An idea that many used to have is that “volunteering is reserved for those who have it easy” — the ones who have fortune to spare. In the last few years, however, people have began to realize that there’s more to it than just money and possessions. That at its core, volunteering’s just about having the heart, the will, and the time to make things happen.
One of the things that iVolunteer never takes for granted is the opportunity to meet some of the most hard-working and incredible Non-government Organizations (NGO) and volunteers in the Philippines. We take pride in knowing their stories and with them being an important part of ours. Therefore, as we celebrate our 10th year and move onto a new chapter, we decided to put more effort in showcasing their captivating and heartwarming stories. Stories that we hope would inspire you to be part of the iVolunteer journey today and the years to come.
Luzviminda & Ritchelle’s Animal Rescue PH
It was at BayaniRun 2018 when iVolunteer met Animal Rescue PH, the first time that the pet-loving ‘community’ of two (2) would be part of a major iVolunteer event. But even before then, Luzviminda and Ritchelle have already been helping stray cats and dogs for 22 years, which began in 1997 when Luz, who was then in high school, first rescued a blind cat on her way home.
When I asked what prompted her to do so, she said, “Kung hindi ko siya aampunin, baka kasi masagasaan. Ako na po kasi yung nakakita, hindi naman po tama na magbubulag-bulagan pa ako (If I don’t adopt him, he could get ran over. I was the one who saw him, it didn’t feel right to turn a blind eye).”
What makes Animal Rescue PH different
When we visited them in Tondo, we already had an idea on why this NGO is different and why we feel it’s important to tell their story. Upon mention, you might be inclined to imagine that they’re a huge and well-funded org. However, as Luzviminda would describe, they’re far from an ideal NGO that we see on digital media and print.
“Nakikita ko sarili ko sa kanila. Galing sa broken family, syempre alam ko kung gaano kahirap yung walang nag-aalaga.”Luzviminda Morales
Animal Rescue PH, in essence, is really just Luzviminda and Ritchelle. Instead of an animal shelter, all of their rescued pets reside in their small barung-barong in Tondo. When we arrived, we were greeted by four of their rescued dogs and soon introduced to about 60 cats that they picked up from some of the most rugged streets in Metro Manila.
One of the animals that immediately caught our attention was Batic, an ‘askal’ who barely looked like one because of his huge size that’s reminiscent of a pit bull. Batic weighed a whopping 25 kilos, which made our photographer Noelle think twice about lifting him in her arms.
To pet him, Ritchelle has to be around since Batic’s still sensitive to people after being abandoned for most of his life. Between the couple, Luzviminda admitted that her husband is like the Cesar Millan of Tondo.
Another stray, who celebrated her 3rd birthday recently, is Marga. When she was found, Marga had a bloated tummy due to organ inflammation and gastric problems. Her heart and kidney were also failing, and was basically 50/50 by the time she was rescued. Miraculously, she’s doing so much better now, thanks to the couple and the vets who helped in her operation.
Even though she’ll now need lifetime medication and support due to her ailing kidney, Luzviminda and Ritchelle have strongly expressed their determination to not give up on Marga and the rest of their adopted pets.
What it’s like to have 60 cats at home?
It’s crazy. It can be fun. But even Luzviminda concedes that it’s not always the case. Sometimes, the Animal Rescue PH matriarch would even ponder about not taking in additional cats. But, alas, the couple would end up picking up another starving kitten from the street.
Them, being at Tondo, makes it all the more difficult. As Ritchelle said, a cat killer is on the loose. If that guy didn’t think twice on slaying a neighbor’s Siamese, then what more if he saw their strays?
With threat looming outside, the couple decided to barricade their home with wooden planks and chicken wires so that their cats, all 60 of them, won’t be able to go out. They keep most of them upstairs nowadays, while a few that are still recovering are caged below in the kitchen.
One of them, from Quiapo, had half of his neck skinned and was on the brink of death when the couple came to its rescue. That cat, fortunately, survived and is now well on its way back to full health.
Luzviminda and Ritchelle would often churn out whatever they can to provide for their pets, whom according to them are like their own children. The couple don’t have any kids, but we could tell how much happy they were with their extended family of cats and dogs.
The rest of Animal Rescue PH’s supplies come from donors and sales from Cats and Dogs Merchandise PH, which is important since Luzviminda, an HRM graduate, is now taking care of their pets full time. A familiar face, in Bubble Gang’s Kim Domingo, also occasionally helps out in endorsing their merchandise and providing support, while donations in kind from volunteers would often round up the food and medicine needed to sustain the life of the strays that the couple are taking care of.
Looking after homeless pet owners
Animal Rescue PH, despite all its challenges, still conducts a monthly feeding program for strays. This, of course, is possible with the help of volunteers who come in monthly to put in the effort and time to make it their mission. With Luzviminda and Ritchelle at the helm, the volunteers visit places like Smokey Mountain to help distressed animals and pet owners.
It’s a little known fact, but one of the things that Animal Rescue PH also admirably does well is provide a bit of support to homeless people and their pets by giving them basic needs like food, water, and rice whenever they can.
Luzviminda also happily shared that most of their volunteers do come back because they enjoyed and treasured the experience. There was even a time when someone adopted a stray cat. Though, both Ritchelle and Luzviminda wish that more individuals would also consider adopting the cats that are already at their home.
According to them, while stray dogs usually get adopted fairly quickly, the opposite is the case for felines which are now at 60 (down from 80), and are in desperate need of a new home.
Being an ‘Independent Solo Rescuer’
Back in BayaniRun, Luzviminda and Ritchelle looked really shy and weren’t sure if they belonged. Meeting them again here, with all their adopted pets allowed me to see a more relaxed version of the couple and understand their incredible story even better.
During our visit, I was also able to ask Luzviminda on what inspired her to help stray animals, particularly cats and dogs. Her response made us realize that this personal project bears more weight for her than people usually think. In our conversation, she honestly shared how being raised in a broken family made her feel for the animals who don’t have anyone to look after them.
Seeing herself in them, she began adopting strays and would later on establish Animal Rescue PH with her husband Ritchelle.
“Mahirap lang naman kami. Ito lang yung kaya namin,” Luz said at one point, as if they’re not already doing something that all animal lovers would surely be proud of.
The truths is, despite all the things they lack, Animal Rescue PH have shown more than enough to serve as inspiration to others. In fact, we hope that Luzviminda and Ritchelle’s story would encourage more people to come together and give stray animals a second chance at life and a loving place to call home.
For donations in kind and inquiries you can reach Animal Rescue PH on Facebook or text Luzviminda on this number: 09234256793. You may also purchase their merchandise at Cats and Dogs Merchandise PH to support the food and medication of all the animals under their care.
Photos by Noelle Anne Reyes, Volunteer Engagement & Branding, iVolunteer.