The incredible saga of Wacku, a 6-year-old aspin (asong Pinoy) began in September 2012, when a drunk neighbor hacked off his upper snout with a machete.
Wacku was guarding his then-owner’s tricycle when he had an unfortunate encounter with the town’s troublemaker.
The pup, who could have spent his life tethered to a parked tricycle in a remote town in Northern Samar province, found himself at a rescue shelter in Quezon City after the incident. Five years later, he finally found a family for keeps.
Liesl Wilhardt from Eugene, Oregon, in the United States, said she fell in love with Wacku the moment she saw him in a video posted on social media.
“My first impression was that this dog was a survivor with an amazing spirit,” she said in an interview with the Inquirer.
“[In the video,] he got onto a man’s lap and wanted to be petted and loved,” she added. “My heart just about broke, realizing that even after such abuse by a person in his past, he still wanted to trust and love people.”
Luck and good hearts
After a long-haul international flight and about 13 hours on the road, Wacku was home. A combination of luck and good-hearted people made the pup’s survival possible.
After the machete incident in 2012, his then-owner, tricycle driver Amar Adrayan, brought him for treatment at the University of Eastern Philippines in Catarman, which had a veterinary teaching hospital.
Fortunately, members of the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) were then in town, conducting outreach programs to have pets spayed or neutered.
PAWS executive director Anna Cabrera said concerned students and faculty in the hospital shared Wacku’s story with them, prompting them to help out after they realized that the veterinary school may not be able to fully care for the animal which by then had undergone surgery.
Wacku soon found himself in his second home, more than 700 kilometers away, in the PAWS Animal Rehabilitation Center in Quezon City.
“When he first came here, he was very aggressive toward men,” Cabrera recalled. But the pup soon adapted to his situation and slowly warmed up to people.
Under Republic Act No. 8485, cruelty to animals only merited six months to two years of jail time and fines of up to P5,000. Delays hounded their lobbying efforts—until they presented Wacku at a House of Representatives hearing in November 2012.
“When Wacku entered, there was a collective gasp across the room,” Cabrera recounted. The dog was presented by the animal advocates as an example of grave cases of cruelty to animals.
“If we didn’t have him, (we) wouldn’t have gotten that response in order for us to move forward,” she added.
The amended Animal Welfare Act was finally signed into law in October 2013, raising the penalty for offenders to a year and six months in jail, with fines of up to P100,000.
Wacku’s case was also brought to court, but his attacker remains at large.
Despite the sympathy generated by his case, Wacku became one of the longest-staying dogs at the rehab center before his adoption.
“In a shelter situation, dogs with disabilities are usually the first to be adopted,” Cabrera said. “But it’s the opposite in the Philippines. Here, the more special or odd-looking you are, the less likely you’re going to get adopted.”
But a message in January from a rescue shelter and fostering network based in Los Angeles, California, became Wacku’s spark of hope.
Nikki Carvey, founder of Road Dogs and Rescue, said one of their followers on social media shared Wacku’s story with them.
“It just made me think, ‘I want him!’” she told the Inquirer. “I felt so sorry for him but I (also) knew that if we brought him to the United States, we’d find him a home,” she said.
Carvey said her shelter focused on bulldogs and special needs puppies — just the perfect place for Wacku.
Cabrera said she felt hesitant initially and saddened that Wacku could not find a home in the Philippines. “But after five years and with Road Dogs expressing interest, it got us thinking, why can’t we give this thing a chance? Wacku had waited long enough for a home.”
Cabrera personally traveled with the dog to the US on March 11. “Our parting got me teary-eyed; adoption is always a bittersweet moment,” she said.
Carvey said Road Dogs had received a lot of applications to adopt Wacku, but knew that Wilhardt, a fellow rescuer, was the right choice as soon as she expressed interest to have him as a personal dog.
Wilhardt had established Luvable Dog Rescue in Oregon 19 years ago, saving thousands of dogs from lives of neglect and abuse in the process.
“Wacku was very afraid of us at first … But the next morning, we were greeted by a happy boy, who seemed excited to meet us and continue his journey,” Wilhardt said.
His first walks in his new land were in the snow after a rare spring snowfall just when he arrived, she added.
Wacku has also adjusted to his newfound siblings, including Picasso, who was dubbed the “wonky-faced dog” by the media last year due to his facial deformity.
If possible, Wacku might work as a therapy dog for people with special needs, Wilhardt said. But for now, his heart might be content exploring his new home in the woods of Oregon.
“These dogs never gave up on people,” she said of Wacku. “They truly teach us to not hold on to negative experiences but to live in the moment. They also teach us about love, acceptance and hope.”
Cabrera, for her part, considered Wacku’s cheery attitude toward life as a lesson on relishing life, no matter what it brings.
“Wacku’s story tells us that all the time that (we) wait for something is just building (us) up for something great,” she said. “He showed us that no disability or deformity can rob (us) of the full enjoyment of life.”