In the picturesque city of Baguio, the St. Bernard dogs, once celebrated for their heroic deeds in the Western Alps, find themselves at the center of a heated controversy. Tourists flock to the scenic spots like Mines View, Wright Park, The Mansion, and Lion’s Head for a chance to pose with these majestic animals, willing to part with P20 for a memorable snapshot. However, recent revelations about the working conditions and health of these dogs have ignited a fierce debate, pitting animal lovers against those defending the tourist-driven practice.
The spark of controversy ignited with the viral circulation of a post by Ms. Lizel Dorotan Borlagdan in the “Guardians of the Fur” Facebook group on April 1, 2018. Expressing distress, she recounted the troubling sight of a St. Bernard coerced into standing for pictures, visibly fatigued and ailing. The post gained widespread attention after various animal welfare advocate organizations, including Save Animals of Love and Light-Save ALL, reposted it.
As concerns were voiced by compassionate individuals, they faced backlash from those accusing them of breed ignorance. Despite the initial resistance, the legitimacy of these concerns gained traction when Tippi Perey, a member of the Save ALL group, conducted research. She probed whether the sedentary lifestyle imposed on these dogs in Baguio posed a risk to their health. Save ALL group admin Cynthia Barcial Santos echoed these concerns, leading to the involvement of a local vet in the discourse.
Save ALL shared the vet’s concern over the health of the dogs which she said will adversely affect their health. This post elicited more than 17,0000 reactions.
The vet, who preferred to remain anonymous, painted a bleak picture of the St. Bernard dogs’ working conditions. According to the vet, these dogs are overworked, subjected to long hours of posing for pictures, especially during peak tourist seasons. The vet raised crucial questions about the dogs’ access to water, particularly on hot days in Baguio, emphasizing the risk of dehydration.
Furthermore, the vet stressed that forcing St. Bernard dogs into a sedentary role goes against their nature. St. Bernards, originally bred as working dogs for tasks like digging and pulling sleds, require substantial exercise to maintain optimum health. Prolonged periods of inactivity could lead to severe health issues such as diabetes, kidney stones, and high cholesterol.
Beyond physical health concerns, the vet highlighted the dogs’ vulnerability to diseases. Constant interaction with humans during pictorials exposes them to potential fungal, airborne, or viral infections. The vet passionately advocated for a complete ban on such exploitative practices, expressing disappointment that Baguio, a city that has made strides in animal welfare, allows this to persist.
In response to the growing outcry, the City Veterinary and Agriculture Office (CVAO) conducted an investigation on November 7, 2023. The team, led by veterinarians Dr. Wilson Malingan and Dr. Hyden Luma-ang, visited popular spots like Wright Park, The Mansion, Mines View, and Lion’s Head.
The team reported finding dogs on display, provided with basic amenities like shade, chair, food, and water. However, none of the dog owners could present vaccination records or the required business/special permits. The lack of proper documentation raises questions about the legitimacy of their operations.
City Veterinary and Agriculture Officer Silardo Bested emphasized the need for responsible pet ownership, reminding dog owners of their obligations. He highlighted the necessity of obtaining special permits for using dogs as a source of livelihood through pictorials, signaling potential legal ramifications for those operating without proper documentation.
The controversial case of St. Bernard dogs used as tourist attractions in Baguio has unveiled a complex web of ethical, health, and legal concerns. While tourists seek joy in capturing memorable moments with these iconic dogs, the dark underbelly of exploitation and potential harm to the animals cannot be ignored. As the debate rages on, it remains to be seen whether the city will prioritize the welfare of these beloved creatures or continue to let commercial interests overshadow their well-being.
About the Author: Mariana Burgos is a freelance artist. She has been a solo parent for 16 years now because she is wife to a desaparecido. She and her daughter are animal lovers and are active in advocating not only human rights but the rights of animals as well.