Somewhere in the heart of Lipa City is a farm that is home to nine Alaskan Malamutes and a Caucasian Ovcharka, large breeds of dogs traditionally used for pulling sleds in cold countries. Jun Sunga, a 33-year-old entrepreneur and canine enthusiast, is their owner.
His interest in dogs started during his college years in the United States, when his sister gave him a Yorkie to take care of. But despite already having a Yorkie pup, he had a huge fascination for Siberian Huskies. He attended a Husky adoption event, where he thought he could possibly give a home to a canine of his favorite breed. Little did he know he would be introduced to what would soon be his new life-obsession.
"When I was there, I saw a big Siberian Husky," he remembers. "I was like: 'Oh that's what I want. Is he for adoption?' Tapos sabi nung guy: 'That's an Alaskan Malamute. It's not a Siberian Husky.' I couldn't adopt it because I was in college, and they told me I had to have a job and a big yard. They are very responsible in the U.S. They won't give it to you just because you want to adopt. You need to be able to actually sustain that adoption so sabi nila nung time na 'yun, I wasn't qualified because I was a student."
'I couldn't adopt it because I was in college, and they told me I had to have a job and a big yard. They are very responsible in the U.S. They won't give it to you just because you want to adopt. You need to be able to actually sustain that adoption'
After that, he just dreamed of having one. During his free time, he researched online, studying anything and everything about Alaskan Malamutes.
"When I moved back to the Philippines in 2006, I saw one in Tiendesitas. I was just drawn to him and at that time I was already by myself, living alone, and I was like: 'Oh, I have the money to pay naman' so I felt like kaya ko na magka-Malamute."
He bought his first ever Alaskan Malamute and named it Sumo. However, Sumo passed away last year. He was about nine years old.
"We really don't know what happened to him. It started with hip dysplasia then everything just deteriorated. We tried to make everything comfortable for him, but he could no longer fight the genetics," Jun shares.
In mourning, he dedicated his time to finding out the cause of his beloved dog's suffering. The word "inbred" came to his attention. The term "inbred" refers to the breeding of dogs that are closely related to each other genetically. He had a feeling that this might have been Sumo's condition. He studied Sumo's papers and family tree and discovered that Sumo's parents were actually siblings.
He was heartbroken. Sumo was like family to him. He didn't want this to ever happen again so he further educated himself about the breed.
Now, he is an Alaskan Malamute advocate, flying abroad to attend seminars and meet other breeders to learn more about this enchanting canine species.
He is currently the proud owner of nine healthy Alaskan Malamutes. The oldest, named Bianca, is now 12. They adopted her when she was nine from a breeder in South Korea. Meanwhile, the youngest of the pack is named Miley. She is just two years old.
When asked if they are hard to take care of, Jun says: "In the Philippines, they are. Actually, I would say they are really very hard to take care of kasi in the Philippines it's hot and these dogs are made for the Arctic and are made for the extreme cold."
Although Malamutes come from cold climates, they are capable of adjusting to Philippine conditions. However, it's necessary for the breed to be kept in an air-conditioned room and have a huge running space where they can move freely.
Malamutes generally love humans and are easy to get along with. He, however, notes that they are not sociable with other dogs, especially if they've just met.
"More often than not a Malamute will not be friends with a dog he just met, especially if the other dog is of the same sex and same age," he explains. "They will size each other up kung sino yung alpha and sino mas macho sa kanila. But they can be trained. It's up to the owner to get them to socialize."
'More often than not a Malamute will not be friends with a dog he just met, especially if the other dog is of the same sex and same age'
Jun declined to disclose how much he spends feeding his dogs. Clearly, it's costly to raise a pack of Alaskan Malamutes because they eat more compared to other breeds.
At times, he even gives them treats, eschewing the usual chew bone or dog biscuits for galunggong. They love fish. Alaskan Malamutes go crazy over fish—be it galunggong, dorado, or salmon.
