The exact location is a secret. But among the hilly fields of Laguna lies a protected area known as the Laguna Pitbull Sanctuary, a safe haven for rescued pitbulls. Eight years ago, these dogs were held captive for an underground dogfighting venture—think sabungan, but with malnourished dogs. Now, this sanctuary provides these tender animals with a new forest home and friendlier company; volunteers who can walk, feed and play with the pitbulls.
Although often misunderstood, pitbulls crave human love and affection. Regardless of the myths, their eagerness for affection, human interaction, and wide open spaces is exactly what makes the Laguna Pitbull Sanctuary the special rehabilitation center that it is.
In 2012, CARA Welfare Philippines, a non-profit, non-government organization that focuses on animal welfare, established the Laguna Pitbull Sanctuary after rescuing these dogs from a Korean syndicate. Since then, around 80 rescued pitbulls have found themselves new homes, while 30 still reside within the sanctuary.
One of CARA’s core team members is Patricia Gayod, a student from the University of the Philippines-Manila. Her volunteering journey began in 2018, when she worked for a student-led environmental organization that introduced her to the sanctuary. Today, Pat is a member of the adoption team in CARA, where they facilitate the adoption process for rescued dogs.
What’s the story behind the Laguna Pitbull Sanctuary? Can you tell us more about what dogfighting is, and how the rescue operations began?
PAT: Dogfighting is basically when two pitbulls are deliberately underfed—or not fed at all—to make them very vicious, so that the moment they see each other, they try to attack each other to the death. It was a Korean syndicate that capitalized on the whole operation; people would bet or gamble on certain dogs and if [their] bet wins or successfully kills the other, they would earn money. It’s a very popular form of entertainment in other countries too, and usually they choose pitbulls because of their supposed aggression.
In 2012, someone reported that there was an underground dogfighting site in Laguna. A lot of organizations went [to look] into it, but it was CARA who really took on the project. Luckily, a few years after the [first few] successful rescue operations, the Korean embassy gave us (CARA) the funds to find land where we could house the pitbulls and rehabilitate them.
Is it true that volunteers for the Laguna Pitbull Sanctuary need to keep the location a secret?
PAT: Yes. Until now, we don’t disclose the actual location because it’s still dangerous for the dogs, especially with the syndicate. Dogfighting is a business after all, so we don’t know what they would do if they found the location. It’s one of the reasons why the process of getting to the site is very strict. Volunteers need to fill out a form, submit ID photos. They’d have to get cleared, and once [they arrive] at the site, only the people who filed a [volunteer] application are allowed to enter.
It isn’t just a simple “feeding” program—you get to really go deep into the rehabilitation process with the dogs. So after that [experience], I was hooked.
There’s this notion that people who volunteer for animal welfare organizations like CARA Welfare are animal lovers by nature. Would you say it was the same for you? Is this why you started working with the sanctuary?
PAT: I have been personally taking care of a rescue dog for 11 years now, [and] although I’m more partial to cats than dogs at the moment, I still enjoy going to the pitbull site, because you get to really see how happy the pitbulls can be. I started volunteering at the Laguna Pitbull Sanctuary two years ago, when I was president of UP One Earth. Because [our] advocacy was about the environment, I decided to venture into animal welfare, since the environment captures both humans and animals. I was looking for organizations [that we could work with] and I discovered the Laguna Pitbull Sanctuary through CARA. I thought, “Sige, let’s visit.”
I’d volunteered for other animal welfare organizations in the past, but for some reason, it’s very different with the Laguna Pitbull Sanctuary. You can tell that the volunteers are very serious about it. I really liked how they handled the dogs and how they fostered interaction between the volunteers and the pitbulls. It isn’t just a simple “feeding” program—you get to really go deep into the rehabilitation process with the dogs. So after that, I was hooked.
What do you think sets the Laguna Pitbull Sanctuary apart from other animal welfare organizations you’ve previously volunteered for?
