Life Behind Bars: Imagine yourself living in a cage, the dimensions of which don’t allow for you to comfortably stand up to your full height, nor stretch out to your full length when lying down. The floor is made of hard plastic slats placed over rusted metal. You eat in this cage. Against your instincts to soil your sleeping place, you are forced to also defecate and urinate in this cage. Once in a while, somebody comes along and hoses you and the cage down so you at least don’t have to worry about your crap piling up. Come rain or shine you stay in this cage. Occasionally, people pass by. You call out, wave and say “Hi!”, some answer back, but most keep moving on as if they don’t even see you. You escalate your attempts to call their attention but still you don’t get the reaction you want and still they walk by, leaving you unnoticed. Over months and years of this going on, you decide that everyone passing by your cage is evil, and they have all become the object of your anger and frustration. You’ve now taken to screaming hateful words at people every time you see them and find this provokes more varied and interesting reactions, and it at least gives you an occupation and a release of your pent up energy. On quiet days when there is no one around, you amuse yourself by banging your food bowl against the cage bars, biting your nails and pulling out the hairs on top of your head. And when that no longer does it for you, you turn to the one other thing in your cage that’s left to interact with – your feces – well, now it’s time to get creative!
As a veterinarian and dog trainer in the Philippines my biggest frustration has always been seeing this: The Caged Dog a.k.a The Tethered Dog, or the Unwalked Dog. The Caged Dog is one that spends the greater part of his life confined to a small cage, and is terribly under-exercised and under-socialized. At its worst, a Caged Dog is better off dead.
Owners of Caged Dogs can be described as one of the following:
a) Unwilling dog-owners or those that entered into pet-ownership without knowing what they were getting into. These are owners that suddenly found themselves stuck with a dog without knowing how to handle or care for one. While the dog was a puppy, all was well, until one day they found themselves with a grown dog that continued to act like a puppy by jumping up, play biting and doing all sorts of crazy behaviors that were simply too much for the owner. Not knowing of any solution or maybe even not caring enough to try and find a solution, the owner resorts to buying a cage and locking the dog up in it. Problem solved. For the owner at least.
b) Those that might be good dog-owners in theory but then turn out to be always too busy to spend time with their dogs. Similar to the first, those who never find time for their dog are those that did not plan dog-ownership through well enough either. And once again the dog must suffer for it.
c) Those whose idea of dog-ownership is to place a dog in a cage near the house so he can bark at strangers and act as a deterrent for would-be trespassers. Many dogs in the Philippines are kept not as companion animals but as “guard dogs” – mind you, not referring to trained protection dogs here. They are dogs that are kept to scare people and to bark at people, because the common idea is that a house with a dog is less likely to get burglarized.
Despite whatever bad or good intentions an owner may have in keeping a dog in a cage, a Caged Dog to great degrees lacks physical and mental stimulation, and much needed social contact. These dogs although technically alive and functioning, don’t actually live a life at all. As I said before: at its worst, a Caged Dog is better off dead – he’ll get there eventually, but you might as well not prolong his misery.
What’s to be done? Simple. DON’T OWN A DOG! Filipinos get dogs for all of the wrong reasons: as status symbols; as “guard dogs” (as previously defined); because the puppy was cute; they saw it in a movie; young couples playing house with the dog playing the role of a baby, etc., etc. Occasionally, these people really make an effort at responsible dog-ownership and do get it right. Hurray for the dog that lives with them! Mostly, however, as I’ve seen countless of times, they lose interest, find that the expenses are not within their budget, find that that puppy they bought doesn’t automatically grow up to become that awesome dog they saw in the movie, etc., etc. If I could convince more people not to enter into dog-ownership in the first place, I would consider myself a very effective veterinarian and trainer. I certainly try.
But if people cannot be convinced not to get a dog, then it should be demanded of them to get educated. Know what you are getting into and know if you actually have the means to stick with it for the long haul, which means the entire lifetime of the dog. Or if you are already adrift in that boat (with a dog in it), then it should be required that you change your routines to incorporate the dog in them. Happily, some dog-owners do make the attempt. I’ve met them and I applaud them. In my own small way I try to help however I can for them to be successful in their efforts by providing training and health care for their dogs and education for the people. But overall, the fact is that there is a long way to go in elevating the standards of pet-ownership in the Philippines.
Mostly I write this as an outlet for my own frustrations. Quite possibly the message will go unread by the hundreds of “Caged Dog” owners that ought to be reading it and leave nothing changed for the better. I do my work one dog and owner at a time regardless. But if it happens that you who are reading this have a dog that is currently living in a cage or tied up in some corner of your home then I ask you to consider the ways you can improve your dog’s life:
First, a change in mindset is in order. Filipinos have it too easy – we are allowed to stick our dogs in cages and forget about them. We are allowed to discard our duties as dog-owners and turn them over to the yayas and manongs (the household helpers). We are allowed to be neglectful and abusive and say “It’s just a dog.” The sad thing is that it is acceptable, and many Filipinos don’t even recognize themselves to be doing anything wrong or inhumane to the pets that they have. But it’s never just a dog, just a cat or just a hamster. Never just an animal. It is life – sacred and beautiful, and we ought to recognize animals as such and treat them accordingly or else be lesser humans for doing them wrong.
Second – speaking here to the professionals – solutions should be made available. For those owners that are ready to get it right, Filipino pet care professionals must themselves be educated, be good examples and be ready to answer questions and help provide guidance to pet-owners where needed. We think it is only the affluent that can take good care of their dogs, but I know people of little means who make it work and have healthy, happy dogs. Also, there are many pet care professionals who offer quality service at reasonable costs, and owners need not always wait for the free vaccination drives and seminars, or expect substandard service for cheap prices.
Third, prepare to make some changes in your life. This is where many falter and give up – now realizing that time and effort are required, the cage always seems the easier option, especially because actually spending time with the dog, for some, requires making drastic changes to one’s daily routine. Stick to your resolve to make things better. Get the family involved, plan things out, share responsibilities. Begin with giving 5-10 minutes of your time to your dog in a day. If possible, hand-feed his meals and get to know him – this in itself is a major improvement from what his life was before. (NOTE: Caged dogs are unbalanced and often frustrated dogs that need special attention from a trainer or behaviorist. Please consult a professional and be properly guided.)
Lastly… Learn, grow from and enjoy the experience of having a dog. This is not always about you spending for your pet’s needs just to keep him happy. There is a reason we call them companion animals and man’s best friend. If we allow them into our lives and let our bond with them reach its full potential, dogs can be our greatest friends even on our darkest days.
“We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” ~Immanuel Kant