It takes a lot of effort grooming a Malamute. It usually takes two to three hours because they are double-coated. One needs a powerful blower to be able to do it at home. It's necessary to bring them to a trusted pet shop for grooming services.
"Kailangan mo constantly suklayin. It's not one of those breeds na hayaan mo na lang tapos pwede na, especially the ones that people love right now, the long-coated Malamutes," he says.
Giving them a haircut is a big no-no. Chances are you're cutting the guard hair, which doesn't really grow back in some cases. Their coats act as a protection both from the heat and the cold. Tooth brushing and nail trimming are also equally important with Malamutes.
For the vaccinations, it's not different with other dogs' requirements. When they are young, you have to give them vaccinations to protect them from illnesses such as parvo, corona, distemper, and rabies.
Jun's dedication to his pets has brought him and his pets impressive awards from dog shows both here and abroad.
"It's a stage where you show off what you've bred. Judges will evaluate the dog. First, it will be against the dogs of the same breed, then the dogs in the same group, then you get to show against the other groups for best in show. It's about soundness and how well the dog is built."
Currently, Jun's Malamutes are the most decorated in the Philippines.
"We are the best in what we do right now when it comes to dog showing of Malamutes in the Philippines. The breeders that we partner up with abroad are the legit ones and they are really masters in their own track so we learn from them."
'We are the best in what we do right now when it comes to dog showing of Malamutes in the Philippines'
Duke, one of Jun's prized Malamutes, is the first male Philippine champion in the country. He can pull two hilux tires strapped onto a harness.
Meanwhile, Jade is the Philippine Hall of Fame title-holder and is an American grand champion. He won best of breed at the Eukanuba AKC Nationals 2014 in Orlando, Florida. He was also part of the Top 20 Alaskan Malamutes of the Alaskan Malamute Club of America in 2015.
"He won the best of breed award from American Kennel Club Nationals 2014. It's one of the biggest shows of the year, which usually happens in December. So we sent Jade there together with his breeder and he won. It was televised and we were watching online. We were here in the Philippines. When we saw him winning, we were so proud because our hard work paid off and because they mentioned the Philippines."
Jade's accolades don't end there. He is the only Alaskan Malamute in the Philippines that has the most best in show awards.
Jun explains that the art of dog breeding isn't just about mating a bitch and a stud. You have to study their lineages and research about their ancestors in order to find a suitable partner for them to mate with.
"Breeding is not for everyone. A lot of people think that they can breed and actually a lot of people try to breed. Akala nila it's like bibili ka ng babae and lalaki tapos pag in heat okay na, but that's bad. That is another way of destroying the breed. Like Sumo, no offense sa breeder niya, but they didn't know na yung dad and mom ni Sumo ay magkapatid because they did not know anything about the lineage. As a breeder you can control some aspects if you know the lineage well enough.”
'Breeding is not for everyone. A lot of people think that they can breed and actually a lot of people try to breed. Akala nila it's like bibili ka ng babae and lalaki tapos pag in heat okay na, but that's bad. That is another way of destroying the breed'
A responsible breeder must dedicate his entire life and time to understanding the process, he stresses, as wrong breeding won't only affect the outcome of the dogs but also the family that will eventually own them.
"The priority should always be health and temperament. Because those have a direct effect on the future owners of the dogs. In the case of Sumo, we had a dog that couldn't even run. We loved him so much but he couldn't play with us. He was already in pain and he was still young."
Asked if he keeps the litter of his Malamutes, Jun says as much as he wants to, he can't because of the expenses.
"The good part about us is we choose the homes, so it doesn't matter how long the dog stays with us. When we are able to find good homes, then that's when they go. We evaluate the people who inquire if they can buy our Malamutes first. We check if their lifestyle is good for the breed and would they be able to provide for his entire life."
An Alaskan Malamute from a reputable breeder will cost around P80,000. Expensive, yes, but a small price to pay for a big animal with an even bigger heart.