IIn the Philippines, dogs with a breed are most in demand – and best with a certificate that proves their origin. Whether Alaska Malamute, German Shepherd or Siberian Husky, the rule is: the purer, the better. Dogs that are partially pure-bred, known as may lahi or nalahian (literally “with breed” or “bred”), are slightly lower in the ranks.
AAt the bottom are the lower aspins, or Filipino dogs (a Portmanteau word that mixes with aso, or dog and pinoy, an informal term for Filipino). Also known by the more negative term askals (street dogs), these local mixed breed dogs differ in appearance and are often perceived by Filipinos as inferior in beauty and intelligence than dogs with “breeding”.
D.The above mentioned owners sometimes separate their dogs according to these ranks. An animal rights activist working for the Aspines describes how this tendency has developed in the past: “In a household, the common scenario was that an Aspin was outside as a watchdog while Shih Tzus, Pomeranians and Golden Retrievers shared the interior with their owners “Such owners would often only take their purebred dogs with them on walks or to the dog groomers.
TThe practice of certifying, evaluating, and ordering dog breeds is common around the world; for example, certain breeds of dogs in New York City have been linked to gentrification. What is special about the Philippines, however, is that the hierarchy of dogs runs parallel to how a certain group of people – Filipinos – are classified in terms of race or ethnicity.
JSimilar to dogs, Filipinos of recognizable foreign origin are celebrated, especially those of European or East Asian ancestry. Mixed legacy celebrities and beauty queens in the country are routinely described in popular discourse with the insulting terms “half-bloods” or “half-bloods” and praised for the attractiveness of their “foreign blood”. In contrast, those who have no manners are sometimes described as “no discipline”.
AAs an anthropologist, I find this parallelism between species deeply fascinating, as it shows not only how Filipinos see non-human animals, but also how we see ourselves. It is an example of how humans and dogs around the world have been entangled in a process of coevolution, coexistence and camaraderie for millennia.
R.Researchers agree that dogs were the first animal domesticated by humans 15,000 to 40,000 years ago, although they disagree on when, where, and how it happened.
IIn the Philippines, scientists estimate that dogs existed thousands of years before Spanish colonization in the 16th century. Archaeological evidence of remains of domesticated dogs, including a dog buried next to a human child between the 12th and 15th centuries, suggests that dogs were considered valued companions. This likelihood is confirmed in folkloric accounts in which dogs play a prominent role. For example, in Biag ni Lam-ang, an epic that was narrated among the Ilocanos in the northwest of the Philippines, the epic hero Lam-ang had a magical dog.
B.he colonial encounters with Spain changed Filipinos’ view of dogs – and of themselves. In a world where whiteness enjoyed privileges, people with foreign pedigrees – and certain physical traits such as lighter skin – had more opportunities to live. This provided a form of power that scholars today call “racial capital,” or the socio-economic benefits that one’s racial identity confers.
S.Beginning in the 19th century, scientific racism gave shape to these notions of privilege by attempting to divide the human species into biological races and to organize them into a hierarchy. (These ideas have since been discredited, and anthropologists today recognize the reality of the race not as a biological but as a “culturally created phenomenon.”)
As in other parts of the world colonized by Europeans, foreign dog breeds came to the Philippines along with their human counterparts. They became cherished pets, first to the colonizers and eventually among the Filipino elites. At the same time, other Filipinos continued to keep native dogs as all-round companions: part pet, part safety, and for some, a source of food as well.
The author enjoys the company of a village dog named Blacky while hiking in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Bulacan Province in the Philippines. Gideon Lasco
C.olonisizers came up with the idea of paying tribute to “pure-bred” dogs, which emerged in England during the Victorian period around the same time as scientific racism. Proponents of these ideas believed that some dogs had fixed breeds or lineages and that these “pure and ancient” breeds were superior to the “half-breeds”. However, popular breed names were based on arbitrary traits that were perpetuated through invented classifications and breeding practices.
