Leni Monsod-Karlsson has been a pet parent and a stray animal adoption advocate long before these terms and the practices they represent entered the popular mainstream of modern pet care. But more than just taking care of and daily communicating with her daily furries, she is what some would call a pet rescuer and their champion. To date, she has adopted and nurtured 25 dogs over the past decades, from the time she was in her first grade to her current success as a financial advisor for large-scale investments. While many pet owners today would prefer to buy the cutest, adorable-looking puppy from a posh store, Leni actually has made a lifetime advocacy of taking in strays from the street or from the dog pound; many of them are the familiar and unassuming Pinoy homegrown animal also known as Aspin (the native dog in the Philippines).
Leni admits that “until now, whenever I see a dog on the street, if I can let him ride in my car, I would. Even the one who looks galisin,” referring to the scars and scabs that mark many of the poor creatures who had been abandoned by their owners to starve or get exposed to the harsh elements.
Becoming a dog whisperer
Then there are the times she makes a formal adoption of these forgotten or neglected dogs from the animal shelter of the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). A hint of anger creeps into Leni’s voice when she points that some of these dogs were not just shooed away by their former owners, but even showed signs of maltreatment. The ones that got the worst of it were the fiercest ones who had been forced to combat their fellows in the pitbull fighting arenas, often to the death.
“…these hardened, injured strays, even the angriest ones in the shelter, would “start to mellow when I talk to them. In the beginning, they were not exactly friendly.”
Like any living being who had been brutalized and subjected to violence, these rescued dogs take time before they warm up to their new adoptive human parent. “Some of them don’t trust humans anymore because they have been treated as business commodities,” Leni says.
But eventually, these hardened, injured strays, even the angriest ones in the shelter, would “start to mellow when I talk to them. In the beginning, they were not exactly friendly.”
That bond of trust that Leni seems to develop very quickly with dogs, regardless of breed or condition, earned her the title of a dog whisperer.
Leni’s protectiveness and love for animals who can be potential pets extend to cats as well. Like the dogs, she adopts them from PAWS or picks them up from vacant lots. Sometimes, she does the occasional intervention to save them from human beings who do not know any better. In one case, while taking a vacation in a Boracay hotel, she admonished the hotel staff who she discovered had been driving the cats away from the place.
The hotel staff’s reasons unsurprisingly had to do with resources. The cats invading their kitchen were increasing in number. Leni advised the hotel manager that the unwelcome felines would continue to return and multiply—unless the staff welcomes and adopts them, and regularly provides their meals. Neutering was another solution to their rapid breeding.
She also gave them an argument that was hard to counter: “If you catch these cats and lose them away from the hotel, the rats will come in to your hotel.”
Beauty beyond breed
“…animals may have a voice but they cannot express it the way we humans do. They cannot tell us that they feel hurt when we scold them,”
This love for “God’s creation” was a value and a lesson she passed on to her three daughters, who are in high school and/or college. One thing she impressed on them was that “animals may have a voice but they cannot express it the way we humans do. They cannot tell us that they feel hurt when we scold them, for example.”
Then, to her pride and happiness as a parent, her children can teach her a thing or two about raising and taking care of pets. When Leni asked one of them to bring their Labrador Retriever to train in a dog school, the girl also requested that their aspin, Akira, come along. Leni hesitated, apprehensive that the school owners might reject Akira because she was a “local dog.” Her daughter’s uncompromising stance opened this veteran pet parent’s eyes: “Mommy, you should see beauty beyond the breed.”
Leni admits that her then 9-year-old daughter’s words shook her and made her realize “why should Akira NOT go to school just because she is not a purebred?” The girl’s bravery paid off: Akira was not only accepted in the dog school but was even given a 60% discount because “the owner advocates owning dogs who had suffered animal cruelty and abandonment.”
Akira was treated by Leni and her husband and kids as “family,” from the time she was adopted from PAWS in 2008 to her death in 2020 of kidney failure and old age.
“I treat my pets like they are like my children, like they are human beings,” Leni affirms. “They shouldn’t be treated as slaves. Nor should they be shooed away because you are busy; they have their space too. These animals are God’s creation.”
…apprehensive that the school owners might reject Akira because she was a “local dog.” Her daughter’s uncompromising stance opened this veteran pet parent’s eyes: “Mommy, you should see beauty beyond the breed.”
A natural with animals
Leni’s love affair with dogs started when she was 9 years old. An uncle who regularly visited her family’s home in Makati with his dog noticed that his pet would often return to look for her. Conceding amiably that the dog “liked my niece more than me,” he soon gave him to her.
Her parents also recognized that the young Leni and dogs of all kinds and breeds were drawn to each other. More puppies were added to the family litter. Neighbors who saw her care and compassion for them sold their pets to Leni through her father.
Not all family members, though, shared her love for the animals. Leni recounts a sister who would tell their dogs to leave the room every time she would bring them in. “I told her that I was just making my dog comfortable,” Leni remembers the encounter unapologetically, “and I also told her that she was salbahe [mean].”
Adopt, don’t shop
“I say this when they say they want to buy dogs as gifts for their kids. I remind them that their son or daughter is just a kid, and one day might realize that they no longer find their dog cute. Or the dog got galis because he was not taken care of. Later on, the child will not want the dog anymore and give him away.”
Today, Leni is as equally candid and forthright with friends and acquaintances who gush about getting a dog for their little children. Instead of applauding their intention, she grounds them in the hard realities of pet care. “I say this when they say they want to buy dogs as gifts for their kids. I remind them that their son or daughter is just a kid, and one day might realize that they no longer find their dog cute. Or the dog got galis because he was not taken care of. Later on, the child will not want the dog anymore and give him away.”
Leni continues to stand by her principle that “a dog is a big responsibility. If you cannot take care of him for the rest of his life, don’t get a dog. You don’t just love the dog when he is cute—then when he loses his hair and stinks, you don’t want him around anymore.”
That is why she firmly believes in adopting a pet, and not shopping for one. Taking a stray and nurturing him back to health and happiness establishes a lifelong bond between pet parent and a beloved creature, one wherein the dog or cat is treated like a member of a family.
Pet adoption also teaches the new dog or cat owner “responsible ownership,” maintains Leni. “There would have been no strays if there were only responsible owners. These dogs and cats will not become strays, and they will feel that they are well-loved and taken care of.”