MANILA -- For most people, moving homes is a tough decision that entails a lot of planning and effort.
For those with pets, it is even harder, as they have to consider the animal’s needs and make sure it is ready to survive the long journey to a new location.
An animal lover in Cebu managed to do just that -- in a short span of time, and amid a pandemic at that.
For her, her furbabies are her family, and should be treated as such.
CEBU’S ANIMAL RESCUER
Born in General Santos City, Charmane Esper has been working as a civil engineer in Cebu since 2015.
She started rescuing stray animals in 2017. But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, she started fostering animals, joining other volunteers as part of a trap-neuter-vaccinate-return program in partnership with Cebu City Animal Care and Control.
“Yung ibang tao, iniisip nila is 'yung mga rescuers, they find pleasure in picking up cats and dogs. Hindi po 'yun 'yung main na goal. Hindi po naming gustong magkolekta ng cats and dogs. Wala po kaming choice,” Esper said.
“Wala po kaming choice but to really help because yung mga animals, they are voiceless so if you cannot help them, sino po yung tutulong?”
Esper has taken care of more than 50 animals as they recovered from the spaying or neutering surgery. After their recovery, they are sent out to their adopters -- their “furever homes,” so to speak.
But she has also had her share of “foster fails” -- animals that failed to get adopted after their surgery -- whom she has now taken in as her own, and whom she loves with all her heart.
Cats Harriet, Veevee, Heidi, Wayne, Apollo, Nikka, Kiki, Meowmeow, Bobbie, Ran, Percy, Katie, Paloma, Cookie, August, and dogs Ferdie and Carcar live happily in Esper’s apartment where they are taken care of by her and roommate April Balinas -- and the apartment’s guard who occasionally steps in when they are out.
Esper has been in a long-distance relationship with boyfriend Joshua Javellana since 2015. After she finished her master’s degree, she tied the knot with him in April 2021. After that, she started planning the move to Iloilo to stay with her husband who is based there.
Esper was set to leave Cebu for good on August 3 to begin a new life an island away. But with the COVID-19 Delta variant spreading and Iloilo City placed under a hard lockdown, she had to speed up her plans.
On August 2, Esper got word that inbound travellers, save for returning overseas Filipinos, would be barred from entering Iloilo City to curb the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant.
Luckily, her husband was with her that day to help pack up their things and other belongings. But with the government’s pronouncement, they had to kick things into high gear.
“Wala na 'yung husband ko, pumunta na ng pier, kumuha na ng tickets. Hindi na kami nagkita after ng lunch. Ako bumalik ako sa apartment, I did the packing, trapping of the cats, then ensuring na all of the things na kailangan madala, especially for the pets na kailangan sa travel,” she said.
Esper started out by rounding up her cats, “yung mga gala. So sila yung dapat i-secure: Si Heidi, si Wayne, si Apollo, si Percy, si Katie, si Harriet.”
But it wasn’t easy picking up all the cats.
“Si Heidi, ‘yun ‘yung gusto namin unahin but 'di naman nakita because gumagala pa. Malapit na siyang maiwan.”
“'Di niya alam, akala daw niya kasi Tuesday pa daw,” Esper said in jest.
She placed all the animals in their own crates, one pet per crate. She covered each crate with a blanket to ensure the that travel will be less stressful for them.
“You can also put blanket inside para may familiar scent while travelling. At least ma-calm 'yung pets natin,” she said.
After getting swabbed for COVID-19, Esper hired a jeepney to take them to the port. Because all the pet crates already filled up the jeep, she rode in a separate taxi behind them.
She paid the jeepney driver P1,000 for his services.
When they got to the port, five trolleys were used to take the animals to the Iloilo-bound ship they took. Esper paid an P850 cargo fee for them.
Esper, however, stayed by her furbabies’ side during their nine-hour journey.
“Ni-request ko 'yung crew. Kasi 'yung barko, nasa 30+ lang 'yung passengers. Kasi nga pandemic. So may portion sa barko na economy side, may portion na kinlose nila kasi nga, konti lang 'yung pasahero so ni-request ko yung crew na doon na lang kami lahat, para na rin away from the other passengers na para kung mag-ingay 'yung mga aso, hindi sila ma-disturb.”
Except for Veevee who was noisy, she said all her pets were well behaved throughout their 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. trip.
Esper is grateful to the ship’s crew for being kind to her animals.
“Yung mga nagtatrabaho sa barko na sa mga machine, basta 'yung mga naka-orange, naka-uniform na parang jumpsuit, every time na dadaan sila 'yung pine-pet nila 'yung dogs,” she said.
“Friendly naman 'yung mga crew,” she added.
Esper said she wasn’t the only one who brought pets on board that day. Others also had a cat or a dog with them.
But she was the only one to bring more than a dozen animals with her.
“Noah’s ark daw,” she said in jest.
ANIMAL LOVER, THROUGH AND THROUGH
Esper said her love from animals grew over the years.
“I wasn’t like this before. Before, when I was still in elementary, meron kaming cats but they are not fixed,” Esper said.
“Yung love for animals, parang nag-grow lang siya over the years, kasi 'yun din po 'yung time na na-realize ko na love can be taught and learned through them. So, over the years, I realized na 'yung love natin for them, it’s not enough po para mag-survive sila,” she explained.
Esper said those who want to take on the responsibility of pet ownership need to do their research and honestly assess their capability to take care of pets.
“Hindi enough 'yung love para mag-alaga tayo ng pets. We need to be financially capable, we need to have the right knowledge. That can be done through research. May Google naman, meron din pong mga online vets and other people who are willing to extend their help especially knowledge, in educating,” she said.
Esper said those who cannot commit to a lifetime responsibility of taking care of pets should not get them in the first place.
“If you are trying to relocate similar to our case, or kapag nabuntis, or may mga major events in life, ‘di ba may mga nababasa tayo na they want to dispose their pets, kasi nga ‘di pwede daw sa new apartment, sa new place nila, allergic daw si ganito, ganyan. If we cannot commit to a lifetime pet ownership or commitment to your pets, huwag na lang po tayong kumuha ng dogs or cats,” she stressed.
For those planning to relocate with their animals, Esper said they need to plan their move months in advance. (Luckily, she had already prepared these for her pets before they had to quickly leave.)
She said owners need to prepare their pets’ health certificate and vaccine records, which are required to get a permit from the Bureau of Animal Industry.
Requirements, however, vary among local government units, and Esper advised owners to check with the proper authorities.
Esper is now slowly settling down in Iloilo with her furbabies, in a home with a garden where they can freely run around.
“Okay naman [sila], nag-start na ako palabasin sila sa room. Then nagro-roam na sila sa bahay,” she said.
She even added that the cats have their own cat room, where they have climbing posts and toys she bought from online shops.
Asked why she didn’t think of leaving her pets with her fellow animal lovers in Cebu, Esper said she didn’t want to “take the easier path.”
“Pet ownership is a lifetime responsibility. I don’t want to take the easier path, and pass the responsibility to others. Besides, they have their own challenges din, and I don’t want to be a burden,” she explained.
Esper now looks forward to connecting with new animal welfare advocates in Iloilo to help them out in whatever way she can.
“If nakapag-adjust na ako dito, I will form connections with other animal advocates, and perhaps continue TNVR in Iloilo. Hopefully, blessings continue to pour out in the future so we can share them to more animals, too,” she said.
“I think meron [akong] kasama na from Cebu, nag-relocate din sa Iloilo, so we will continue doing TNVR here. Soon.”