Samantha Suppiah
7 min readDec 4, 2023

“What’s the reason for calling for Barangay mediation? What outcome do you wish to come into effect?” a friend loosely translated the question stated in Tagalog on the formal complaint form.

I had to clarify this translation a few times. I thought it was pretty clear that I was looking for justice, rehabilitation and health. Perhaps I needed to be more explicit. Suspending my bewilderment for a brief moment, I took up the pen and wrote,

“I dunno,” I said under my breath, “Isn’t it obvious? I mean, actual crimes are being committed here. Like, according to Philippine law. Which they are mandated to enforce.”

“They just need you to clarify what you wish to achieve as outcomes,” my friend replied, pointing to where I should date and sign.

“I just want her to stop dumping sick kittens at my house,” I muttered, bringing the pen up to where she had pointed.

After some classic 70’s Filipino Xerox action inflicted upon lined hard-covered notebooks with stamps, signatures and dates (a.k.a. “certified true copies”), we found ourselves in another air-conditioned room on the upper floor where two men bellowed professionally to each other. This is now completely normal to me — I had learned early on that increased vocal volume helps greatly in Filipino comprehension, especially in enclosed spaces in local government offices.

The Barangay Secretary grasped their copy of the complaint letters I had brought, compiled from a few different households.

“We are scheduling a mediation hearing,” he confirmed. “If the offender does not attend the first, the second, or the third, we will then have a mandate to take immediate direct action against them.”

“My priority is the safety of the animals,” I asserted. “I am still trying to secure the assistance of a shelter that can give them the care that they need.”

“Noted. The animals are not under our responsibility. For that,” he drawled, eyes glazing over, “you will speak to your housing association, or the City Vet, at City Hall.”

Behind the City Jail, tucked in an alleyway at the back of a motorcycle parking lot, hidden by a mini-hydroponics set that annoyed me far, far more than it should’ve, was where we found the City Veterinary Services Office.

A friendly but malnourished free-roaming calico cat with an intermediate ringworm condition greeted us atop the massive vaccine storage icebox adjacent to the door to the office.

A small sliding window opened and a young woman’s head leaned out at an awkward angle. “Yes po?” she sang.

Inside, 20 staff appeared to be engaged in a telenovela gossip session.

“We’re here to make a complaint about a neighbour who is hoarding animals,” I spoke like a pre-teen student reporting for detention.

We were not invited in. A different member of staff stepped outside with a card folder and a complaint form. We tried to explain the situation but he didn’t seem interested.

Another member of staff showed up a while later and was more able to make eye contact, listen, and actually answer questions we asked about the City Vet’s procedures for such cases.
“All confiscated animals are surrendered to the City Shelter,” she said. “They have a good budget and the facility is well-stocked. The City Vet visits every so often. We have animals there up for adoption as well.”
She pointed to a clipboard hanging on the window, listing the City Shelter’s adoptable cats and dogs.

“Where is the facility?” I asked.

“Behind the crematorium in Barangay Ilaya,” came the dreaded reply.

After a detour to ask for directions, we pulled up to the City Shelter just as I remembered that I had forgotten to brace myself. This was, after all, my first in-person visit to a Philippine animal shelter. Regardless, I needed to see for myself what would happen if the dogs and cats from my neighbour’s deadly hoarding situation were to be surrendered here.

The crematorium and the shelter appeared to be new-builds, with the entire interior budget apparently spent on white tiles and 90’s style single glazing. All seven or eight of the shelter staff appeared to be waiting for us outside the building, haphazardly fostering nervousness.

A man in a red shirt and jeans approached us as we alighted from the car.

“What brings you here?” he scowled in a manner that suggested he was constipated.

“We just made a complaint at the City Vet regarding a hoarding case and decided to come to visit the City Shelter to see the facilities,” I explained.

He looked at my older friend, May, who spoke in a lighthearted manner and said something else entirely in Tagalog. The man’s shoulders loosened slightly and his weight shifted the way someone with something to hide does.

We were escorted into the facility. “No photos,” red shirt man insisted repeatedly.

There was an open-plan kitchen the size of what you might find in a London studio apartment. A large aluminium wok was perched on a gas stove, where a taller man spent a disproportionate amount of energy and enthusiasm showing us that he had just been cooking for the animals. The wok was half-filled with rice porridge and a small proportion of unidentified ground meat, likely sawdust.

There were four rows of dog pens, each about 1.5m by 1m in area, and 1m in height. The walls were tiled concrete and they were topped with steel matting. Most of them were empty.

In the middle of the hall was a drainage zone, where neglected, malnourished, sick, dying, dead and half-eaten cats were overcrowded into small wire cages over drains.

On the far right hand side of the hall was an empty cattery.

May didn’t stay long, she had seen enough, excusing herself in favour of a smoke behind the crematorium.

I walked around to the far aisle and peered into the cat cages from about 4m away. One half-eaten kitten had their torso chewed neatly open. No organs were left inside. They had most likely died in the night.
Their gaunt siblings were clamouring over them, screaming for food, for space, for relief, for anything, eyes swollen with pus from a viral infection, most likely feline parvovirus.
What good would food do? They would be dead in a day or two.

My other friend had followed me, but this is where she turned around to leave. As she passed the man who was enthusiastic about cooking, she told him there was a dead kitten in one of the cages. He had been reaching for one of the stacks of new, unused cages folded up along the shelves lining the far side of the hall, in response to a comment from May that cats cannot be kept in overcrowded cages like that.

I kept a neutral expression as I stepped into the drainage area. It’s a face I often hold in museums and art galleries.

Here I was surrounded by feline zombies, already doomed to their deaths. None of them looked healthy enough to survive the week.

I stared into the eyes of one who seemed unable to lift their head, eyes wide with fear. They had just hours left.

I closed my eyes and prayed.

I left as the staff began to remove the dead kitten’s body.
I walked back around to the first aisle to greet each of the dogs, most of whom were completely depressed, many were sick or infested with parasites.

I crouched to enter one of the empty pens. It was clean, and big enough for a cat to be comfortably held, but certainly not for a dog. I said a prayer for all the dogs that would be held in this particular pen.

This isn’t a shelter.
It’s a death camp.

None of the staff seemed to care.

The bodies are merely transported 20m away to the crematorium.

This is a Metro Manila municipality known for offering City Vet services that are often described, in independent grassroots stray care circles, as “better than the others”.

One shelter, Pawssion Project, takes the massive responsibility of “clearing the pounds” as often as they can. They literally go in and adopt every animal, rehabilitating them and giving them space to roam on their protected grounds, reportedly next to a pig farm and slaughter facility.

This is shit you just don’t make up.

And this phrase, this sick and disturbing phrase that I hear uttered daily now — “We are human, but they treat us like animals.”

Can we just be very clear..
No living thing should be treated the way humanity treats animals.

Imagine veganism.
Imagine Jainism.

.. How?

How can we even start to think about rehabilitating this system to usher in one of care? Surely it is not productive to stay in that paralysis.
New ways of fostering a culture of fostering are desperately needed to bring autonomous, self-led collaboration among independent stray carers across Global South cities.
And yet, I’d already proven why colonised mindsets and incentivisations make this impossible.
So here we are — where we have always been… #collapse.

I was barely able to avoid the worst of the hysterical crying on the car ride home.

There was nothing left to do but pray for our souls,
to pray for the end of man’s tyranny on the living.

In memory of Liya



Samantha Suppiah

Southeast Asian trickster. Design strategist for decolonial sustainability & regeneration.