Nobody prepares us for when our beloved pets get old or get sick. Their needs change and as fur parents, we have to dedicate ourselves to their care. The harsh truth is that in the Philippines not every senior or specially-abled pet is given the same love and companionship that they need before they retire. While the country is home to multiple animal welfare organizations that reinforce the #AdoptDontShop mentality, the truth is not everybody gets the chance to be rehomed or adopted – but there is always a silver lining.
This is where BFFS (or Best Friends Furever Sanctuary) enters the picture. BFFS is the country’s first registered retirement home for rehabilitated animals. BFFS is dedicated to giving senior and specially-abled animals a chance to retire in a happy and healthy environment.
We had the privilege to know Mitzi Cruz, Director, and Co-founder of BFF Sanctuary. In this article, she shares her love for senior and specially-abled animals, her passion for volunteering, and how all of that led to her creating an organization altogether.
How it Started
Before founding BFFS, Mitzi began as a volunteer for a number of organizations including but not limited to PAWS where she is an active volunteer. This is also where it became very apparent to her that senior and special needs animals are often overlooked by adopters.
Without hesitance, she shifted her focus from regular fostering to only fostering senior and special needs animals. She shares “they often become foster fails because they don’t get adopted or they die of old age in my care. That’s how we evolved as a retirement home. We decided to make it a legitimate organization so that we can make their retirement a more comfortable one than we are able to provide without help from supporters.”
She adds, “Our pets are our best friends. Because our residents didn’t get a chance to be adopted from the shelter, we wanted to give them a chance to be someone’s best friend before they crossed the rainbow bridge. We wanted to give them a forever home. That’s the inspiration behind our name.”
Together with Tony Gavin, Tina Pimentel, Alice Sarmiento, and Nonoy Parlade, they started a movement to promote respect and appreciation for all animals, but especially for senior and special needs animals, or those who are often unwanted because of physical or behavioral flaws or abnormalities.
Their heart to serve focuses on providing the best life possible for these fur “oldies” and animals with special needs. Their experience becomes even more meaningful with the amount of love they receive from them. Mitzi mentions that while they have received affection and loyalty from other animals, the love that senior and special needs animals give back feels magnified somehow, because of the sacrifices they’ve had to make to care for them.
Howie, Hopia, and Tapsi
As we speak of love, let’s talk about these three beautiful souls who inspired BFFS to its fruition. In an exchange with the team, they told us the story of:
- Howie who was a senior, long staying shelter resident who always carried a sad face.
- Hopia, the fifth dog to be fostered who fell under the category of the “unwanted”.
- Tapsi the first cat to be rescued – he is both a senior and special needs cat who had no teeth and had to be on a special diet. He suffered from chronic kidney disease.
While they have already crossed the rainbow bridge, all of the 3 primary structures in the BFF sanctuary were named after them. There’s Howie’s House which is where dogs sleep, Hopia’s Park which is an off-leash park they’re planning on developing after enough funds are raised, and Tapsi’s Lodge which is the cats’ primary enclosure.
Without a doubt these three have opened up more doors for other senior and special needs animals to be homed, loved, and taken care of.
Taking in more fosters
Beside the three, BFFS was also gracious enough to share stories of other fosters who currently reside in their sanctuary. They told us the story of Bebegurl, Basilio, and Kyoto.
This girl was supposed to be just a foster pup who was going to be readmitted to the shelter. She was part of a litter of 7. The siblings were fostered by other PAWS volunteers, and she was picked because she was the runt. Little did they know that she had more problems than just being tiny and frail. We noticed her starting to lose balance at 5 months old. The vet treated her for possible ear infection. In just a matter of days, she became so completely paralyzed to the point that she couldn't even lift her head, and even her eyes turned white. Euthanasia was considered, but they made sure they exhausted all efforts to treat her first. The team had to be religious with her medication and massage therapy. Helping her down to the littlest things like eating and drinking. Little by little, she started moving parts of her body. They were moved when she stood up and held her weight for 5 seconds – 5 glorious seconds. Mitzi even started putting her on a makeshift harness so that Bebegurl can start moving her legs. She says, “Imagine celebration when she finally pulled herself up on her own and took those first few steps! It took her about 2 months to get to that point. Now at 2 years old, her hind legs are completely deformed and she is way smaller than the average Aspin, but she is a very good natured, happy dog. She is very introverted but very attached to her hoomans.”
