By Gaby Gloria (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 10, 2016 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – In the summer before my second year of high school, my brother and I became obsessed with catching reruns of Hotel for Dogs on HBO. The concept appealed to us as dog lovers. At the time, we thought the idea of a brother and sister turning an abandoned hotel into a fancy dog shelter complete with automatic feeding machines and giant fire hydrants was just so brilliant.

After attempting to catch all possible showings (we were too cheap to buy the DVD), I’d fantasize over owning my own shelter-hotel for homeless dogs. I’d think, “When I’m rich and successful in the future, I’m going to put up a giant shelter for all the homeless dogs and cats.”

It turns out that my noble dream isn’t necessarily sustainable. While building a hotel of that size would be a good temporary solution, the reality is that it would still have its limits. All the money in the world will never be enough to save all the animals out there.
Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) executive director Anna Cabrera explains that we can’t adopt our way out of the homelessness problem. People have misconceptions about the shelter, thinking that all animals that are brought in can be accommodated, even with the limited space.

She stresses that animal welfare is there to prevent animal cruelty. “The mission of PAWS, or any other animal shelter, is not to rescue cats and dogs. It’s actually to prevent rescues from happening in the first place,” she says.

All hope isn’t lost, though. A quick visit to the PAWS Animal Rehabilitation Center (PARC) is all it takes to school me on what we can do to help the animals in our own little way. Weekends are usually busy days for PAWS, thanks to all the people coming in to visit, adopt and donate. Even then, Anna found time to tour us around the facility, which is currently home to over 130 cats and over 70 dogs.

Getting to PARC, we were greeted by a chorus of meows and woofs. The center is run by a dedicated group of volunteers and some regular staff members. It was 3 p.m. on a Saturday, but the place was abuzz with activity thanks to all of the volunteers walking the dogs, preparing fresh fish for the cats, and attending to visitors who want to avail of the spay-neuter and adoption services.

The organization is well known for saving abused or neglected animals, but the shelter prioritizes animals in distress. Most of the cats and dogs have pending cases in court as a way to show people that you can’t just get away with animal abuse.

Going around the different areas in PARC was fun, but the highlight was definitely meeting the dogs up for adoption (something not usually allowed, but we were given permission for purposes of the story). Their rescue stories were heartbreaking enough to make me think that humans don’t deserve dogs. Pablo was set on fire at a market by some kids, Happy was left chained to the steering wheel of an abandoned car, and (in the most extreme case of abuse) Wacko had his upper snout chopped off.

PAWS has always aimed to destroy the stigma of native dogs and cats being ugly. Seeing their smiling faces, I was able to see how Aspins (asong Pinoys) and Puspins (pusang Pinoys) are just as lovable and cute as purebreeds.

Here are a few misconceptions about PAWS, along with their respective truths. The PAWS website has complete information on how to adopt, volunteer and rescue, so be sure to check it out for more details.
Misconception 1: The shelter is a place where you can bring the stray cats and dogs that you find roaming around, or the pets that you can’t take care of anymore.
Truth: PARC is a shelter that is supposed to house animals after extreme cases of abuse and neglect, meaning that their rescues are in dire need of care. If you bring in a healthy dog or cat asking them to take it in, you’ll be taking away the services from another animal who might need it even more.
Misconception 2: You can come and volunteer without giving prior notice.
Truth: There are different ways to volunteer, including helping with cleaning the facilities and preparing the fresh fish and meat. If you want to help in handling the dogs, you’ll have to complete a few requirements like getting pre-exposure shots and attending a volunteer orientation. 
Misconception 3: Spaying or neutering your dog or cat is unhealthy/harmful for your pet and an unnecessary expense.
Truth: By spaying or neutering your pet, you’ll be helping with the homelessness problem. Spaying and neutering is also a solution to control the feral cat situation in your area, since doing so prevents them from multiplying. PAWS offers spay-neuter services at lower costs.
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PAWS needs cat and dog food (among other pet supplies) to keep the shelter running. If you want to adopt, volunteer, or donate, check out their website,  Follow them on Instagram @pawsphilippines.

Photos by Ina Jacobe