Rina Ortiz, The Woman Who Began Rescuing Strays At 5 Years Old
Advocacy

Raising Hope: Meet Rina Ortiz, The Filipina Who Never Tires of Rescuing Stray Animals

Rina Ortiz wears a black UNIQLO sweater. Photo by Kim Santos, styled by MJ Benitez, hair by Patty Inojales, makeup by Apple Fara-on

Vogue Philippines celebrates International Women’s Day through “Raising Hope,” in a call for nominations of inspiring women. Discover the story of Rina Ortiz, the president and founder of Biyaya Animal Care.

Nominated by Jamaya Formentos

For Raising Hope nominator Jamaya Formentos, Rina Ortiz is an “unquestionably powerful woman who never tires of giving back to the community.” And she has been doing it her whole life. “When I was five years old, my lolo brought me to a place in his village where he lived and we picked up a dog. It was my first rescue, and it was his initiation to me. From there, I started picking up kittens, cats, puppies, and dogs,” Ortiz shares.

At a young age, she already knew that this was her “gift,” but Ortiz felt that she had other responsibilities to fulfill, hindering her from doing animal rescues on a large scale. “Growing up in my generation, you have to have a professional job. There weren’t many job openings, so you had to be serious and not fool around so much, or else you wouldn’t be able to put food on the table,” she says.

Rina Ortiz with Cheddar, Bridgette, Alakdan, and Popeye. Ortiz wears a black UNIQLO sweater. Photo by Kim Santos, styled by MJ Benitez, hair by Patty Inojales, makeup by Apple Fara-on

But Ortiz never strayed from her passion for animal rescue. While fulfilling her responsibilities in life, she continued to do animal rescues on a small scale until the COVID-19 pandemic came. “During the pandemic, you had so much time on your hands and a lot of time to think. So my husband and I were talking one day, and he said, ‘You know, you’re fooling yourself.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And he was like, ‘You should quit your day job and do this full time,’” she says. “I had gone through life doing what I needed to do, and I didn’t think I was allowed to pursue my dreams.”

And so she did. Now, Ortiz runs her own animal welfare organization, Biyaya Animal Care. Together with 109 staff members and 13 doctors at three locations and five shelters, Ortiz is making a difference in local communities through rescuing and protecting “abused, neglected, lost, and mistreated animals while serving the veterinary needs of pet owners and individuals.” Counting their biyaya (blessings), Biyaya Animal Care has rescued 1,992 animals, adopted 234, and neutered 69,062 animals.

The gift of animal rescue

According to Formentos, her “unwavering desire to help others” is what makes Ortiz so admirable. “She serves as an example to everyone, showing us that we can all do our small part to save the homeless and raise awareness of the need of being socially responsible pet owners,” Formentos shares.

As much as Ortiz is making a difference in animal welfare in the Philippines, she has found that the work not only impacts animals but also humans. “Humans have a very difficult time being kind. Not because they’re unkind, but because they’re protecting themselves. They’re afraid na maiisahan sila (they will get tricked), or they’re always unsure of another human, and that’s where the animals come in. Animals can educate you and give you the courage to be kind, because animals never betray,” she says.

Rina Ortiz with Bridgette and Alakdan. Ortiz wears a black UNIQLO sweater. Photo by Kim Santos, styled by MJ Benitez, hair by Patty Inojales, makeup by Apple Fara-on

For her, animal rescue teaches compassion. “All of that is hardship, but it’s also a lot of strength. You build your muscles; you build your emotional muscles. You’re not hard; hardness doesn’t work. You’re not soft, either. You allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling without being taken away,” she says.

It’s also the people she meets throughout her work that inspire Ortiz. She shares the story of Filipina actress Toni Rose Gayda, whom she once encountered. “She turned up here with a rescue dog that she found in the street, and it just blew my mind,” she says. “There are people who you least expect to encounter, and you do. And you’re blown away by their sincerity. More than anything, their authenticity. And for me, that’s beauty. When you’re finally comfortable in your own skin, when you don’t have to be anyone or anything else, that discovery is so empowering.”

The strength of a woman

For Ortiz, there are many things to celebrate about being a woman. “When a queen bee is starting her colony, she has the ability to choose male or female. She only always chooses to be a female in the beginning to set up the colony because they are known to have order, work, and compassion,” she says. “And I believe that women, especially Filipino women, you’re strong. You’re soft as well. You’re able to take in a lot more than the men. Men can take care of other things that maybe women can’t, but the dynamic heart and flexibility of a woman? I feel there is no end.”

“There’s an inner strength,” she continues. “I think it comes from the one that has to give birth, the one that has to care for the newborn. Patience, intelligence, sensitivity, knowing how to push, and more than anything, there’s a kind of compassion because we are childbearing. Nurturing, but at the same time, we can be much stronger than men.”

Bridgette, the hit-and-run survivor

Rina Ortiz with Bridgette, the hit-and-run survivor. Ortiz wears a black UNIQLO sweater. Photo by Kim Santos, styled by MJ Benitez, hair by Patty Inojales, makeup by Apple Fara-on

Bridgette is an aspin or asong Pinoy (a dog with no specific breed) who was found on a bridge underneath a car in Tondo, a victim of a hit-and-run incident. Having survived the incident, Bridgette is now also looking for a new home. For inquiries, you may contact Biyaya Animal Care through their official social media pages or website.

Cheddar, the abandoned puspin

Rina Ortiz with Cheddar, the abandoned puspin. Ortiz wears a black UNIQLO sweater. Photo by Kim Santos, styled by MJ Benitez, hair by Patty Inojales, makeup by Apple Fara-on

Cheddar is a puspin or pusang Pinoy (a cat with no specific breed) who was surrendered to Biyaya Animal Care by the previous owner. Currently, Cheddar is staying with Biyaya Animal Care but is looking for a new home. For inquiries, you may contact Biyaya Animal Care through their official social media pages or website.

Alakdan, the ex-marine sniffing dog

Rina Ortiz with Alakdan, the ex-marine sniffing dog. Ortiz wears a black UNIQLO sweater. Photo by Kim Santos, styled by MJ Benitez, hair by Patty Inojales, makeup by Apple Fara-on

Alakdan is a mixed-breed dog ( a cross between an Australian cattle dog and a beagle) who spent five years as a military working dog specializing in bomb sniffing. Alakdan served the Philippine Marine Corps in Maguindanao, Sulu, Zambaonga, and Cotabato City. During his service, he was awarded medals of honor by former mayor Beng Climaco for finding five improvised explosive devices in an airport in Zamboanga City. Now, Alakdan is with Biyaya Animal Care and is currently not for adoption.

Popeye, the one-eyed cat

Rina Ortiz with Popeye, the one-eyed cat. Ortiz wears a black UNIQLO sweater. Photo by Kim Santos, styled by MJ Benitez, hair by Patty Inojales, makeup by Apple Fara-on

Popeye is a visually-impaired one-eyed puspin was formerly abused . At present, Popeye is under Biyaya Animal Care and is currently not for adoption.

Visit vogue.ph everyday this month for daily features on inspiring women, as nominated by the people whose lives they’ve changed.

BY DAPHNE SAGUN. Photography: Kim Santos. Styling: MJ Benitez. Digital Editor: Andrea Ang. Makeup: Apple Fara-on. Hair: Patty Inojales. Producers: Bianca Zaragoza and Daphne Sagun. Set designer: Andrea Ang. Styling assistants: Teresita Gabat, Jia Torrato, Chelsea Sarabia. Makeup assistants: Jane Mission, John Glen Aquino, Hair assistant: Emma Hernandez. Production assistant: Patti Co
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