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The dogs of UP Diliman: When love is enough

/ 12:49 AM June 09, 2021

MANILA, Philippines—People often refer to dogs as man’s best friend because of the unconditional love, loyalty and companionship they give until their last breath.

But when their humans are not around, who will dogs care for?

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At the onset of the pandemic, dogs from University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman have been left with no one to comfort when students stopped going to physical classes and shifted to online learning.

College of Mass Communication Prof. Khrysta Rara came up with the idea to train these stray dogs left on campus to become “scent dogs”.

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The project “UPD Sagip K9 Unit”, of the UP Diliman Office of the Vice-Chancellor for Community Affairs, seeks to hone the skills of 16 dogs to allow them to serve the UP community in times of emergencies. The dogs were a mix of former strays and pets of  UP staffers and volunteers.

According to Rara, the project was a “community thing” in UP.

“It is really a community thing, it is of the community, for the community, and by the community,” she said in an interview.

In February 2019, UP Diliman introduced its first batch of emotional support dogs to strengthen “psychological support” for UP students and staff who experienced mental health problems, like depression and anxiety.

Sixteen dogs were trained from January to June under the guidance of coach Onayd Lumbao. The training was focused on the dogs’ agility, trust, teamwork, including their scent and tracking skills.

Last Saturday (June 5), only 12 teams made it to the end of training, and are now called “UPD Sagip K9 Unit”.

Rara recalled her experience with some of the dogs during training and how unconditional love transformed them from being shy to confident dogs.

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The emotional “Dagz”

Dags is a 3-year-old asong pinoy (aspin) who was found abandoned at the College of Science building in UP. She was adopted by Roland Laga, one of the security guards in UP Diliman. According to Rara, Dags was a dog with “soulful eyes”

“If you look at her eyes, it’s very deep and soulful like she has gone through so much,” Rara said.

Rara said Dags once had an accident and was hit by a vehicle that broke her hips while she was pregnant. Dags recovered after a generous donation was made for her medication.

Dags had an emotional bond with his human, Roland, according to Rara. She said when Roland was to be transferred to another station, he had no choice but leave Dags behind to be rescued by the community instead.

Roland would often visit. Days after, Dags suddenly collapsed. Rara said Dags’ skin turned cold as ice and foam formed in her mouth. She said she was unsure if Dags would survive. The next day the vet said Dags had an “emotional trauma” after she felt abandoned by her human.

At the end of the training, Dags and Roland were named the “most emotionally bonded” team.

Fearless Amore

Amore was from the residences of UP and was found left alone tied up at the gate. Amore was described as “mabangis” since no one could come near her for fear of getting bitten. Rara said when Amore was first taken into her cage, she turned against everyone, including her.

“She was in this cage and she turned her back as if she’s mad at the world,” Rara said.

Rara visited Amore for six days and tried to earn her trust. By the sixth day, Amore finally went near her and learned to trust someone again.

Amore was also fearful among other dogs and of heights, which made her incapable of joining other dogs in training. Amore’s handler challenged her by letting her interact with other dogs and took her to bridges to overcome her fear of heights.

At the end, Amore became one of the fearful dogs in training.

Redfox, the Mcdo dog

Redfox, also known as the “mcdo dog” was always fond of Mcdonald’s fried chicken. He was originally adopted but was sent back since he refused to eat any type of food. Redfox was given a McDonalds chicken, and grew fond of it. Redfox is a four-year-old Aspin German shepherd mix and a very obedient and gentle dog.

As soft as a “Kotton”

Kotton was first found by Rara in the mass communications building. She found her looking all filthy, skinny and full of scars as well. Kotton grew close to Rara to the point that no one could ever come near him.

Rara nurtured Kotton by taking him to the vet and giving him medication for his scars. He named her Kotton because she hoped that she would become as soft as a cotton one day when her scars are fully healed.

Kotton was well-loved by the students since he was one of the first dogs to be introduced to the public in the emotional support animal program last 2019.

These four dogs managed to survive six months’ worth of training and are now part of the UPD Sagip K9 Unit. Sofia Vertucio, trainee

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TAGS: Prof. Khrysta Rara, University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, UPD Sagip K9 Unit
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