The birds and the bees are “brothers and sisters” to St. Francis. He talks, and even shares the Word of God, to them.
“My brother and sister birds, you should praise your Creator and always love him,” he supposedly told a flock of birds. “He gave you feathers for clothes, wings to fly and all other things that you need.”
Stories abound how the saint relates with nature. The most known perhaps is when he tamed a wolf in the town of Gubbio in Italy.
A wolf was attacking people and other animals, the story goes, when the saint came and prayed and convinced the wolf to behave.
St. Francis promised the wolf that the townspeople would feed the animal regularly if it would promise not to attack any person or animal.
From then on, the wolf did not attack the residents of the town and other animals.
When Tipay Caintic, a 30-year old fashion designer in Manila, heard the story she remembered how she met Demi, an “undomesticated, angry, afraid, and confused” Shih tzu that was found wandering in a village.
Caintic was the first to respond to a call for someone to take care of the dog.
“Her hair fell off and her body was covered with wounds,” said the girl, recalling the first she saw Demi. “She was thin and unkempt.”
The dog stayed at a clinic to recover until she was ready to go.
Before bringing Demi home, Caintic prayed and asked herself if she really wanted the dog. “Can I take care of her? Can I be a responsible steward?”
A few kilometers from Caintic lives Luzviminda Anne Morales who turned her small house into a sanctuary for neglected dogs and cats.
Morales even created the Facebook page Animal Rescue PH a social media account that receives reports from netizens of abandoned and abused dogs and cats.
Graphic photos and videos of abandoned cats and dogs flood the Facebook page, which has close to 50,000 followers.
Morales and her husband use the tips they receive online to rescue pets that are either sick or wounded. They use the same social media account to seek help from people who are willing to adopt rescued pets.
“We have at least 100 dogs and cats in our care right now. We do not own a shelter. That’s why we take them into our house until someone adopts a pet,” she said.
Morales lives in the district of Tondo in Manila. “We are not rich,” she said. They feed the animals through donations from social media users who notice her postings.
She also sells shirts with designs that promote animal welfare. “In God’s mercy, we are able to get donations from people. Some people give medicine and food for the animals,” she said.
Morales created the Facebook page in March 2015, but she began her first rescue operation in 1997 when she was only in high school.
Her passion started when one day, on her way home from school, she saw a blind cat trying to cross the street. She felt sorry for the helpless animal and took it home.
To this day, she said she’d saved at least a thousand cats and dogs. “It’s like a full-time job for me and my husband,” she said.
“I feel pity for these sickly cats and dogs when I see them in the streets. If I won’t help them, who will?” she said.
“I don’t get to name all of my cats. We have more cats here because most people prefer adopting dogs,” Morales said.
Morales plans to continue rescuing abandoned pets for as long as she can.
“Perhaps the reason we stumble upon all these ailing abandoned pets by chance is because God wants us to rescue them,” she said.
Not all abandoned pets get rescued, Morales admitted.
There are more posts on Facebook for calls to rescue a sick dog or cat than her small house could accommodate.
“We need more people who are willing to open their homes for these neglected animals. We need institutions that would dare to care for them,” she said.
Caring for all of creation
In the city of Manila alone, up to 70 stray cats and dogs are collected by authorities every day, according to the city’s Veterinary Inspection Board.
In September, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno announced that the city is building a facility that will provide “better health services and shelter for stray cats and dogs.”
“We have to give them a clean and a proper place to stay, and a clinic. We will provide what is required for these animals,” said the mayor.
Some animal welfare advocates suggest “spaying and neutering” stray animals as a humane solution to the overpopulation.
Father Angelito Cortez, head of the Franciscan order’s Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation program in East Asia, said people should look at animals, especially pets, as part of the family.
He said Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’ “urges us to care for all creation.”
“It includes all living and non-living things on earth. It includes animals, whether farm animals or the domesticated ones,” said the priest.
He said violence against animals, or even fellow humans, occur “because we do not consider them as our brothers and sisters.”
“We look at them as if they were just objects. Humans harm humans, we witness it every day. It is not surprising that humans harm animals, but we need to change it,” said Father Cortez.
The priest expressed his admiration at people who have a heart for stray animals.
“If we can extend love and care to animals, then we can spread love and care to other people,” he said, adding that like St. Francis everyone should consider all creation as part of a big family.