By Joe Zaldarriaga

Mr. Joe Zaldarriaga, fondly called “Manong Joe”, is a distinguished figure in the country’s corporate communications landscape. Holding the position of Vice President and Head of Corporate Communications at Manila Electric Company (Meralco), he has orchestrated unparalleled success for the utility company, winning accolades for their brand of service communications.
Under his guidance, Meralco achieved unprecedented milestones, clinching a historic 3-peat Company of the Year title at the IABC Philippine Quill Awards, scoring the only PR Team of the Year trophy bestowed at the Anvil Awards, and securing numerous honors at international and local communication awards.
Manong Joe’s leadership also extends as a respected member of the Board of Trustees for the Public Relations Society of the Philippines (PRSP), concurrent with his role as Chairman of the International Association of Business Communicators Philippines (IABC Philippines) where he also served as its President.
Manong Joe is a distinguished awardee of the medallion of honor and scroll of commendation from the University of Manila, owing to his years in public service as a communications professional. He shares his insights through columns in renowned publications, including The Philippine Star’s The Z Factor, and Philippine News Agency’s ESPRESSO MORNINGS.

During a recent weekend stroll, I noticed animal feeders for cats strategically positioned across a shopping mall in Makati City – a welcome development that I hope can be mirrored across the country.

But while these former strays have luckily found care and shelter, this is sadly not the case for all animals, most of which are cats and dogs who tend to be victimized by cruelty and abuse.

According to the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), there are 12 million stray dogs in the Philippines while a single female cat can be responsible for a feral colony of as many as 30 cats in a single year.

These are alarming figures that not only serve as a challenge for animal welfare advocates but also pose a threat to human health due to the possibility of getting infected by rabies and other diseases that can get transferred from animals to humans.

I brought up this concern in one of my conversations with a colleague at work, Michelle Caguioa, who is a strong animal welfare advocate, and she matter of fact informed me that improving animal welfare starts with addressing the overpopulation of strays. Caguioa further stated that by managing the population, even the risk of dreaded diseases, such as rabies, is seen to go down.

I, for one, have adopted two stray cats already but truly, we can only do so much to keep up and care for all the stray cats and dogs if their population keeps growing.

All animals deserve a good life, and this can only be provided if they can be properly cared for as pets instead of being viewed as pests.

While some would say that there are more pressing concerns that should be addressed in our country rather than animal welfare, I believe that this is a serious issue that merits attention from policymakers, especially since most Filipino households are pet owners, 64 percent to be exact.

Improving animal welfare contributes to improving public health conditions. By controlling the growth of the stray animal population through neutering, the risk of rabies can also be minimized.

After all, if we do not control the rapid growth of the stray animal population, the costs of procuring anti-rabies vaccines will only increase year on year. It is also my hope that by controlling the growth of the stray population, incidents of animal cruelty will also be drastically reduced until they become a thing of the past.

Of course, all of these are easier said than done but the sooner we act, the sooner we can effect change.

For example, local government units (LGUs) can partner with animal welfare groups for information campaigns, as well as advocacies encouraging the adoption of strays and how to control the population of strays, such as by conducting free neutering services.

Information campaigns should start with the basics on how to care for animals and that there is indeed an animal welfare law and hurting animals is punishable under the law.

The private sector, meanwhile, can partner with LGUs in support of animal welfare advocacies, provide support to advocacy groups, or institutionalize their own programs raising greater awareness of animal rights.

On the level of policymaking, lawmakers should revisit the Animal Welfare Act of 1998 to add more muscle by providing stricter penalties for animal abuse and cruelty. Hopefully, this can serve as a deterrent.

Overall, animal welfare is a multi-sectoral issue that should be collectively addressed at the grassroots level, all the way to the executive level. I have said before that a society that is cruel to animals is a broken society bereft of decency and good moral order.

Moving forward, may we always be reminded that our treatment of animals mirrors our soul as a nation.