amount of affection. Photo by JL JAVIER

dog shelter - dogs.jpg There are several kennels containing hundreds of rescued animals, located all over the vast expanse of the lot. Photo by JL JAVIER

Baquiran Yasuda, who spends time in Japan and has brought home some feline rescues from there as well, says that for the most part, the shelter is personally funded out of her sheer passion. Donations from veterinarians and well-meaning people are also a great help, although she admits she has difficulty feeding the animals because the pet food isn’t always enough to cover everybody. She attributes the shelter’s ability to overcome these problems to social media, which has helped the word get around about her organization’s cause.

Despite the slight issues with overpopulation, MBY Pet Rescue and Sanctuary doesn’t turn away most strays that are brought to them. So many rescuers bring dogs named “Whitey” that they’ve had to refer to them by the cities they came from, such as “Whitey Pasig” and “Whitey Pasay.” Baquiran Yasuda loves her honorary pets, as well as animals in general, so much that she has every rescue who has passed away cremated and their urns stored right on the lot. Even animals she has found dead on the street are given this honor. “Hindi ko kasi sila matiis,” she explains, adding that she someday hopes to built a pet cemetery for them.

Artist Beng Santos recently visited the pet sanctuary and shares Baquiran Yasuda’s concern for the well-being of animals, which eventually grew so strong that she was driven to do something concrete. “There [came] a point [where] I just had to do more than just feel sorry for the animals,” Santos says. “My search to help out was quite general, something to do with the environment — maybe a clean up, house building, volunteer. I tried a lot of several things but animal shelters were something that called my urgent attention. There is a special place in my heart for them because I think they don’t get their voice. Parang I need to defend them.”

dog shelter - free.jpg Everyday at 4 p.m., the dogs are given free rein of the place. Photo by JL JAVIER

dog shelter - cradling a dog.jpg A puppy comfortably nestles in its caretaker's arms. Photo by JL JAVIER

An initiative by the nonprofit organization Philippine Animal Rescue Team (P.A.R.T.) in Bulacan that called for photographers to take individual shots of the prospective adoptees in the animal shelters was exactly the course of action Santos needed to take, with help from her friends, photographers Ryan and Garovs Vergara of Everywhere We Shoot. “I was supposed to go by myself and last minute I invited [them] to come,” she explains. “They were happy to accept and had the fun idea to photograph the animals for a book.” Alongside taking photos and spreading the word about the shelters, Santos also donates food and sponsors the animals.

She reports that her efforts have not been in vain. “From the last time [we visited a shelter], we [have] doubled in number,” she says. “Some approach me inquiring how to help. I think it’s baby steps. The main goal isn’t about the book but to help out with the caring of the animals. And in part also appreciating the people behind these sanctuaries.” 

Santos’ list for helping out and getting involved in saving the lives of strays is simple, but concise: adopt, sponsor an animal (vaccines and spaying), donate whatever you can, visit, and spread the word. However, volunteering at animal shelters, while fulfilling and even fun, is a serious commitment. It’s not simply a matter of showing up at the shelters and offering to help — you have to call ahead and prove to them that you’re worthy, and follow through with what you’ve set out to do. Some shelters report that a lot of volunteers flake out or cancel at the last minute. Adoption is an even bigger, more permanent responsibility, but with equally more abundant and lasting benefits. 

dog shelter - cats.jpg A cat cleans up after itself, as a clowder of its companions curiously examines the newcomer in their midst. Photo by JL JAVIER

Animal shelters may be less glamorous than pet cafes, but they definitely offer the same love and, yes, cuteness that all of their rescued pets have to offer. And the best part is, you get to show them love in return.

For Santos, her favorite part of the project is the lack of a deadline: She can keep going at it for as long as she’s making a difference. “I do it because it’s fun and I get to understand these animals more,” she says. “[And there’s also] the thought that ang dami pang nag-hihintay na animals that need care.”

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MBY Pet Rescue and Sanctuary is located at 113 Pantay St., Sitio Talaga, Barangay Maybancal, Morong, Rizal. To make arrangements to volunteer, make donations, and/or adopt, or for other inquiries, visit their Facebook page.