IIn many ways, the creation of dog breeds reflected how categories of human races were created, defined, and organized. It is no coincidence that some dog breeders were also early proponents of the eugenics movement, the unethical and dangerous idea that human populations can be “enhanced” for “positive” traits through selective breeding.
In the early 20th century, human-dog relationships changed again in the Philippines. At the beginning of the US occupation of the country, the role of dogs in the diet of the Filipino people was exaggerated. Filipinos were exoticized and disparagingly referred to as “dog eaters” – a racist label that still shapes the Filipino-American experience to this day.
IIt is intended to be a reminder that relationships between humans and dogs vary significantly depending on the place and time – but the powerful often determine what types of relationships between species are considered acceptable.
F.to this day, and status continues to determine the types of dogs found in Filipino households and the roles they play. Breed dogs continue to grace upper and middle class households.
E.Although purebred breeds tend to have higher rates of genetic defects due to inbreeding and can be difficult to care for due to their unsuitability for tropical climates, they typically live longer than their native counterparts. According to veterinarian and anthropologist Michael Tan, class differences are why purebred pets live longer.
“Yes, it’s the upper class who can afford to pay thousands of pesos for a purebred dog or cat, ”says Tan. “And while they can have all kinds of genetic disorders, their people can afford the best possible veterinary care, as well as better nutrition and housing that are sometimes superior to the poor.”
ÖOn the other hand, native dogs often live in poor urban and rural communities. They are sometimes left to their own devices on the street, leading many residents to attribute negative traits such as bad smells and bad behavior to these dogs. Similar to how human differences are mapped to breeds, dog characteristics are “naturalized” in order to legitimize a hierarchy based on the breed.
C.However, categories can be challenged – and this applies to both humans and non-human animals.
IIn the late 2000s, when the Philippines revitalized their football team, they were nicknamed “Azkals” in reference to the “half-blood” nature of the players, many of whom were overseas. The name also refers to the resourceful, resilient character of the players and, indirectly, perhaps to the perceived “underdog” status of both the team and the nation compared to global competitors. By embodying a new identity that includes perceived traits like fair skin, the soccer players are also helping to change the perception of what it means to be Filipino.
M.This discourse is being fooled by increasing efforts to advocate for native dogs. In 2006, the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) hosted a “Native Dog Beauty Contest,” which resulted in news reports extolling the virtues of the Askals and recommending that they be referred to by the more positive name Aspin instead. One newspaper columnist noted the remarkable change that had taken place in just a few years: “I have seen the native dog or aspin build their own loyal following among animal lovers.”
ÖUR LATEST CAMPAIGN❤️
Actress & animal lover Heart Evengelista speaks again for the underdogs in PAWS ‘new campaign “HAVE A HEART FOR ASPINS”. It is a call for better aspine treatment and encourages people to adopt aspens from animal shelters rather than buying them from pet stores. pic.twitter.com/1Tu9DsoG7o
– PAWS Philippines (@PAWSphilippines) August 20, 2018
The Philippine Animal Welfare Society is campaigning with Filipino celebrity Heart Evangelista for the adoption of Aspins, mixed breed dogs.
W.As this news explicitly only talked about dogs, these discussions are not separate from comparisons between people based on race and nationality. “When someone says you’re just an askal, it’s like saying you’re just a pinoy,” as a PAWS veterinarian said, referring to the well-known demonym for Filipinos. “Does that reflect how we see ourselves?”
IWith that in mind, it’s worth noting that some depictions by Espins flip this script by referring to the positive traits these native dogs share with Filipinos. As one newspaper writer put it, the stubborn but affectionate nature of her donkey is what makes her beloved dog “real, so Pinoy”.
C.Heart Evangelista encourages people to see the mix, race or race, as pride rather than embarrassment. Evangelista, who starred in an ad for PAWS with her dog Charles, a “half terrier, half native dog,” was quoted as saying, “I have a mix of Filipino, Spanish and Chinese blood. So I am too a mixture of ‘many races’. “
“You can be proud of that “, she added,” because Filipinos and Aspins are ” [both] 100 percent beautiful. “