Sunday, February 10, 2013

Petting rights

“No pets allowed.”

The terse sign outside a coffee shop I would have ignored had there not been two recent reports illuminating the “beastly” side of relations between animals and humans.

Last Jan. 28, 2013, a nine-year-old girl was ravaged and killed after a Belgian Malinois attacked her and her companions as they went home from school in Zamboanga City. The dog and the handlers were taken into police custody.

Last Jan. 30, 2013, some Marikina residents protested the enforcement by the Animal Protection and Council Office (Apco) of Ordinance No. 156, particularly the animal quarantine regulation that bans pets in settlement and resettlement sites. Aside from confiscating pets and fining their owners, city officials will not allow the confiscated pets to be redeemed and returned to the settlement or resettlement sites.

These reports underscore the clash of issues behind the “No pets allowed” signs posted in some private establishments. Which is of paramount importance: the public’s right to safety and sanitation or a pet owner’s rights?

The answer is to balance these two rights. The means to do so is responsible pet ownership. Putting this into practice, though, is challenging, specially in cities where humans and animals compete for space.

Marikina officials say that the law does not discriminate against the poor who reside in settlement or resettlement sites. A spokesperson said that, given the human overcrowding and low income in these households, pets may not even be given their needs, such as food, shelter and annual anti-rabies vaccinations. Stray animals pose sanitation and health risks.

However, a resident said that the ordinance presumes only the affluent and educated can be responsible pet owners. Another said that in overcrowded places, dogs alert humans to thieves, fire and other threats.

As a human adopted by an Aspin, two toms and sundry partners and litters, I find the Marikina ordinance Draconian and biased against those with limited means. Though I have a job and am educated, I have lapsed in updating our dog’s anti-rabies shots. I have never had my pets spayed.

On the other hand, we keep our dog indoors. Udo is kept on a leash when he ventures beyond our gate. We don’t turn the sidewalks or streets into his toilet. Though our floor space is less than a hundred square meters, Udo has not quibbled about space and solitude. Neither have the humans.

Cats, though, are independent devils. Often, they will choose not their owner’s place but the grandest residence, the showcase porch and even a brand-new car to deliver their litter, bury their stools (the smell cannot be hidden) or mark as their territory with hefty sprays of urine. It is only now, after more than 10 years, that we have a truce with neighbors driven mad by our noisily procreative, polygamous and incontinent felines.

Yet, the death of Mariane Gonzales and the trauma of her family should remind us of our greater responsibilities. Tied outside its owner’s gate, the dog reportedly broke its leash before it attacked to kill the Zamboanga school girl.

Even though more spaces are open to pets, owners must ensure exercising or displaying their pets doesn’t intrude on and threaten others. Outside a mall, I once saw a lady pick up the tiny stool left by her toy dog, put this in a small box and return the box into a tote she was carrying. I wonder how many owners do this uncute but necessary task for their pets and the public.

During an interview with a dog breeder, I noticed how a househelper’s upper arm was shrunken and thickly scarred. She said she had turned her back on a Pit Bull she had let out from the kennels when it turned on her. Her employer paid for all her medical expenses. The dog, a champion breeder, was not put to sleep.

Much as we love our pets, we share space with other people.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Feb. 3, 2013 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday main op-ed column

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