By Elson T. Elizaga
The askal is the native, primitive dog of the Philippines. They are domesticated, but usually allowed by their owners to roam freely.
The name is derived from "asong kalye", meaning "dog of the street". Aso is Tagalog for dog and calle is Spanish for street.
The original Philippine dogs, or dogs that are possibly close to the original, might still be found in the rural areas and possibly many of them have prick ears. The shape of the askal is similar to the Australian dingo, the Indian pariah, the Canaan dog and the singing dog of New Guinea, but the askal is not wild. It is more of a pariah dog.
Today, as what happens in cities where dogs of different types congregate, the native dog has interbred with other varieties, producing mongrels.
In 2006, I saw a website about the askal dogs for sale. The first photo shows a common, brown askal with forelegs dislocated and twisted towards its back. Its mouth is gagged with a jagged tin can. And the cut-up bodies of others lie on a table – ready to be chopped and cooked.
I shared these revolting images to an online photo list, and one member responded with another photo of an askal bound on a motorcab like a pig. He wanted to buy that dog and set it free, but someone said the dog would be caught again, and there are more dogs in the market for sale.
One list member, apparently a dog-eater, asked: "What is the difference between a pig, a chicken, and a dog?"
I replied that the dog is intelligent. But it's what intelligent humans do with intelligent creatures that amazes me. They have been using dogs not for food, but for higher goals. They train dogs to provide emotional stability to special children, the sick, and the elderly. Dogs also guard the farms, herding sheep, goats, and cattle. And, yes, dogs guide the blind, sniff drugs, bombs and cancer cells, find lost people and animals, track down criminals, and retrieve prey. The first animal to go into orbit was an askal- looking Russian stray dog named Laika.
Animal Planet has a feature about an unusually ingenious program --inmates being trained to train dogs! This gives the prisoners renewed self-confidence and a sense of purpose, borne out of knowing that they are still useful to society, because the trained dogs will be given to families who will benefit from them.
Most people in the Philippines consider the askal inferior to foreign dogs, but in Israel, the native Canaan dog is highly regarded. The Canaan was a wild dog that lived closed to humans, hunting and scavenging. The Bedouin tribes captured their puppies, and raised them to guard their flocks and tents.
In 1934, a team led by Dr. Rudolphina Menzel retrieved and bred these resilient animals for the Hagana, the Jewish Defense Forces before Israel became a state. German Shepherds, Boxers and Dobermans had earlier failed to function well in the harsh Palestinian environment.
The Hagana used the Canaan as messengers and sentry dogs for the civilians, soldiers, and members of the Red Cross. During the Second World War, the Canaan served as land mine detectors. Eventually, the Canaan contributed to the founding of a country. It became the national dog of Israel and is protected.
Today, you’ll find proud owners of these dogs posing for photographers in the US, France and elsewhere.
The askal, in contrast, is not used extensively for security and combat operations in the Philipppines. German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois are popular guard and sniff dogs instead. But at least two askals have received awards for assisting soldiers in battles against the Abu Sayyaf. Who knows what else the askal can do if a Menzel picks him up?
1) The Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) campaigns for the humane treatment of the native dog, calling it aspin ("asong Pinoy", i.e., dog of the Philippines). It organized the Aspin Club, which was launched on April 24, 2010 at Eastwood City in cooperation with Alpo.
In the article "Aspins and mixed breeds rule" by Kathy Moran and published in The Philippine Star, PAWS president Nita-Hontiveros-Lichauco is quoted as saying: "The formation of the PAWS Aspin Club is a fulfillment, not only mine, but of all animal advocates of their lifelong dream of promoting the beauty and dignity of our local breed. I have long waited for this day to come. And now, it is here.”
Moran also wrote: "The club provides an opportunity for owners to socialize their Aspins through fun pet activities like dog walks, pet photography sessions, canine picnics, basic obedience lessons, and such. It also aims to promote the welfare of Aspins through education, lobbying and campaigns."
Several movie stars have joined the information drive about aspin, among them Heart Evangelista and Jericho Rosales.
2) Despite the campaign of the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) to change the name askal to aspin, worldwide search for askal in Google and other search engines persists. Askal appears to be widely accepted, and even used with respect. The Philippine national football team is called Azkals. Also, a Spanish website is named after an askal that helped saved its master during a calamity. The organization that owns the website train askals to guide the deaf.
So, it has come full circle. The Philippines is named after Philip II of Spain. The words Filipino, Pinoy, aspin and askal all have Spanish origin.
Published in Mindanews and Mindanao Goldstar Daily in 2006. Updated October 27, 2021. © 2006 Elson