Sunday, January 31, 2010

What is an Askal

An askal is a street dog (asong kalye) in the Philippines. Filipinos first got their reputation as dog eaters of askals because of the Igorots, a brave tribal group in Benguet where ironically, dogs are still eaten in some areas today (although the dog trade is illegal in the Philippines).

However, askals were also loved by the Igorots. They actually preferred to eat wild boar, and askals played a valuable role in hunting them.  Askals were only eaten as last resort food, initially.  This is not uncommon, as even in Europe during war time dogs were eaten when there was no other food left available.  In China, dog is a delicacy.  In Korea, you can buy canned dog meat in the supermarket.  They have dogs raised like "cattle" and there are dogs they love.  There is even the story of a wealthy Korean woman who conducted an elaborate funeral when her much loved dog died.  Above is a photo of Igorots with their askals.

There is also a photo of an askal that was present when Jose Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero, was executed in 1896. Above is a photo of Rizal's execution.  Rizal is the sole figure in black to the left in the photo.  The askal can be seen between the two trees on the right.  The askal is to the left of the standing man in white who is standing to the left of the rightmost tree. 

Here is a photo of the scene of Rizal's execution which is depicted through several statues.  I have focused on the statue of that same dog that was in the photo of the actual scene above.  This is probably the first askal statue in the Philippines.  I did not include Rizal's statue in the photo on the left so that the dog could be clearly seen.

Askals have for a long time been considered inferior to pure breeds. They were also deemed inferior to mutts that came from two pure breeds. Askals are often considered as the “poor man’s dog”.

Physically, Askals resemble the Canaan dog of Israel which is Israel’s national dog, although with some variation (since askals are mixed dogs themselves). They also resemble the Carolina dog of the United States.

These days, people are speaking out on behalf of askals, which for too long were deliberately tied all day to a short chain so they’d be angry and distrustful, making them efficient guard dogs of family homes.
Thanks to publications like Animal Scene in the Philippines, and groups like the Animal Kingdom foundation (AKF) and PAWS, askals are gaining recognition for their engaging personalities and amazing intellect, and are being gradually mainstreamed.

Being the proud owner of two askals and a schnoxie (half mini doxin, half mini schnauzer) I can say that a dog’s potential, like a child’s, will grow dependent on how they are raised by their human.

The story of askals is not unlike many stories of human civilizations and races that may have served some societies well, but were for a time underappreciated and ill treated, nonetheless. The most widely known example of this was the African American race in the United States, whose intellectual and artistic contributions to the wealth of the world was long underappreciated. But today, the United States has its first black president in Barack Obama.

What has been commonly said these days is that gays are the new black. Personally, being a Christian, I sometimes wonder if Christians are the new black. That would put us and gays in the same league and perhaps, lend us a common talking point, which need not necessarily be a bad thing.

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