The PAWS-IFAW Disaster Response Team headed out to Bohol on October 19, 2013 to conduct an assessment of the effects of the earthquake in the area and to check on the conditions of the animals. It was a gruelling 6-hour per day road trip to get from Tagbilaran, Bohol to Loon, Bohol, while conducting a visual headcount of the animals through the baranggays and towns that were affected along the way.

It was heart-wrenching to see homes turned into rubble and one can only imagine the magnitude it took to shake these concrete structures down. Many residents were living in tents put up in open field with signs asking for food and water. As in many rural areas, many of the dogs would be seen in the streets or tagging along behind their owners as they tried to go about their farming or line up for relief distribution in the town halls. Generally, the dogs were in good condition and valued as part of their families. For a few of the dogs and cats that the team encountered, they were still skittish and showed signs of nervousness – probably from the initial shock of the earthquake or having to continually feel the aftershocks on a daily basis.

The team, whose main objective was to conduct a rapid assessment, had only two days to cover all the areas. On Day 1, the team reached 5 towns – Catigbian, Sagbayan, Tubigon, Calape, and Loon. The team made a visual count of 241 dogs, 59 cattle, 13 pigs, 55 goats, 8 carabaos and 35 cats. They were able to feed some 70 dogs and 25 cats and distributed 72 bottled water to pet owners.

The team met Lucina and Albert who had two dogs and some pigs – amidst their house which was in ruins but they still greeted the team with smiles. They recalled to us how terrified they were when the earthquake struck and prayed that all family members were safe – including their pet dogs and pigs. We also met a man from Sagbayan, who had 16 cats. He was very happy to receive the food we could give his cats but then, he sadly turned to the rubble of what used to be his kitchen and dining area. When we asked about it, he said that one of the kittens didn’t escape the wall that fell on it. He then turned to the cats that were now feeding and started to call all of them by name. He still managed to give us a smile and a wave of thank you as he saw us off.

On Day 2, the team was honoured to meet King and Duke, the brave Labradors of MMDA Canine Rescue Unit, with their handlers, Martin de Castro and Melvic Galagate, who helped in the search and retrieval of victims in Loon, Bohol. According to de Castro, they are very proud of King and Duke who performed exceptionally during operations by helping identify 69 victims in the mountain side.

Since the team had little time left on Day 2, only an approximation can be made of the towns along the way. In the towns of Antequerra, Maribojoc, and the other side of Loon, there were about 180 dogs, 30 cats, and 30 farm animals like cattle, goats, and carabaos.

In the next few weeks the PAWS-IFAW team will identify local groups in need of animal food to distribute throughout the disaster area.

The team left Bohol bringing with them the appreciation and gratitude of the Boholanos they met along the way with the sympathy and whatever little relief the team had brought with them. What will always be remembered by the team are the warmth, resilience, the positive-outlook, and the sincerity of the people of Bohol. They may have encountered such a devastating tragedy but definitely, the Boholanos will transcend this. As they say, “Bangon Bohol” (Rise Bohol).

By May Angela Felix-Razon

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