Kabang: The face of heroism

By Federico A. Espiritu

Kabang, the snout-less street dog from the Philippines, stands to spend a wintry Christmas in America, as she undergoes a series of facial surgeries in a California hospital. She lost nearly half her face while saving two Zamboanga girls from a motorcycle accident last year.

The headline-grabbing incident caught the attention of animal-loving groups in the Philippines and around the world that raised funds so that the mixed breed could come to the U.S. for reconstructive surgeries.

Kabang arrived at UC Davis’ William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital last month after kindred spirits began a fundraising campaign via social media. Collection has reached more than $20,000 coming from 22 countries.

Specialist surgeons have yet to sculpt her a face truly deserving of a hero. First, they have to deal with Kabang’s struggle with a progressive venereal tumor, and that could take six chemotherapy sessions and separate treatment for worms in her pulmonary arteries, according to regular medical updates from UC Davis.

But hopes run high.

Despite having no snout, Kabang remains a playful dog, sniffing everything around her as she retains her sense of smell. Her oncology veterinarians are optimistic on seeing that Kabang’s tumor has shrunk significantly with each chemotherapy sessions. Her energy level is high and she is responding well to treatment. Her fourth chemo session was on November 13th.

Kabang – quite the “jetsetter” — may not be able to grace the November 18th lighting of the 60-feet Christmas tree at Pier 39 in San Francisco, but appeared to enjoy the autumn chills during a visit to the Faithful Partner statue on the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine campus. The sensational dog stood proudly by the Police Dog Memorial that honors over 30 canine officers who died in the line of duty. It was as if she was partaking in the commemoration of Veterans Day.

Kabang has been hailed as a lifesaving icon after she lunged into the path of a speeding motorcycle to save 9-year-old Digna Bunggal and her 3-year-old cousin Princess Diansing as they crossed a busy intersection. For that act of canine devotion, her snout and upper-jaw were clipped.

The accident was witnessed by Kabang’s owner and Dina’s father Rudy who worked at a nearby shop. After Rudy and onlookers untangled Kabang’s nozzle, she sped off leaving behind her bloody nose and upper jaw. Two weeks later, Kabang miraculously returned to Rudy’s home. Neighbors who saw her disfigured face were moved by the dog’s faithfulness to the family.

Rudy originally thought of fattening Kabang so that the dog may be eaten by his family but he was talked out of it by Digna, who reminded him it was the dog who saved her life. The girl and her cousin kept the hideous-looking dog as a pet.

Kabang had a close call with euthanasia. With a devastated face that exacts pity and mercy, some people offered to put the dog out of her misery that was aggravated by high risk of infection. But the Bunggal family outrightly rejected the option as they have seen Kabang gallantly trying to survive, learning to hold down her food with her front paws and chewing with what’s left of her mouth.

Dr. Anton Mari H. Lim, with the help of Tzu Chi Foundation and Philippines-based Animal Welfare Coalition, administered antibiotics, but the Zamboanga based-veterinarian knew Kabang’s wound needed to be closed. Kabang’s act of heroism circulated around the globe, reaching Karen Kenggot, a critical nurse from Gowanda, New York, who started an on-line awareness and fundraising campaign. Careforkabang.com carried regular updates on Kabang’s plight.

Kabang came to UC Davis in the company of Dr. Lim on a flight courtesy of Philippine Airlines, customs and care provided by Global Animal Transport of Canyon County, California, free hotel room courtesy of Hallmark Inn of Davis and assistance from Tzu Chi Foundation. Rudy failed to accompany Kabang because he could not secure a birth certificate and passport in time for the trip.

Today, Kabang is under the care of the UC Davis and a battery of specialist-veterinarians composed of Baoz Arzi, Gina Davis, Katherine Skorupski, Jane Sykes, Frank Verstraete, David Wilson and Lim himself. Kabang and veterinary technician Lisa Sullivan have developed a sweet and special bond developed out of their hospital routines.

Kabang seemingly has beaten many Filipinos in their dream of having a White Christmas, although it does not snow in Davis, California. Through the skillful hands of surgeons at UC Davis, she will possess a new face that is sure to delight the six puppies she delivered last April. Meantime, cheering Filipinos and animal lovers the world over continue to follow her heroic saga.

Those who would like to make donations for Kabang’s medical needs, visit careforkabang.com.

Federico A. Espiritu was president and CEO of a Philippine government financing corporation, Quedancor. He had a multi-checkered career in journalism, public relations, documentary filmmaking, literature, fundraising, military and public governance, re-embracing writing as he enters the crossroads of retirement after 38 years in civil service.

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