An animal’s life after rehab

There is life after an injury. This is proven countless times by people who have determination and positive attitude. This is also true for animals that are living with disability, thanks to people who go out of their way to give God’s creations a second shot at life.

The Aklan Animal Rehabilitation Center (AARRC) owned by couple Michel van der Kleij and Neressa van der Kleij-Toabe has been rescuing and rehabilitating dogs and cats for eight years now.

Michel said it all started with a stray cat named Mimi that decided to live with them at their house in Kalibo, Aklan.

“Our home was not suited for keeping a large number of pets. Soon after, we discovered kittens in the middle of the street and some in the swamp next door, intentionally left there by people,” Michel said.
It was when Mimi disappeared a few years later that the couple realized that animals need protection from humans.



“At that time, we started looking around for others in animal welfare and we sought cooperation with the Aklan State University,” he said.

It was there that Michel discovered that the level of education for veterinary students was wanting.
“So, that is also an area that we need to see improvement in,” he said.

“Especially skills such as diagnosis, practical surgery, and hygienic procedures could be improved,”  he added.

After animal rescue, Michel’s team embarks on spaying and neutering projects for cats and dogs, paid for by sponsors abroad and free for the owners. They shoulder part of the expenses themselves.

The project’s areas were Kalibo Airport, St. Gabriel Hospital and Barangay Andagao, Kalibo, Aklan.
“At the same time, we started building a clinic and special kennels at the back of our house. Although we have a very small number of sponsors, we still are privately funded; which is our singlemost limiting factor,” he said.

THE OPERATIONS

Michel said they have around 60 dogs and 40 cats, all spayed or neutered.

He said that when the animals come in, they are quarantined, dewormed and vaccinated. After they are declared healthy after a month or so, these animals are allowed to join the others.

“We monitor their health everyday and we will get our vet to check or operate as required,” he said.
“We specialise in old and disabled pets, for which we get a wheelchair so they can still join the 2 daily walks to the beach,” he said.

“One such disabled pets is a dog named Tina, who can no longer use her hind legs due to a spinal injury. She was originally rescued from a dog meat transport by the Animal Kingdom Foundation (AKF) in Tarlac. However, AKF lacked the facilities to care for her special needs and since Michel has close contacts with a small company in his native Netherlands that manufacture dog wheelchairs, he offered to take her in. Tina, who is an incredibly sweet dog and great with kids, now has her wheelchair and often AARRC brings her as an ambassador on their educational activities. Tina enjoys walking and playing along the beach in her wheelchair,” he narrated.

“Maddy was found by kind-hearted people as a puppy in Numancia, Aklan and brought to AARRC. She was covered in mange, undernourished and so weak that she couldn't even stand up anymore. AARRC's Angie took her under her wing and literally nourished her back to life. A year later Maddy is a healthy, lively and active young dog. Of course, Angie and Maddy are still inseparable,” he added.

Disabled dogs Tina and Bella with kids on the beach in Kalibo

IGNORANCE

Michel said that the biggest problem faced by animal welfare workers is ignorance by some members of the human population.

“Ignorance of the fact that animals are living creatures that feel pain, joy, fear and all emotions that we have. Ignorance of the need to properly provide care for your animals. Ignorance of the fact that we could not live without animals and finally ignorance of the updated Animal Welfare Act,” he said.

To address this, his team holds presentations in schools to inform children about animal welfare.

They also hold the same for police, so that they can implement the law by catching violators.

AARRC also participate in events which highlight the joy of having animals, such as the World Animal Day parade and Dog Show, organised by the Aklan Office of the Provincial Veterinarian held every year in Kalibo.

Michel hopes to find more sponsors for AARRC so that they could put up regular pet events in Kalibo and Boracay.

“We are hoping that we can keep working with the provincial and city governments so that we can carry out the work and they provide us with some funding.”

EXPANSION

Despite the financial limitations, AARRC is building a larger site in Linabuan Sur which is eight kilometres from their house. They plan to offer animal laboratory services which will promote AARRC among veterinarians in the wider region.


Catching feral cats at Kalibo Airport for spay/neuter

HELPING PEOPLE, TOO

Michel said that oftentimes, he was asked why he is set on helping animals instead of people, with some people highlight on the fact that they are “just” animals.

“Apart from the fact that I believe that animals have equal rights to a decent life, my answer is always that we are helping people too. We employ 6 individuals. We bring in more money from abroad than most OFW, which is money spread through the community. And of course we fight rabies and disease which contribute to public health but also the happy feeling our tourists get when they see happy animals. These are the tourists that come back and tell their friends. Just imagine what happens if they see someone kick a sickly dog! They would instead think the Philippines is inhabited by barbarians,” Michel said.

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED

With this, Michel hopes that many will volunteer to help in this initiative.

“We need volunteers. We would love to have more than the one we have now, but so far no others have come forward,” he said.

Those who are interested to volunteer and donate can contact AARRC through aklananimalrescue@gmail.com or contact Ms. Jenie Mae Irineo on 09123349770./Marie Katherine Villalon is a freelance online journalist


Dr. Wilford Almoro of PAWS helping AARRC with the spay/neuter
project for Barangay Andagao

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