With just a click of the 'share' button, the power of social media and the story of a homeless man have sparked a growing awareness of animal welfare and protection.
Sixty-three year-old street dweller, Rudy Reyes, lives in his pushcart home with more than 20 dogs and cats. Reyes or Mang Rudy, who works as assistant in a parking space along E. Rodriguez Avenue in Quezon City, said his love for animals can be traced to his childhood.
"When I was 12, I had a dog named Lassie. I named it after the dog in an American movie. I took care of Lassie, she was my first dog. That's why I was very mad when I found out my father slaughtered and ate my dog. I really cried," he told The Manila Times in Filipino.
Mang Rudy considers his pets his family since his wife and children now live in Mindanao. He has been homeless since 1986 and has adopted stray dogs and cats he would find while rummaging through garbage bins. Sometimes, friends would offer him puppies which he would also accept.
"Animals are better than humans. You cannot trust man. You feed a man and he would stab you in the back. You feed a pet and it is always loyal," he said.
Such love for animals was captured in photos uploaded by Jason Quema on Facebook. The album, titled 'Those with less give more -- Kudos to Mang Rudy ),' has already garnered more than 300 shares and likes.
A support group also initiated to provide assistance to the homeless man through the Mang Rudy Project Facebook page.
Netizens stirred by Mang Rudy's love for his pets despite his poor condition commented, "Thumbs up. God bless this man," and "(I) salute you Mang Rudy." Some also pledged to donate food for both Mang Rudy and his dogs and cats.
Guilty of animal cruelty?
While some Facebook users have called out for more support, intentions of helping Mang Rudy stirred an online debate after claims that he breeds his dogs and sells them for meat.
In a statement, the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) said that in 2009, they conducted a medical outreach where Mang Rudy's dogs were treated for mange. But when the PAWS veterinarian went back two weeks after the vaccination, Mang Rudy "could not account for the animals that were missing," PAWS said.
"In the case of Mang Rudy, attempts by PAWS and other animal welfare organizations to help him have already failed because he has refused to have his animals neutered. Mang Rudy breeds his animals and he is using poverty as an excuse for these animals to be dying off at a fast rate [i.e. run over, etc.]," PAWS said in a statement.
In the interview with The Times, Mang Rudy denied accusations that he breeds and sells his dogs but said that other street dwellers would sometimes catch his dogs and slaughter them for meat without his knowledge. He also said he refused to have his dogs neutered or spayed because one of his pets died after the procedure.
Viral photos spark outrage PAWS Executive Director Anna Cabrera said that they still see the Mang Rudy Project as a "good sign" because it helped promote animal welfare through social media.
"This concern for animals is a good sign [because] it means so many people are concerned about the way animals are treated and the way that they emulate Mang Rudy, [we] take it as a good sign. That means, people are trying to [help], they care, and they are trying to emulate virtues like kindness to animals," Cabrera told The Times in an interview.
When Facebook reached the Philippine shore, the biggest social network started as a mere venue for connecting Filipinos with friends through the internet.
However, recently, social media sites have also become an avenue for raising awareness against animal rights violations as photos were shared and became trending topics across Facebook and even micro-blogging site, Twitter.
In March, netizens cried foul upon seeing a photo of a woman standing on a whale shark, locally known as butanding, in Oslob, Cebu province. Another photo, of a dog put inside a sack and tied at the back of a vehicle in Baguio City and posted by a concerned citizen in Facebook, also went viral and sparked outrage from Filipinos online.
Cabrera said reporting cases of animal cruelty through social networks does not only pave the way for the campaign to reach traditional media but has also helped educate the people on animal rights better.
In the past, cases of animal cruelty were not deemed newsworthy but through the help of the internet and proper education, "more people are [now] aware about kindness to animals and animal rights," she said.
She also hopes that more pet-owners like Mang Rudy would be educated of the benefits of neutering and spaying, citing animal overpopulation as the root cause of cruelty.
'Forgotten sector' Cabrera also lamented that the absence of an animal control office in most municipalities prove that animal protection groups lack support from the government.
"They have budget for beauty pageants, [and] cultural contests, but they don't have an animal control office which should adopt stray dogs and cats," she said.
She described the animal sector as the "forgotten sector" because "it has no budget in the local government, it is lacking in support, and that it has no champion from any government official."
"From the amount of calls that we get, from the outrage you see on social networking sites, from the reaction of media, it is already indicative that the demand is great for the government to address animal welfare issues," she said.
Although getting attention for animal rights protection through Facebook photos counts, Cabrera encourages Filipinos to do more than just clicking the like button.
"The raising [of] awareness is good by social networking and by typing out your own thoughts but to go a step further, by talking to people and educating them of animal protection count [more]," she said.
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