Isabel Santos’ social media project shows how small, individual actions can have a big impact on lesser-known NGOs
“It’s kind of a funny story,” Isabel Santos recalls of the moment that she first learned about MBY Pet Rescue and Sanctuary. “Well, kind of weird and fateful.”
For some time, the artist had been searching for personal ways in which she could support causes that were significant to her—among them, animal welfare, the elderly, and the environment. “It started with the usual follows on Facebook. Eventually, I came across a page with a call out for photographers to help take photos of aspins and puspins that were up for adoption.” The call was for an animal shelter located in Bulacan, and Santos quickly signed up and enlisted the photography services of Everywhere We Shoot duo Ryan and Garovs Vergara. Santos explains that up to the moment when they were about to leave, Garovs had thought that they were headed to a totally different sanctuary, one located in Rizal that she had seen featured on Korina Sanchez’s show. This was the first instance that Santos remembers looking up MBY Pet Rescue and Sanctuary.
Named after its founder, Marita Baquiran Yasuda, the homegrown sanctuary first started in earnest back in 2007, right in Yasuda’s own backyard in Antipolo. What started out as an effort to rehabilitate one injured stray soon grew into a full-blown sanctuary; one that rarely (if ever) turns away the many abandoned, abused, and neglected stray cats and dogs that turn up on their doorstep. Having since relocated to a more sizeable lot in Morong, Rizal, the shelter now counts over 600 feline and canine residents under its care. Of course, along with the ever increasing number of animals is a seemingly endless stream of veterinary and utility bills—one day’s worth of food alone can cost upwards of P10,000.
Moved by the financial hardships that the shelter constantly faces (all of which are openly broadcast on MBY’s social media channels), Santos has since taken it upon herself to help out in whichever way she can. Whether that means making the journey through the rural backroads of Morong to take photos of potential adoptables or simply putting in time to volunteer during her birthday. “I think that the most impact that I can have as an individual is to help smaller shelters, because I feel that they need it more,” she says.
“I used to be very down about my own ability to help or change the world. Going to sanctuaries and volunteering in shelters makes it personal. You actually see the effects of the efforts that you thought were insignificant. With this small project, I didn’t solve a big problem—but I was able to feed animals for a few days, and I’m good with that.”
- Isabel Santos, Artist
“I was so frightened when I first went, but then I realized that most of the animals were more afraid of me,” she admits. “My heart melted instantly and I just wanted to help them out. It was a source of pride actually when some of the dogs would allow me to pet them. To see how fast they trust people.” She also credits the sanctuary’s committed, hard-working staff as one of the main reasons the shelter is so important to her. “I keep coming back because I see that the people there are so kind and compassionate.”
Recently, Santos conceived of an even more personal, creative approach to helping the shelter raise its much-needed funds—one that draws upon her own artistic background. “I had just finished an exhibit and had some free time. My brother joked that I should sell patches [pictures? portraits?] of my own dogs and then give part of the proceeds to the shelter. I’m a really bad seller so I didn’t think that would work—but then a friend said that I could do [something] for other people’s pets. That was a great idea. I mean, I would buy anything that resembles my dogs!”
And so, Santos got the ball rolling by throwing the idea out into the vast social media void with an Instagram story. The idea was simple: she would create a digitally-drawn portrait of your pet in exchange for a donation to MBY. “The response wasn’t overwhelming, but it was an amount that I could handle, and importantly, one that could help the sanctuary.” she says. She explains that the transactions were “very organic and informal. If you wanted one, you would just message me, and then email me a picture of your pet. I told people to just bank transfer their donation once they liked the pic. Then I sent the total to the sanctuary.”
The project’s sheer simplicity and quick turnaround is something that has led Santos to a profound, personal revelation. “I used to be very down about my own ability to help or change the world,” she confesses, “I would go to QMC to pick up trash, but does that solve the problem of pollution? No—but you can see the effect it has on the community. Going to sanctuaries and volunteering in shelters makes it personal. You actually see the effects of the efforts that you thought were insignificant. With this small project, I didn’t solve a big problem—but I was able to feed animals for a few days, and I’m good with that.”