By Camille Anne M. Arcilla
AN AVERAGE working dog renders service for eight to 15 years, living a life dedicated to serving humans. But what happens when they are too old to work? Where do they go?
There is currently no standard policy on the retirement of Military Working Dogs (MWDs) and Contract Working Dogs (CWDs) in the Philippines. In the United States, however, there is Robby’s Law (HR 5314) which promotes the transfer and adoption of working dogs at the end of their service.
But through an initiative that started over a dinner table conversation, in 2015 cousins Maxin Arcebal and Chelsea Pecson founded Hound Haven PH, Inc., the first and only institutionalized non-profit organization that serves as a home for retired working dogs.
The 1,200-square-meter rehabilitation center in Angat, Bulacan is meant to be home not only for senior working dogs but also those deemed unfit for any type of service where the dogs will be assessed and cared for until they are adopted.
At the launch of Hound Haven K-9 Retirement and Rehabilitation Center on April 22, chief executive officer Ms. Arcebal explained to BusinessWorld that they initially wanted to build a center for strays, abandoned, abused, and neglected dogs — the K-9 rehabilitation was just a side thing.
“But after a while, we zeroed in to K-9 rehabilitation because we found out that there are a lot of organizations that [cater to those other causes] already,” she said.
At Hound Haven, the retired dogs will undergo a rehabilitation program designed by canine-training experts that will help them to adapt to human interaction (with any potential aggression addressed by their experts) and prepare them for adoption to a loving home.
Although there is a place dedicated to Army dogs in Taguig City, Ms. Arcebal said their concern was to be able to provide better care for retired working dogs who are no longer on duty. After they retire, most K-9s are kept in cages and walked by their handlers until their time comes.
Ms. Arcebal said the Army counts the dogs as part of its personal protective equipment (PPE) and for the dogs to be turned over, they have to be removed from the budget.
“So these dogs are actually equipment. For them to be able to turn the dogs to us or any other third party, they have to have it approved internally and passed on to CoA (Commission on Audit). It is a pretty long process,” she said.
She said the Army prioritizes adoptions by the dogs’ handlers. If they do not adopt their dogs, the Army then allows outside adoption.
Hound Haven works closely with the Army veterinarian who provides them with a behavioral checklist for the potential dog to be adopted.
Hound Haven’s first adopted MWD, Chika, was committed to them in August of last year and was only turned over a month ago.
“In the long run, we want to house around 20 dogs in the center. We want to keep that number because it’s important to us that we also give them quality care,” Ms. Arcebal said.
Hound Haven has a kennel that can house 10 dogs — two of its 12 cages are meant for use as isolation areas for sick or newly acquired dogs. There is an inside area where the dogs can eat and sleep, and an outside area where they can urinate and defecate.
Hound Haven’s Treasurer (and the founders’ aunt) Rachelle Arcebal said the kennels were well-researched and designed to fit the dogs’ needs. “It’s well-researched. It’s not something that we just thought about. We consulted people who have expertise and experience and we owe a lot to our architects,” she said.
There is also a small clinic in front of the kennels where volunteering veterinarians visit and a pool area where the dogs can take a dip when they need to.
In addition, a space called Shyna’s Yard serves as an activities center and interaction area. Visitors who want to touch the dogs can do so there.
“We wanted to go beyond just providing a structure for these dogs. We wanted to build our center in such a way that it’s conducive for weekend getaways, family outings, team building, and even field trips kasi medyo malayo siya (since it is a bit far) — it’s not around the block. People have to be motivated to go here because they like the feel of the place,” Maxin Arcebal said.
For those interested in adopting a dog, Hound Haven does a background check and conducts home visits to make sure the environment the dog is moving to is in good condition. Maxin Arcebal said they let the adoptive family meet the dogs and can cut short the adoption process if they feel that the applicant is well-suited.
Even if Hound Haven is already up and running, Rachelle Arcebal admitted that they will be needing help from people who believe in their cause.
“We want to clarify that this is not a business. It’s hard to convince people to help, especially if they don’t see you take out something from your own pocket — up to the point that it hurts a little bit,” she said.
Jerome Arcebal, corporate secretary and the founders’ uncle, agreed, saying: “It is a commitment and we want it to be the certain way we wanted. With that we thank our few very generous donors.”
In the long run, they said they are planning to open another kennel to house another 10 dogs and more projects will be starting in a few weeks.
“Ultimately, our goal was to influence public policy and establish laws to protect the rights and ensure the welfare of the country’s working dogs,” Maxin Arcebal said.
For more information, visit http://houndhavenph.org. The Hound Haven Rehabilitation Center is located at 353 Pinaglagarian St., Barangay Pulang Yantok, Angat, Bulacan.