The Gift

As a child, Nikko Villaverde’s parents let him own Aspins, named Ar Pichie and Hitler, so long as he was responsible for their care. They crossed the Rainbow Bridge early, at the ages of 6 and 7, and he began dreaming of owning a Siberian Husky.

But one day, coming home from a church service in 2004, he and his father spotted “Watzilei,” a plump neutered dog which was about to be slaughtered for “pulutan.” The dog looked sad, as if he knew what was going to happen to him, and the father and son took pity and asked to adopt the dog instead. He certainly found a better home; he was never caged or tied up because, Nikko says, he’s very good with people. He’s become devoted to his new family, particularly Nikko and his father, even escorting them as they leave the house.

While Nikko never gave up on his dream of a Siberian Husky, it was a Shih Tzu he acquired in 2009 to keep Watzilei company. The new arrival, Loki, was a frolicsome, loving animal, and later, when someone agreed to do a “puppy share” with Nikko, he acquired Lucy, a half-Pomeranian, half-Shih Tzu. Life with two toy dogs was bliss—until Loki suddenly passed away, leaving Nikko devastated.

It was then that Lucy gave birth, and Nikko found good homes for all her puppies, making sure to carefully monitor their growth and progress before turning them over to their new owners. But another blow was in store for him: Watzilei also died in January 2015. Nikko focused his love on Lucy, and in August of that year, the person he was in a long-distance relationship with helped him acquire Miho, his dream Husky.

Some adjustments were necessary; Lucy couldn’t keep up with the energetic Miho, and Nikko took to biking as Miho ran by his side. He loved his animals so much, he kept himself to a tiny food budget while splurging on the best food for Miho and Lucy.

While browsing Facebook, he found a group of like-minded Husky enthusiasts from Cavite, like himself, who were looking for people to “pack walk” with. Miho has made friends in the group, as has Nikko—who now has a second Siberian Husky, Gohan. He sheepishly admits he couldn’t resist, because his dogs complete his life and make him very happy.

Changing Kiyanie


This shoot featured single mom Michaellane Tavaco and her daughter Kiyanie Denisse Tavaco from Quezon City. Michaellane is an overseas Filipino worker who’s been in Dubai for 11 years, and she had to make the heart-wrenching decision to leave her daughter a year after Michaellane’s own mother died, due to financial pressures. “My daughter Kiyanie is smart, an achiever, and she was always [at the] top of her class,” she shared.

When Michaellane left, Kiyanie lost her drive to excel, losing interest in her studies and nearly getting expelled from school. Counseling revealed that the poor girl was missing her lola terribly and needing her mom in her life.

And that’s when Felicity entered the picture. “[Kiyanie] went to Tiendesitas and fell in love [with] a [Shih Tzu] puppy who barked [at her] and licked her face at the first shop she stepped in.” The dog’s papers gave her name as Felicity, but mother and daughter changed it to “Felicity Kianna,” after Kiyanie’s name. And that was the turning point. “Felicity became our family and Kiyanie became [more] responsible. She is now an engineering student, a scholar, and a loving fur mom to Felicity, who serves as her inspiration, companion, [and who makes] her feel secure. Even away from home, it pleases [me] to know that all is well, with my [mature], goal oriented, and determined daughter, and a loyal and caring fur baby,” Michaellane says proudly.

Michaellane is looking forward to coming home to Kiyanie and Felicity, who recently turned three and had a cheerful and fat puppy they named Phyllis. Their portraits now occupy a place of honor in their new house. And Michaellane considers this the best award she has ever received after all her battles in life.

The Watch

Cherlyn Gatchalian of Manila remembers that she had her first dog, named “Pulot,” when she was seven. His name came about because he’d been adopted off the streets. But after five years, Pulot was stolen, and the heartbroken Cherlyn refused to have a dog until she was already thirty.

She spotted a Labrador caged at Cartimar, and something about the dog melted her heart. Not having enough money to buy the yellow Lab, she offered her Rasta Casio watch as collateral—a wrench, as her fiancé had given it to her. But she sensed that if she didn’t get the dog immediately, she would lose it—and so the transaction was completed.

Cherlyn’s fiancé was surprised when she came home with a dog, but instead of getting angry, he simply asked what she was going to name the dog. “Casio,” was her prompt reply.

