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Modern Living

‘Askal’ is out, ‘aspin’ is in

- Ana G. Kalaw -

Sometime this year, a mass consumer brand came out with a promotional TV ad showing a family’s rags-to-riches shift after winning a contest sponsored by said brand. The usual elements of a lifestyle change were all there: from tiny shack to gated household, from beat-up car to a spanking new four-wheeler, and from mixed-breed mongrel pets to an entourage of purebred canines.

Dumping the rundown mobile and upgrading to new digs is understandable, but leaving the mixed breeds out is a bit callous. As Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) program director Anna Cabrera stresses, the ad enforced the perception that native breeds are not as desirable as purebreds, an unfair portrayal considering that they are as much “dog” as any other breed, and not necessarily any less loyal or lovable.

My own love for dogs was spawned from caring for these native breeds. Our first dog was Bambam, a huge black and white female that could’ve have had sheepdog in its bloodlines. Next came Mimi, brown and white and beautiful, whom my Dad purchased (though I’d like to think she was saved) from the chaos of the Cartimar pet frenzy. These two became my first concrete experience of childhood responsibility and were my first outlets of unconditional love outside of my family. I didn’t care that their bloodline was diluted — a child only cares that her companion remains steadfast; where he or she comes from is rarely an issue.

Since PAWS built its own animal shelter PAWS Animal Rehabilitation Center (PARC) in 2001, 90 percent of dogs that it had taken in were mixed-breed mutts, or askal as they are commonly referred to here, an abbreviation of asong kalye. It seems that most of the dogs that are left out in the streets or need saving from abusive owners are native dogs. Some people, when visiting the center, also prefer to adopt pure breeds; phrases like “Ay askal lang pala.” are also commonly uttered.

The native dog’s reputation is far from illustrious, but PAWS is hoping to change all that with launch of the “See Beauty Beyond Breed” campaign, the organization’s biggest project this year, geared toward uplifting the status of native dogs and cats as pets in every sense of the word, and not necessarily as animals kept chained to a gate as “the ever-faithful Bantay.”

The campaigns first call of action was to start referring to mixed breeds as aspin (abbreviated from asong Pinoy), rather than the commonly-used askal, which can be derogatory and suggests mangy, disease-ridden creatures that roam the city streets, subsisting on garbage scraps. As PAWS puts it, “no matter how well cared for a dog is, if he or she is of mixed or unknown breed parentage, the dog is called an askal.”

The next step was to draw the public’s attention to the cause. Luckily for these aspins, they’ve got no less than Heart Evangelista and Jericho “Echo” Rosales on their side. These two real-life celebrity sweethearts are bigtime animal lovers and are appearing in this campaign meant to uplift the status of native dogs and cats. Heart and Echo, who are vocal about their stand against animal cruelty, didn’t have to be sought out to lend their superstar appeal for the PAWS cause. In fact, it was Heart who, inadvertently, prompted their relationship with the welfare organization.

During an Earth Day event last year, the actress spoke about being kind to animals when asked to give a message on environmental conservation. PAWS, ecstatic whenever someone recognizes the importance of animals in the environment, approached Heart and invited her to visit their shelter. The young celebrity visited the PAWS Animal Shelter in March earlier this year, where she “bonded” with the shelter animals. Heart, relates Anna, was especially drawn to Mario, especially after hearing that he had already been in the shelter for three years — PAWS longest-staying shelter dog.

Yes! magazine was also in the shelter that day and took a photograph of Heart hugging Mario. Within a week of the photo coming out in the magazine, Mario was adopted into a loving family. Says Anna: “Heart was undoubtedly the happiest when we broke the news of Mario’s adoption in our e-group.”

Later on, Heart, along with Echo, expressed an interest in becoming more involved in the PAWS cause. The “See Beauty Beyond Breed” campaign became the perfect opportunity. Photographed by Wesley Villarica and styled by Frederick Sy of Parallax Studios, the images display Heart and Echo romping and fooling around with five aspins  — three are up for adoption — and three native cats (once termed pusakals, and now, maybe, puspins?).

Heart and Echo’s endorser pull has had retail brand Penshoppe agreeing to display these images in the window displays of 95 of their stores for the whole month of September. These stores will also be displaying PAWS donation cans. The local retail giant has also agreed to air behind-the-scenes footage of the “See Beauty Beyond Breed” photo shoot on in-store TV monitors.

“(We want) to help raise funds and create awareness that these dogs can be adopted,” says Echo, while being interviewed by GMA-7. “We should extend our love to aspins. Katulad ng iba, importante rin sila sa komunidad. (Just like the others, they are also important to the community.)”

If you’re interested in adopting an aspin, you can visit the PAWS Animal Rehabilitation Center (PARC) at Aurora Blvd, Katipunan Valley, Loyola Heights, Quezon City, or call (632)475-1688. Log on to www.paws.org.ph for more information.

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E-mail comments to ana_kalaw@pldtdsl.net.ph.

HEART HEART AND ECHO PAWS PLACE
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