𝐅𝐞𝐚𝐭𝐮𝐫𝐞𝐝 𝐃𝐨𝐜𝐮𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐌𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐡 𝐨𝐟 𝐒𝐞𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐦𝐛𝐞𝐫 𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟑

𝐀𝐧 𝟏𝟖𝟎𝟎 𝐝𝐨𝐜𝐮𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐚𝐧𝐧𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐜𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐜𝐮𝐫𝐫𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐝𝐨𝐠 𝐫𝐚𝐛𝐢𝐞𝐬 𝐢𝐬𝐬𝐮𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐩𝐥𝐚𝐠𝐮𝐞𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐏𝐡𝐢𝐥𝐢𝐩𝐩𝐢𝐧𝐞𝐬

Two events were celebrated last month, the Philippine Aspin Day on August 18 and the International Dog Day on August 26, 2023. Aspin is the abbreviation for Asong Pinoy or Philippine dog. Local networks even made it a point to announce and promote Aspin Day in the country.

Many archival documents created and preserved since the Spanish period are now kept at the National Archives of the Philippines (NAP). Majority of the documents are decrees on specific issues, on the establishment of towns and offices, on the registration of individuals born in the country, and other related documents. Historians and researchers alike have been going through these documents at NAP for decades.

Surprisingly, a document about dogs has recently been discovered. The notice, dated August 16, 1800, states that many dogs had been contracting rabies at an alarming rate. The presence of a dog rabies plague in the country was eventually announced and people were enjoined to be more vigilant in avoiding dogs infected by rabies.

Endemicity of diseases in the Philippines has existed in the islands for a long time since the Spanish colonial rule. The first epidemic of small-pox occurred as early as 1591. This disease periodically ravaged the population at that time. Campaigns against other kinds of epidemic diseases, including rabies, were also done.

No prophylactic measures were introduced to stop the small-pox disease until 1803, when Dr. Francis Xavier de Balmis used vaccination for the first time. He inoculated infants and young children with the vaccine developed against the disease. Early recipients were the children of Spanish authorities in Manila. The Central Board of Vaccination was created in 1806 for the production, conservation, and distribution of vaccines. The Bureau of Science under its Biologic Division assumed the function of the Board in 1900.

Governor General Don Luis Lardizabal admitted that the government’s knowledge on the infectious character of another disease, hydrophobia (the fear of water) existed. One gets it after being bitten by a rabid dog. However, with no vaccine in sight, he only came out with measures that should be complied with against sick dogs and other stray animals to prevent hydrophobia. The decree came out on May 11, 1840.

An immediate remedy was to cull stray dogs and bury them to ensure that no other disease would develop. People were allowed to have a dog, but the animal had to be tied in the house. If needed, as an additional precaution, owners could use a busal or mouth guard on their pet dog to keep the dog from accidentally biting anyone.

From 1850 to 1860, the rabies disease became rampant over a large portion of Spain. To curtail the spread of the viral disease, Queen Isabel II promulgated the Royal Order of Rabies Prevention and Health Protocol on July 17, 1863. The colonies, including the Philippines, were expected to follow the decree. Thus, the policy on the culling stray dogs in the Philippines remained in effect.

The extermination of stray dogs went on for decades. Manila and provincial Guardia Civil or local policemen were entrusted to enforce the edict to the letter. However, not all were in favor of the policy. A few gobernadorcillo recommended the cancellation of such inhumane regulation in 1883. Their appeal was not considered because no vaccine had been discovered yet to counter the dog rabies.

Louie Pasteur, considered the father of modern bacteriology, succeeded in formulating an anti-rabies serum. He also came out with the anthrax serum. He performed the first successful vaccination against rabies on Joseph Meister, who was bitten by a wild dog in Alsace, France in 1884.

In due course, the government as well as scientists in the Philippines used Pasteur’s vaccine as a preventive measure against rabies. They depended on the Pasteur Institute in the French-Indo-Chine (Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam today) colonies for vaccine supplies. It was the only nearest French colony to the Philippines.

The earliest batch of imported vaccines probably arrived before the turn of the 20th Century. Due to the lack of refrigeration facilities at the time, the benefit of the Pasteur treatment was only availed of after 1894. This was the year La Electricista began its operations as the first electric company to provide electricity to Manila. A freezer or a refrigerator could only work with electricity. As the serum was already available in the country, likely in limited supply, the price one had to pay to get inoculated, unless subsidized by the government, must have been expensive.

Under the American colonial regime, a general and systematic vaccination was undertaken in 1905. On the 19th of January, 1905, the Philippine Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA) was established by virtue of Act No. 1285. It was the first organization in the country to deal with animal welfare. It also had a veterinary clinic which provided services, and animal shelters. In recent years, it also provided cremation services for dead animals. For decades, it conducted rabies vaccination drives and campaigns.

When knowledge about animal life in relation to ecology and conservation became deeper, relevant acts were further enacted worldwide. In the Philippines, the Animal Welfare Act of 1998 was issued to protect and to promote the welfare of all animals in general. The Anti-Rabies Act of 2007 was approved for the protection of people’s right to health, mandating a system of control, prevention of the spread of rabies, and eradication of human and animal rabies in particular.

Animals who have been lauded as heroes, particularly dogs, have been recognized worldwide since the 20th century. Statues have been erected to memorialize dogs like Hachiko in 1934 whose loyalty to his master touched many Japanese; K9 military and rescue dogs who died in the line of duty in 2013; and Kabang in 2021, who in 2011 saved two students from a tricycle accident and badly damaged his snout.

Of late, a group is even considering to erect a monument in memory of the dogs culled during the dog rabies plague in the country during the Spanish period. Only time will tell if this will become a successful endeavor. Many local dog-lovers would certainly consider the move as symbolic of the country’s animal welfare program.

ALFONSO, IAN CHRISTOPHER. Dogs in Philippine history. Philippine Historical Association, Project Saysay Inc., and Alaga Publishing, 2023.

BANTUG, JOSE P. A short history of medicine in the Philippines, during the Spanish regime, 1565 to 1898. Manila. Collegio-Medico Farmaceatico de Filipinas, 1953.

MANUEL, MAURO F., et al. Eds. A century of veterinary medicine in the Philippines, 1898 – 1998. University of the Philippines Press, 2002.

RIZAL, L. LOPEZ. “Vaccination and smallpox in the Philippines,” Revista Filipina de Medicina y Farmacia, vol. xx, no. 7, Julio 1929. Philippine Health Service.