CULTURE

In Bulacan, this dog sanctuary matches retired army dogs with new families

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Hound Haven cares for and rehabilitates retired working dogs, where they undergo behavioral training to prepare them for possible adoption, and live the remaining years of their lives as family pets. Photo courtesy of HOUND HAVEN PHILIPPINES

At the Hound Haven K-9 Retirement and Rehabilitation Center in Angat, Bulacan, dogs of different breeds run around, swim, or stay happily in dedicated dog houses — a doggie retirement facility, where Military Working Dogs (MWDs) and Contract Working Dogs (CWDs) released from military, police, or security service are being taken care of.

"We don’t like calling it a 'pound' not only because of the negative connotation, but also because we do more than [putting] dogs in a kennel," says co-founder Addi Dela Cruz, a marketing and branding professional.

Hound Haven is the country’s first and only institutionalized organization that caters to the care and adoption of retired working dogs, who work for about 8 to 15 years or more than half of their lives sniffing explosives, detecting various illegal drugs, looking for missing persons, or biting potential suspects before their senses of smell, sight, and hearing dull.

The Hound Haven K-9 Retirement and Rehabilitation Center now accommodates 13 dogs, but Dela Cruz’s team is looking to expand the center to take in 10 more dogs. Photo courtesy of HOUND HAVEN PHILIPPINES

"[We hope] to influence public policy and replicate Robby's Law, [or] United States of America's H.R. 5314, which promotes the transfer and adoption of working dogs at the end of their service," says Dela Cruz.

Entering into a contract with the  Philippine Army K-9 Unit, Hound Haven and its team of dog behaviorists and veterinarians start by assessing the relieved service dogs’ profiles and medical records, before posting their profiles online to find interested guardians. "Some dogs who are fit to be adopted immediately are posted on social media and created a profile for right away," says Dela Cruz. "Others might be featured, too, but not as much or frequently because they might have existing medical conditions or behavioral problems and require more experienced dog parents."

Screening potential adoptive dog parents is a rigorous process that takes weeks or sometimes even months. It is not enough for an individual or a family to just say that they can take care of the dog and pay for the adoption fees (around PHP 5,000, to partially cover the medical expenses for neutering and vaccinations, among others). This is not a one-stop pet shop where one can just come by, select the cutest puppy, pay, and leave. Dela Cruz's team conducts intensive phone and in-person interviews, inspects the residence of the prospective adoptive dog parents, and invites them to the center usually on a weekly basis to see how they interact with the dog that they wish to adopt.

Addi Dela Cruz (rightmost) with his co-founders and staff members of Hound Haven. Photo courtesy of HOUND HAVEN PHILIPPINES

When it comes to the prospective owners’ qualifications, Dela Cruz says there is no rule of thumb because each dog’s needs are unique. "However, having a spacious home or lawn is always a plus, so the dog can run around and play,” he said. “We also watch out for other dogs the adoptive family might already have, as well as babies and small children, and make sure they get along with the new dog."

Once the dog is finally turned over to their adoptive family, Hound Haven asks the new dog parents to provide regular check-ins, such as sending updates, photos, and videos of the dog in their new home. Dela Cruz notes that older canines usually take a bit longer to move or adjust to a new family. Some dogs are also rather too proud and aggressive —– probably an effect of their years of service in defense and enforcement.

Tootsie when he was still at Hound Haven. Photo courtesy of HOUND HAVEN PHILIPPINES

Military and service dogs are trained to avoid distractions and suspect anything irregular or dubious — so they don't adapt well during their first few weeks in the center. This is the case for Tootsie, a handsome Belgian Malinois, a former explosives detection K-9, and the star at the Army agility course during his heydays in service.

"When he was turned over to us, we were warned that Tootsie had a ‘history’ (one day, he got upset and bit his handler, causing the latter to be hospitalized) and we should be careful with him," Hound Haven co-founder Jerome Arcebal remembered. "We took it slow with Tootsie, and our handlers were patient in gaining his trust. Eventually, we became confident for him to interact with visitors, and almost immediately, there were potential adopters."

Until one day, Patricia Loanzon’s family showed up at the center. "My husband, though, had chanced [upon] a black shepherd for sale but the boys turned that idea down quickly. My kids pushed us to adopt instead of purchase." By this time, they had just lost their five-year-old Dutch Shepherd. So they looked at Hound Haven and initially looked for the bigger dogs that were up for adoption.

"[The center] was beautifully kept and so clean. The kennels were amazingly maintained and the dogs all smelled so wonderful," Loanzon recalled their first visit to the center two years ago. "No pee, no poo, and [the dogs are] all well-bathed."

Tootsie with his new family. Photos from @TOOTSIEROLLGRAM/INSTAGRAM

For Tootsie, though, it wasn't exactly love at first sight. "To be honest we were a little hesitant but when he came out and we started playing, he brought his ball back to me. And that was it," shares Loanzon.

"Tootsie was a total puppy when he was with them!” says Hound Haven’s Arcebal. “They were experienced pet owners, and we knew Tootsie would be in a single dog household, so we were happy to have them adopt Tootsie."

As of this writing, the dog sanctuary is taking care of 13 retired canines, most of whom are ready for adoption. They are also looking to expand their facility, add 10 more kennels, and hire more service staff and volunteers to be able to adopt and take care of more retired dogs.

Dela Cruz says they will maintain the same level of care when selecting new parents for their wards.

"Dogs are very sensitive and loyal beings. They get attached easily so uprooting them from a place they consider home to a new one is a significant event," says Dela Cruz. "You can’t just say, 'Please take him or her back because we realize we can’t do it anymore.'”

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