This rehabilitation center is working hard to get rid of the stigma surrounding pit bulls

Into you: Aryana loves long walks to areas where she can run. | Photos by Kitkat Pajaro

Spending an afternoon with dogs is always exciting. It can be quite a challenge, but nothing really compares to the validation that comes when they finally let you pet their heads and rub their bellies. It’s like making friends, but with a lot less drama. Just like with people, not all animals are easy to get along with. Sometimes, it’s not a matter of personality. Past experiences can be a factor in how animals react to meeting new people, and this is one of the things I was worried about the night before my visit to the Laguna Pit Bull Rehabilitation Center.

It’s quite sad to think that there was a time when illegal gambling involving Pit Bulls was a thing. It was back in 2011 when hundreds of Pit Bulls were rescued from a fighting den in Indang, Cavite. This was six years ago, and the concept of animal rescue then wasn’t as progressive. While some of the rescued dogs found a second home in Island Rescue Organization in Cebu, it was also no surprise that the others were bought by the same Korean syndicates through “adopters” just a few months after the first raid and ended up being cycled to another dogfighting pit in San Pablo, Laguna. Think: muddy terrains, chains and giant metal drums as their living quarters. Selected dogs are brought to a separate fighting arena where people from all over the world can bet on which one will win the fight, thanks to the CCTV cameras all over the pit. But the worse part about such illegal dogfight operations is that while Pit Bulls are highly dog-aggressive due to generations of selective breeding, humans have found a way to trigger those traits for their own pleasure and then monetize it.

 A veterinarian comes in every Sunday to check the dogs and prescribe different vitamins and medicines based on their needs. For the rest of the week, the trained staff apply the medications of the dogs.

More than 200 aspins and purebred Pit Bulls were rescued back in 2012 and there are still 83 under the care of CARA (Compassion and Responsibility For Animals) Welfare Philippines in the Laguna Pit Bull Rehabilitation Center today. So much has changed in the past five years: they moved the rehabilitation center to a bigger, less stressful environment outside the city. They now have a full team. led by site supervisor Keith Salas, to run the daily operations, as well as more donors and volunteers that help keep the program sustainable. They even managed to upgrade the facilities not just to keep the dogs and supplies in a great working environment, but also for the workers and volunteers as well.

But what hasn’t changed much is the Pit Bull stigma. The word brusko easily comes to mind. Add to that the fact that they’re former fighting dogs and it’s not hard to understand why people are still a little uneasy about the idea of having a Pit Bull as a companion.

October is Pit Bull Awareness month, but CARA Welfare and the Laguna Pit Bull Rehabilitation Center have been working year-round to break the stigma surrounding these lovely creatures. “Dog-aggression and people-aggression are two distinctive traits and should not be confused. Unless a Pit Bull has been poorly bred or purposefully trained to attack humans, they generally love people,” says CARA Welfare through their awareness campaign. While some of the dogs in the center still need more experience around humans, a great number of them are more than ready to be given a second chance at being part of a family.

Walk it out: Volunteers get to know the dogs better through activities like their morning walk around the farm.

In a recent trip to the Laguna Pit Bull Rehabilitation Center, I walked, played and fed a bunch of rescued dogs like Aryana. She’s tall, brown and graceful and she’s considered the “beauty queen” of the bunch. She’s also quite the runner, leading me to the trail she knew so well for what was supposed to be a chill morning walk. Getting to know her was easy because she was very eager to spend time with me, but not all dogs are the same. If anything, a bunch of the dogs in the center really made me understand the concept of respect towards animals. It’s so easy for us to get excited to interact with them, but only so far as they’ll allow us to. Earn their trust. Let them smell you first and when they’re ready, they will play with you. Some might just need to get used to the presence of humans, while others are just happy to have people around. Either way, always show some lovin’ with regular visits, a pet or, well, more treats. It’s good exercise for the dogs and for those who are new to volunteering as well.

While the end goal is for all of the rescued Pit Bulls to be given a second chance at finding a home, adopting one isn’t for everybody. There are a lot of factors to consider not just for the one interested in adopting, but for the dog as well. If you can’t adopt, foster. If you can’t foster, donate. If you can’t donate, volunteer. If you can’t volunteer, spread the word. Most of us who get involved with programs like CARA Welfare’s are compelled to do something — anything — about these issues because we care. It’s about time we end the stigma against these dogs who are, for the most part, just simply misunderstood.

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