In the wake of Hurricane Maria, hundreds of dogs, as well as cats, horses and even a few pigs, are getting off the island.
Several rescue groups, including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), have waded into the breach to rescue some of the island’s most defenseless residents: its burgeoning population of stray dogs, as well as those currently in shelters.
HSUS has a history with the territory, helping with law enforcement training and horse care, and working closely with animal shelters across the island.
“Since the storm hit, we’ve been doing our best to stay in contact, given the communication challenges, with all of our shelter partners and other partners on the island,” Inga Fricke, director of pet retention programs for HSUS, tells MNN.
This week, the organization — with help from partners like Wings of Rescue and St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center — began airlifting dogs from stressed island shelters to a processing center in New Jersey.
“They get vetted there, get the care they need and then get parceled out to other partners around the country,” Fricke says.
Not every animal survived Maria’s onslaught. Notably, a southeast corner of the island once teeming with strays — nicknamed "Dead Dog Beach" — was found to be desolate when rescuers arrived.
“We’re hearing from our rescuers who have a feeding area where they go every day and we are hearing that most of those dogs have perished,” Twig Mowatt, co-founder of All Sato Rescue, tells MNN.
While the organization is based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Mowatt is just outside of Boston, coordinating with the Humane Society of Puerto Rico to get vulnerable dogs airlifted to the mainland.
“I’m kind of like an air traffic controller these days,” she says. “My group is largely rescue and transport but we partner with the humane society for those really badly affected."
“We were able to get dogs out on Friday and then yesterday,” Mowatt adds.
Described as "apocalyptic," the hurricane left much of the island in the dark, without electricity or communications. And while the humanitarian relief effort is ongoing — much of the island was still without power in early October — the search for animals in distress may be even more complicated.
With an estimated 150,000 dogs in Puerto Rico and not enough animal shelters, there’s no space for dogs found roaming at large. As a result, many of them are put down immediately.
A crated dog is prepared for transport to New Jersey. (Photo: Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo/AP Images for The HSUS)“We have even done several transports, even just this year, to try and alleviate some of the overcrowding and the pressures on the shelters across the island,” Fricke explains.
“But certainly our focus now, after the hurricane, is to try and remove as many of the sheltered animals as possible so we can allow them to make room for animals that unfortunately have been affected by the storm and can’t be kept by their families any more for any reason.”
If you would like to help HSUS in its efforts to to save Puerto Rico’s displaced animals, consider making a donation here.