Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Kuya's Philippine Journals: Dogs, Cats and Pinikpikan

The subject I am going to write about today in my series on the Philippines is perhaps one of the harder subjects for me to write about but one that I feel is necessary to give you a sense of the country. I love the Philippines and the time I have spent there but there is one glaring difference in our cultures which revolts me somewhre deep inside and perhaps separates a third world country from mine. The subject I wish to discuss is the Filipino attitude towards animals.

Before I begin, let me preface my comments by saying they are only my observations from the part of the country I have visited and without further research, I have no way of knowing if they prevail throughout the country. God gave man dominion over animals and so I have no moral problems with what they do, however, I could not do such things myself and feel civilized.

Let me start by talking about the issue of pets. Because poverty is prevalent everywhere within the country, pets are considered a luxury and few people have them in the sense of what Americans would think of pets. Most households do have a dog or a few cats running around outside but they aren’t cared for in the way that I am used to. Dogs are pretty much ignored and run around outside keeping a watch on things. They have no doghouses, beds, very few collars or tags, and are fed scraps. Cats, while sometimes run around inside, are mostly kept outside and likewise have none of the “common” accessories like toys or litterboxes. They too are fed scraps. I never saw a bag of dog or cat food around nor did I ever see them sold.

The rule of thumb seemed to be that these animals around the house got scraps if there were scraps and went hungry when there were none or scrounged for themselves. Signs of malnutrution were prevalent everywhere. The dogs all have mangy looking fur that is falling out and dull in color, not the sleek shining coat of the dogs that I have cared for in my youth. If you were to get close to one, the most awful stench that you could imagine invaded your sensory organs accumalated from a lifetime of neglect. Most of the time you couldn’t get near them because they did not receive attention like pets in the States and instead skittered out of arm’s reach from a lifetime of conditioning.

Everywhere I went, I saw female dogs that looked as if they had just finished nursing a litter of hungry calves. They walked the streets aimlessly with sides sucked in tight to the ribs and every vertabrae showing down their back. I never once saw a puppy and have no idea where they were kept or what happened to them post weaning. I also saw very few male dogs. This, with something I have related before, led me to believe that the puppies were sold for income and probably more than a few were eaten. There is no profit in keeping a male dog around the house but if bred, a female dog can provide income to the family. My younger brother-in-law once mentioned that dogs do get eaten in the Philippines but it is not common and not done in legalized fashion. Rather it is a black market affair with the dogs disappearing in the night never to be seen again. He told me that his previous two dogs had been taken had probably been eaten. His current dog, one of the few males I have seen, named Richard was probably too old and ugly to be eaten. All this was told to me in a matter of fact manner without a lot of emotion.

In my wife’s family, Richard seemed to get fairly regular scraps and though his fur was dull and mangy, he wasn’t as skinny as most dogs. However, the two cats in the family were a different story. The two cats, actually kittens, had been acquired perhaps a week or two before my arrival. When I first saw them, I couldn’t help but notice how skinny and tiny they were compared to American kittens of the same age. They were obviously underfed and the entire time I was there, I never saw them given any scraps of any kind.

As my time went by the cats, which stayed on the balcony at night and roamed the house by day, kept getting thinner and weaker. They would mew weakly in hunger only to be tossed out on the balcony out of the way. One evening, I saw one of the kittens snag a piece of chicken about to be cooked for dinner off the kitchen counter and disappear out the window. The next morning, it was walking around with a full belly but his companion was absent and was never seen from again. I am fairly certain that it finally succumbed to starvation and I looked around for the body for confirmation but never did find it. The chicken “dinner” saved one of them but I feel that was just a temporary salvation because the entire rest of my stay there, the other cat went back to just skin and bones and during my last couple days was so sick that it was crapping frequently around the house. Having raised lots of farm cats in my lifetime, I knew the reason for the discolored and frequent messes meant that it was very sick and probably on it’s last legs. It was alive when I left but I doubt that it is as of this writing.

I felt between a rock and a hard place with the care of the cats. I was a guest and a foreigner and felt that I had no right to tell someone how to raise their animals. I mentioned it to my wife who said that they were getting fed but from their protruding skelatons, I could see that it certainly wasn’t enough to substain life. Also, because my hosts are not rich and work hard to feed themselves and their guests, I didn’t feel comfortable with blatantly taking food and feeding their cats. I did try to sneak some food to them once in awhile from my own plate when I could do it unobserved but most times, when the opportunity arose, the cats were not around.

The cavalier attitude that I saw shown towards pets also extended beyond to other animals. One notable example is a delicacy known as pinikpikan. Pinikpikan is a chicken created by first stringing up a live chicken by its feet and beating it with a stick over several hours until the chicken well bruised. Only then would it be whacked over the head to be killed, careful not to break the tenderized skin and cause external bleeding. It was then cooked whole with all internal organs intact over an open flame to burn off the feathers and cook the meat. The blood in the tissues as a result from the slow beating is said to give the meat a very tender and excellent taste. My hosts never made it and I never ate it but I did hear about how it was made several times and saw one of the victims recently deceased being grilled. What disturbed me most was the relish that the “recipe” was told to me as if it was actually a fun thing to do on a boring afternoon.

I am a softie when it comes to animals. I rarely hunt because of this fact. When I have had to take the life of an animal in the past, I always make it quick and as painless as possible. I would want to die the same way. So for me, it was hard to witness these events. I deal with it by remembering that I am a guest in their country and what is strange or disturbing to me is perfectly normal and acceptable for them. Coincidentally, I didn't see any Philippine chapters of P.E.T.A. during my trip

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