Culture

Rehabilitating Dogs Helped This Man Cope with Parkinson's Disease

Meet Jerry Lakandula, leader of the pack.
IMAGE Courtesy of Jerry Lakandula
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It’s hard to imagine being able to walk over 10 dogs at the same time without things descending into chaos—let alone keeping them calm when an aggressive stray approaches. But as this video shows, Jerry Lakandula—also known as The Pack Leader—pulls it off without breaking a sweat.

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The video went viral late last year, and Lakandula is well known among animal lovers for rescuing dogs and rehabilitating aggressive ones at his home in Dasmariñas, Cavite. He also shows owners how to discipline their dogs with behavioral problems, and now cares for 25 dogs and eight cats.

If this sounds a lot like what Cesar Millan does, it’s because Lakandula learned everything he knows from the celebrated dog psychologist. After watching The Dog Whisperer and reading Millan’s books, he decided to test Millan’s methods out on his daughters’ unruly dogs. “Nakatira sa condo yung daughter ko when she was studying in La Salle Taft,” he explains. “Meron siyang poodle. Yung aso niya, pagka-open niya ng door, tatakbo, sasakay ng elevator, pupunta kung saan-saan. Wala siyang control sa aso niya.”

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Seeing how successful he was with disciplining his daughter’s poodle, others began bringing him their own wayward canine companions. Lakandula also takes in pound dogs slated for euthanasia, and traumatized dogs rescued from the meat trade by Animal Kingdom Foundation in cooperation with the Philippine National Police.

But if he’s giving these dogs a second lease on life, it’s because they did the same for him first. Before he became a dog behaviorist, he was a very successful fitness trainer in Kuwait. “I was living a fast life,” he says. “I was a personal fitness trainer before tapos nagmomoonlight ako as an HR personnel. I would travel to the Philippines and do interviews at recruitment agencies affiliated with the company I was working part-time for. So I was going here and there, straight to the hotel, tapos trabaho, trabaho.”

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But everything came to a halt when at 40 years old, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s—a degenerative disease mainly known for affecting motor functions, but which also affects cognitive functions and causes mood disorders. After learning that he had Parkinson’s, he fell into a depression. And it was at this time that a dog first taught him how to live on.

He had decided to get a puppy for his birthday at the Friday Market, which is the Kuwaiti version of Cartimar. But he soon found out that his dog had kennel cough as well as other complications. “’Yung depression ko nadagdagan kasi I wanted a pet, yung makakasama mo. Tapos may sakit kaagad. So I saw the struggle of that dog,” he says. “There was a point na akala ko mamamatay na siya. Kapag humihinga siya, tumitigas yung tiyan niya tapos mapapahiga siya sa floor.”

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He accepted that it might be his dog’s last night alive, and slept next to him. But the following day, he woke up and found his dog up and eating breakfast. “Na-enlighten ako na yung aso, sobrang hirap ng dinaan but he still managed to survive. So kahit na may depression ako, na-adopt ko yung lesson na nabigay sakin ng aso na we just don’t give up on life. Hanggang may buhay, may pag-asa.”

It was during his depression that Lakandula withdrew to his room and spent all his time watching TV, Youtube, and Netflix. While flipping through channels, he came across The Dog Whisperer, and the rest is history. Last September, Lakandula even went to Millan’s Dog Psychology Center in California for training. He is now the only dog psychologist in the Philippines who is certified by Cesar Millan.

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Millan believes that dogs consider their owners and family as part of their pack. Every pack has an alpha or leader—if the owner fails to take the lead, the dog will try to step up to the plate. And this is when a dog becomes unruly, domineering, or aggressive. According to Millan, the way to assert leadership over your pack is to exude a calm, assertive demeanor, since dogs easily pick up on the energy their owners give off.

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“Cesar Millan said, ‘When you’re dealing with a pack, energy is everything.’ If you’re not projecting the right energy or state of being, hindi ka makakaconnect sa aso,” Lakandula explains. “Kung anong prino-project mo, yung aso nagmimirror sa ugali ng tao. Kapag takot ka, nararamdaman ng aso na unbalanced ka. ’Pag sobrang excited ka, unbalanced ka rin. Lahat ng sobra, hindi balanse. So when you’re dealing with animals, dapat calm ka pero assertive. Since they’re living with us, we have to be their leader.”

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This philosophy has helped Lakandula cope with the lifestyle changes brought about by his Parkinson’s disease. Rehabilitating dogs has made him adopt a calm and balanced mindset and given him a new purpose in life. Today, he dreams of speaking with President Duterte about putting up an animal sanctuary and hiring former drug addicts as dog walkers, groomers, and behaviorists. He believes that together, dogs and former drug addicts can change each others’ lives in the same way that his pets have changed his.

“I want it much more now kasi nakita ko yung possibilities,” he says. “Yung mga existing shelter ng Animal Kingdom Foundation pwede mong i-integrate iyan sa housing para sa last phase ng rehabilitation ng drug addicts. ’Yung mga hayop sa shelter, nabigyan sila ng second chance. So let them give the Filipino a second chance para mabuhay ulit nang normal.”

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About The Author
Angelica Gutierrez
Angelica is currently Editorial Assistant for Esquiremag.ph.
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