A special Valentine’s date
At about 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Cebu’s streets were filled with cars in bumper-to-bumper traffic amid the Valentine’s Day rush almost as if it were Christmas or New Year’s.
But along the busy F. Cabahug Street in Barangay Panagdait, bordered by the cities of Cebu and Mandaue, a gray Honda CRV stood out among several vehicles that were at a standstill.
Five dogs had come to greet the vehicle as it passed by a car shop where the animals had taken shelter.
As if in anticipation of something good, the dogs were all perked up, their eyes bright with their ears pointing up and tails wagging excitedly.
Just a few meters ahead, the car turned at a corner and parked.
Out came a woman, fair-skinned with short hair, carrying old newspaper pages.
She was accompanied by two men, one of whom was carrying a tin can on his shoulder.
As they made their way back to the car shop, the five dogs — three males and two brown females with black spots — trailed behind, tongues hanging from their mouths.
The woman in the car was Annalyn Aizpuru, manager of a tin can manufacturing company in Mandaue City, and this was part of her yearly tradition.
“This has been my tradition not only on Valentine’s Day but also on Christmas, New Year and any other holiday,” she told Cebu Daily News.
The two men with her — Jonathan Baldava, a stay-in worker at the manufacturing company, and her younger brother, Joseph — had to come to help her feed stray dogs in the area.
They laid down the old newspapers on the ground and poured a mixture of dog food and restaurant leftovers.
The gesture was gladly welcomed by Aizpuru’s canine friends.
As the dogs ate, the three moved on to the next car shop in the vicinity where six dogs were waiting.
The moment Aizpuru’s car passed by the area, the dogs there went out of their hiding places to greet them as well.
“It makes me so happy to know that they recognize me. They even recognize my car,” she said.
The 50-year-old Aizpuru, who has been an animal advocate for 30 years, said that many car shops in Cebu take in stray dogs to serve as “guards” but don’t put in the effort to feed them.
Separated from her husband, Aizpuru, a native of Bacolod City, has been single since 2008. Since then, the animals she feeds on the streets, as well as the ones she takes care of in her home and in her office, have been her Valentine’s Day companions.
She said she makes it a point to feed stray dogs in the area every day and asks other people to do it for her if time does not permit.
“I leave food so they don’t run out of anything to eat. They may live in these car shops, but all of them are stray dogs,” she said.
Aizpuru has been an animal advocate for over three decades, owing to her family’s love for all kinds of creatures, big or small.
Her father, four siblings, nephews and nieces, as well as aunties and uncles all share the same affection for animals, which she said influenced her to become who she is today.
In over 30 years, Aizpuru said her love for animals has never faltered, unlike people. She sees herself keeping the tradition until her old age.
“Sometimes, you get discouraged with people and you lose the love. But in the case of animals, I don’t. My love for them just goes stronger and stronger,” she said.
Aizpuru’s love for animals not only has her feeding stray dogs, but she also helped change the perspective of the people she has worked with.
Her brother Joseph, 25, said he enjoys tagging along with his sister because he is an animal lover himself.
“Ever since I was small, I have loved animals, not just dogs but all kinds. In Bacolod City, we used to have so many hamsters, birds, cats, turtles and fish,” he recounted.
Tin can factory worker Jonathan, meanwhile, said he has learned to appreciate dogs and cats more ever since he started helping Aizpuru three years ago.
“I used to only love chickens, but now, I enjoy feeding dogs too,” he said.
Sonny Miciano, the 58-year-old manager of one of the auto shops Aizpuru frequents, said he admires what the animal advocate does.
“It’s really commendable. Not a lot of people are like that,” he said.
On the other hand, car salesman Eddie Ouano said having worked with Aizpuru since 2010 has made him realize how precious the lives of dogs are too.
“Although these are stray dogs, they also have life,” said Ouano.
He added that because of Aizpuru, he is hopeful animals in Cebu can have better lives.
Aizpuru is the head of rescue operations for Island Rescue Organization (IRO), a Cebu-based volunteer group dedicated to helping animals in the region through rescue operations as well as education and advocacy programs.
Established in 2010, IRO will be celebrating its seventh anniversary this month.
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