They both fell in love with Casio, who turned out to be a very affectionate dog who liked to “kiss” them awake in the mornings. Casio became very protective of Cherlyn, and waits for her to come home every day. “I can’t imagine life without my baby Casio,” Cherlyn smiles.

Puppy Love

Like many dog lovers, Hersielyn Vargas Beldomia has been one since she was a child, but she couldn’t own one as they had a small home and she had asthma. That didn’t stop her from aspiring to own a dog, and in 2011, upon visiting the home of a friend whose father had died, she came across a litter of puppies—one of which captured her heart. Picking up the puppy sealed the deal; her heart felt light and she was in love.

But she was not allowed to bring the puppy home because the owners knew her parents and were worried that Hersielyn’s parents would not approve of the dog. Poor Hersielyn wept, and promised the puppy she would be back.

After she left, the puppy vanished. In the meantime she’d made up her mind to go ahead and get the puppy. They found it hiding behind the washing machine; it only made a noise when Hersielyn arrived. They still refused to give the puppy to her as her father had sent word that he didn’t want her to have a dog, but Hersielyn insisted, and managed to bring the puppy riding a motorbike.

To everyone’s surprise, Hersielyn’s father adored the dog upon sight, and it was given the name “Nash.” Originally, she wanted to name it “Lucky” but her father asked that it be named after his favorite NBA player, Steve Nash. Nash also won over Hersielyn’s mother, and quickly became the family baby, thanks to his affectionate ways—“kissing” everyone and waiting patiently for her to come home. After Hersielyn’s mother suffered an accident, Nash became her constant companion; he was a stalwart, loving presence as the family went through the highs and lows of life.

Nash, she shares, now thinks he’s human too. Hersielyn believes it was the “red string of destiny” that brought her and Nash together, and neither she nor her parents can imagine life without him now.

The Guardian Angel

Says Patti Alicdan Barrientos of Cavite, “I [have been] a dog lover…since I was a kid and I have a lot of stories to tell about them. All of them are special, so every memory that we have with them [is] special too.”

Five-year-old Butukoy is a Shih Tzu-Poodle mix who was given to Patti by an aunt. “I would like to call him…’My Dad’s Little Guardian’ [because when we went through hardships and] our business [went] bankrupt…with the help of our grandmother, we were able to move to a smaller apartment unit. Because of the bankruptcy, my dad [was] devastated and fell ill. He was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, got really thin, and [became] bedridden.” Adding to their woes was that their family dog then had to be surrendered to the local pound because it had bitten a police officer.

“My dad was very sad and sickly; [he] almost died. [A] few weeks later, my auntdecided to give me [Butukoy because] she already [had] three dogs to take care of.”

When Butukoy first arrived at their home, Patti’s father was still confined to bed, but slowly, he began to recover. Though he was still weak, he was able to play with Butukoy, whom he called “the little dog”. “I decided to buy a dog leash so he [could] walk with Butukoy, [and a] few weeks later, they…started to walk every morning.”

Unfortunately, diabetes had damaged the nerves in her father’s legs, and so he shifted to biking a few months later. Butukoy went into a little basket hung on the bike, and biking soon became a routine for Patti’s father and the little dog. He recovered enough to be able to play tennis, and took Butukoy everywhere he went, even on the tennis court, and encouraged other players to take their dogs with them.

You could say Butukoy functions like an unofficial service dog to Patti’s father, boosting his morale and confidence, accompanying him to the grocery store and the market on their bike. When her father can’t go out, Patti plays with Butukoy, who likes to sleep on her bed and enjoys massages from her during his baths.

She laughs that, “One of his best traits is…a good memory. When he was a pup, he peed on our kitchen door. My mom got angry and made him sleep outside of the house as punishment. After two nights, I asked my mom to forgive him. After that, he never peed inside the house anymore; he’ll scratch the front door if he wants to go out topee or poop.”

Patti adds, “He knows when one of his family members will go out—most of the time, [it’s] my dad, when mom [asks] my dad to buy something, or if he hears my house keys…Butukoy then follows and barks if he wants to come with us.”


This appeared in Animal Scene’s January 2017 issue.