Basilio was rescued from the home of an animal hoarder with dementia, then eventually adopted from PAWS. However, he was returned under unusual circumstances. The adopter was suffering from severe depression and begged Mitzi to take him back. She drove all the way from Quezon City to Bulacan to pick him up. He is very introverted (maybe the most introverted among my pack) and wasn’t really popular with adopters to begin with. And after being pampered, learning to trust, and experiencing a real home, she feared that being returned to a stressful environment might push him back further. That is why Mitzi decided to foster him instead. Of course that’s after she exhausted all efforts to find him a forever home, even featuring him on FB live on the PAWS page, but to no avail. That’s when she decided that he was meant to be hers. He does the weirdest, most memorable, and most mischievous things — getting stuck in a window, biting my partner, getting on top of the dining table, freaking out over the rain, and a heap of other things. But the amount of time and effort Mitzi’s spent to earn his trust has paid off in the form of exclusive affection reserved only to me.
Kyoto was fostered as a little kitten, along with 2 of her litter mates. At around 2 months of age, she was infected with Panleukopenia after being exposed to a newly rescued cat. Mitzi says, “I remember seeing her one morning completely debilitated, so I rushed to the vet where I was told that euthanasia may be the most practical thing to do, because her chances of survival were very low and the risk of infecting our other cats was very high.” However, Mitzi decided to do what was necessary to give her a fighting chance without putting our other cats at risk. This included medications, force feeding every 3 hours, subcutaneous fluids daily, and round the clock monitoring. She fought for over 2 weeks until she took a turn and started to rapidly gain back her strength and appetite. Her efforts paid off. What amazes us is knowing that kittens don’t usually survive this virus, but she did. Kyoto is still technically a PAWS resident under foster care with us, which means she is up for adoption or re-admission to the shelter when space becomes available. However, we are in no rush to see her get adopted because of how attached we have grown.
This proves that animals are capable of so much – old or debilitated doesn’t change that. They teach us so much about love, strength, – and they do it without expecting anything in return. We learned, fostering and nurturing isn’t really an easy task to undertake, no easy feat. Fostering means force feeding until one gets better and countless therapy sessions. But fostering also means seeing the beautiful transition of an animal from illness to healing, from despair to hope, and from anxiety to trust. Fostering is to give others a fighting chance at life.
These are just some of the few fostering stories that really moved us over at Grounded and we know there are more stories waiting to be told.
How It’s Going
BFFS is currently navigating the social media climate to get their message across. They would like everyone to know that BFFS is not a typical shelter that rescues strays. Their heart is in providing a home to unwanted shelter animals that are mostly senior or special needs. They explain “we can do more lifesaving work with each shelter animal who gets to live their golden years in a place they could call home.”
To provide a comfortable home for their fosters, BFFS is currently working on several projects. They mention, “Howie’s House is around 50% completed. We are happy that they have a spacious area to keep them from the sun and rain, but their house still lacks the basics like a utility area with a sink and running water, and cement walls and windows. Due to lack of funds, parts of their house were built temporarily with bamboo harvested from our own trees.” They also talk about other facilities such as Tapsi’s Lodge which is also at around 50% complete. It is also lacking a utility area and electrical wiring. They have an indoor area to keep them safe from the elements, but the team wants to give them more freedom and space to display natural behavior.
Although we’d love to see Howie’s House and Tapsi’s Lodge completed, BFFS are prioritizing safety measures around the sanctuary. A contractor has estimated P300,000 to complete the following projects:
- “Hopia’s Park” - A secure, off-leash area which is an extension of Howie’s House. This gives them more freedom to roam around and display natural behavior.
- Covered walkways - When it rains, the ground gets very muddy and slippery. Feeding and checking on the animals becomes very risky when this happens.
- A secure shed for the goats - Their shed is very small and currently covered only in tarp which will not withstand a big typhoon.
For those who wish to support BFFS or those who wish to be a BFF, you can:
- Donate towards the projects mentioned above. We would be grateful if some (or all!) of them could be sponsored by July as we have already entered the rainy season.
- Sponsor an animal or become a “BFF” (https://bffs.org.ph/become-a-bff/). This is our ongoing program which helps us feed our residents and provide them with the best care and a comfortable home.
Kindly, visit their donation channels: https://bffs.org.ph/donate/
- Paypal - https://www.paypal.com/donate?hosted_button_id=EKZEKJ3M8NPBY (BFFS)
- GCASH – 0917 333 7670 (Mitzi Estonilo)
- BPI – 4339 4483 67 (Mitzi Estonilo)
- Donations in kind: Paily Farm, Purok 3 Upland, Brgy. Sto. Niño, Magalang, Pampanga 2011
Featured photo is illustrated by Jennel Gaw