Finding Famela: How a female vet saved PCG’s entire pack of K-9 from a rare disease

Published April 4, 2021, 11:16 AM

by Richa Noriega

When the entire K-9 unit  assigned to the North and South Harbor in Manila fell ill one after another in 2003, officials of the Philippine Coast Guard had to scramble to find an answer as to what caused the disease that affected their operational capability in two of the country’s busiest ports. 

They were told about Famela Aspuria, who was then a resident faculty of the University of the Philippines-Diliman Campus.

COAST GUARD’S VETERINARIAN — Meet Captain Famela Aspuria, the Philippine Coast Guard’s first female veterinarian and commanding officer of the Coast Guard Veterinary Service. (Photo courtesy of Captain Famela Aspuria)

Coast Guard officials were immediately impressed by her resume that included extensive background on veterinary medicine. They pinned their hopes on her in finding out what’s wrong, and eventually treating their working dogs.

They made the right choice.

Finding the cure

After graduating cum laude and valedictorian with a degree in Veterinary Medicine from the University of the Philippines (UP), Aspuria became a faculty resident, clinician, and surgeon at the UP – Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Diliman Station.

With her extensive knowledge and expertise, she was called to treat a rare animal disease of the Coast Guard’s working dogs.

“The whole first batch of PCG working dogs succumbed [to] an uncommon illness after their first few weeks of duty in South and North Harbor. It was a novel disease at that time that killed most of the PCG working dogs,” PCG Capt. Famela Aspuria told the Manila Bulletin.

After successfully treating the PCG dogs of the rare animal disease, Aspuria was invited to join the Coast Guard in 2003. She became the first female veterinarian of the male dominant organization.

“It could be anyone else but I’m very lucky for the opportunity of being trusted as the vet doctor to cure those very sick dogs. When I responded to that call, like any vet doctors would have done, I responded through my expertise and I didn’t expect anything else, just pure passion for my profession, to be of service and of help to those animals in need. But fate has its own way of bringing me here in PCG,” Aspuria shared.

Through her strong will and perseverance, Aspuria became the first commander of the Coast Guard Veterinary Service (CGVS) in April 2020. She was also the first female officer K9 handler in 2006.

 “I am honored to be the first veterinary officer of the PCG and this would be more meaningful if we convert this figure into an inspiring message to our fellow Coast guardian and to all women outside PCG that we should not underestimate what we women is capable of achieving especially [to] a mom like me,” Aspuria said.

With Aspuria’s outstanding leadership, the veterinary profession in the PCG was able to elevate its services by standardizing treatment approaches and surgical procedures throughout the years.

The service has created various policies pertaining to animal health care, nutrition, grooming, preventative maintenance, kennel management, biosecurity, and disposition of severely ill, deceased, and retired dogs.

COAST GUARD’S VETERINARIAN — Meet Captain Famela Aspuria, the Philippine Coast Guard’s first female veterinarian and commanding officer of the Coast Guard Veterinary Service. (Photo courtesy of Captain Famela Aspuria)

Aspuria also decided on the management of all arising clinical cases and acted as the lead surgeon in surgical cases that require higher degree of adeptness. 

“Despite limited hospital and diagnostic equipment, the Coast Guard veterinary service has been self-sufficient and self-reliant as clinical cases were not brought to private or government clinics and hospitals for second opinion, surgery, and intensive care treatment,” she added.

Aspuria shared that they are also pioneering the canine breeding program, which is geared towards sustainability and producing genetically superior puppies or material dogs for canine detection and search, and rescue works among others.

Other than being involved in many community activities, such as conducting anti-rabies vaccination drive to eradicate rabies and promoting responsible pet ownership, Aspuria also went to the farthest places of the country to provide health care for the working dogs.

“The most notable experience [for me in the Coast Guard] was when I braved and went on a mission to inspect and provide healthcare to working dogs as well as promote morale to K9 handlers assigned in Jolo, Isabela, and Lamitan in weeks before the Zamboanga siege took place,” she said.

Family of ‘fur-parents’

Not only did her family excelled in the field of agriculture, Aspuria’s family was also fond of animals.

 “My parents inspired me to become a veterinarian. They were both into the field of agriculture, my mother is a retired university professor and my late father was with the Department of Agriculture and I think what is lacking in the family is a veterinarian,” she said.

Growing up in their humble home in the province, Aspuria said her mother was a “certified pet lover” as she adopted many animals in their home.

“It was not hard for me to disagree with them because I kind of love it too, especially of me growing from an agricultural province of Cotabato.  My mom is a certified pet lover who presently keeps 15 dogs and seven cats in our residence in Kabacan, Cotabato,” she added.

 ‘Greater dreams come with bigger sacrifices’

At a very young age, Aspuria knew that she would be joining a service oriented organization.

“When I joined PCG, I knew I will enter a service-oriented organization and this is not new to my heart because I used to be a CAT (Citizen Army Training) officer in high school.  I was even told that my late grandfather and father dreamed of becoming soldiers and I made their dream come true by being in the uniformed service,” she said.

 Guided by the virtues she learned from her parents, she seized every opportunity that came her way.

“I never thought much of the challenge. I’m more focused on being a hard worker, compassionate, diligent, passionate, God fearing and a team player.  And these are virtues that I’ve learned from my parents when I was growing up which were also very helpful during my college days where I landed as the top student,” Aspuria said.

Throughout her Coast Guard journey, Aspuria shared that the male dominant organization has been supportive of all the female members as they were given opportunities to excel in their chosen field.

“With steadfast heart, I have reached this far in my PCG career with the mindset and attitude proving that women in the service ‘ay hindi pabigat at pasaway kundi (not a burden and reckless but) tangible asset and complementary,’” she said.

Aspuria is sharing her success to all Filipinas, and is encouraging them to never lose hope in achieving their dreams.

“This accomplishment is simply symbolic of Filipina who is capable and qualified of achieving, proving nothing is impossible. To all fellow Coastguardians and Filipinas, having greater dreams comes with bigger sacrifice, commitment, hard work and focus,” Aspuria said.

“Never lose hope, out of focus or get intimidated from achieving your dreams. May this journey of mine keep your dreams alive and inspire you to reach for the farthest star in your life,” she added.