PAT: I think that [our process] is very intricate. I can’t speak for other organizations, but for people working in the Laguna Pitbull Sanctuary, you can see how everyone is so passionate and hands on. We work 24/7, so no office hours—which is both a good and bad thing. We’re so strict because we’ve had a lot of bad experiences with adoptions. [Anyone] wanting to adopt any of the dogs right now would require [going through] a long process.
For example, the adoption process requires volunteering at the center twice, going through a phone interview (which I usually take charge of), and then having the team conduct a home visit to see if it’s suitable [for the dogs]. We’re also very strict about the way the dogs are treated; we disapprove if they are put on a leash or confined inside a cage or forced to stay outside the homes. We’re very particular; we take that extra step in ensuring the dogs are well taken cared of.
What would you say has been the best or most fulfilling part of the job for you?
PAT: The most fulfilling [part] would definitely have to be the feeling you get when a dog gets adopted. I’ve personally managed two adoptions, which is not a lot, but it’s really nice because I was able to witness the changes. For example, the super aloof dogs—the type that don’t have a care in the world—end up getting super clingy after adoption. It’s always fulfilling to see that even after all the trauma and abuse, they can still live a happy life even if they only have a few good years left in them.
Even adopters who seem chill at first [eventually] become so clingy with the dogs after the adoption. We don’t even ask for it, but they’d send us a lot of updates about their pitbulls. A lot of adopters end up making social media accounts for their dogs. [We’ve also had] cases of foster parents—those who apply to care for the pitbulls for a certain amount of time only—[who] end up adopting them completely. They tend to really fall in love with the dogs in the process—and that’s fulfilling.
It’s inspiring and heartwarming to see that pitbulls can learn to trust again after experiencing those [harsh] conditions.
What’s one of the most important things you’ve learned while working with the Laguna Pitbull Sanctuary? Is there anything that you wish more people knew about pitbulls, or dogs in general?
PAT: In general, a stigma exists around pitbulls... that they’re always fierce or aggressive, sometimes dangerous creatures. But I’ve learned that a dog’s disposition actually depends more on their treatment: if a dog is treated badly, he or she will act more viciously. But if a dog is treated well—if they’re not caged the whole day, or conditioned to fear humans or attack other dogs—they’ll be good.
What I also like about working with CARA volunteers is how I’ve learned to be even nicer to animals. I thought I was already great with them, like with stray dogs and cats, but whenever I hang out [with LPB volunteers] or when we’re driving around and we see a stray dog or stray cat, they would always have dog food or cat food to give. It’s such a small gesture, but you can see [how] they really care about animals. Their volunteering is not two-faced.
Animal cruelty seems to be an issue that not a lot of people give notice to or care to do much about. How do you think people can be encouraged to take better steps in the way we treat animals?
PAT: Stray dogs, cats, and animals in general are so harmless that they don’t deserve to be hurt. It may sound a little weird, but it’s more of a compassion thing, really. When you know they’ve done nothing wrong, you’ll [realize] that they don’t deserve to live under such harsh situations—like dogfighting, which is what the Laguna pitbulls went through. I feel like it’s important to make sure that they go to good homes because they [never] deserved the bad things that they had to go through.
I’m sure there are other more important advocacies that are related to humans, but that’s why [animal welfare] is important to me because I care about them. I like humans just fine, but animals have done nothing wrong, so I just feel really bad every time I witness them being mistreated.
Pitbulls are often seen as a terrifying or dangerous breed, but in truth, they’re one of the sweetest friends you could ever play with.
Any parting words for those who are thinking about visiting the Laguna Pitbull Sanctuary?
PAT: The Laguna Pitbull Sanctuary is one of the best places to volunteer because of the way we handle the interactions and participation of the volunteers. It’s a very hands-on experience: you really meet the dogs, you get to walk with them. Compared to other places, it’s different because the dogs would mostly be inside a cage, and you’d just give [them] food, sit back, and observe. It’s inspiring and heartwarming to see that pitbulls can learn to trust again after experiencing those [harsh] conditions. Pitbulls are often seen as a terrifying or dangerous breed, but in truth, they’re one of the sweetest friends you could ever play with.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.