Today I’m be writing about the heart-wrenching number of stray dogs and cats in Puerto Rico.
I’ll tell you upfront; this article is probably going to make you sad. However, too many people seem to pretend that this problem doesn’t exist, and as is often the outcome, denial just keeps perpetuating the issue.
It’s been estimated that there are as many as 300,000 Satos (stray dogs) and over 1,000,000 stray cats on the island but no one seems to know the number for sure. In 2010, there was an Emmy® winning documentary about the stray dog problem in Puerto Rico called 100,000 but, surely, the number has gone up in the intervening six years.
Here’s a trailer for the film:
The full film (100,000) is about an hour long and has a powerful message you really should hear. I could post dozens or even hundreds of pictures of abandoned cats and dogs to pluck at your heartstrings, but even the above trailer says more than enough.
Stray Dogs and Cats in Puerto Rico: Why Is It So Bad?
As with so many problems on the island, the debt crisis is partially to blame. As people are literally fleeing Puerto Rico because the island’s economy is so bad not everyone can afford to take care of a pet.
Predictably, many people care about their pets, but have to make the heartbreaking decision to abandon them. If they care, they will take their pet to a shelter. At the least, they’ll take them to places like Rincon (popular tourist/surfer town) or Luquillo (lots of mainland American/Canadian retirees) where someone *might* take them in.
If they don’t care so much about their pet, they just drop them off bridges (as outlined in the trailer), along the highway, or places like Dead Dog Beach where they will probably have to fend for themselves. Recently, and thankfully, some folks like The Sato Project have been doing what they can to help the abandoned animals.
Part of the reason the stray crisis is so bad is that Puerto Ricans often don’t spay or neuter their pets. It’s very much a cultural thing. Many Puerto Ricans (men in particular but also some women) cringe when you mention fixing their pet. It’s viewed as being cruel to cut off a pet’s “manhood”.
In general, cats and dogs tend to be, at least partially, outside animals here. Do you see why then, choosing not to fix them can be an issue?
And, of course, the problem multiplies when those same pets get abandoned on the streets, where they breed and breed and breed.
Problems with the Government
As with so many issues on the island, the Puerto Rican government seems to be “in the way” of fixing this problem, rather than being helpful. For example, veterinarians from the mainland have been willing to come help treat and neuter strays – for free. No strings attached and at no cost to the people or the government.
However, they are forbidden from doing so under Puerto Rican law. You see, the vets would need a license issued by a Puerto Rican board. The process is, at best, cumbersome and expensive. To make it worse there are no longer any veterinary schools on the island to help facilitate the process.
I’d like to get you more information on this, but the website for the Colegio de Medico Veterianarios de Puerto Rico is broken/non-existent and has been for a while. There’s a subtle irony to that, don’t you think?
Another area where the government could help, as is so often the case, is proper enforcement of the law. Just like in the mainland US, animal abandonment and animal cruelty is illegal. If the government actually enforced the law, it might help change the plight of these poor animals.
Stray Dogs and Cats in Puerto Rico: What Can You Do?
So, if you have a heart, you’re almost certainly wondering how you can help with this crisis.
Your first impulse might be to contribute to the Humane Society of Puerto Rico. However, it might not result in the help these poor animals need. While I’m sure there are people there who want to help, the simple fact of the matter is that they euthanize as many as 97% of the animals they take in.
No-Kill shelters and organizations are a much better bet for the stray dogs and cats in Puerto Rico. Thankfully, there are several.
- Island Dog
- Luquillo Safe Haven for Animals Corp (No website. Call 787-428-2358)
- The Sato Project
- Save a Gato
- Second Chance Rescue
This is far from a complete list so, if you’re on the island, ask around and see who in your area is doing the most for the strays.
Volunteer Outside of the Shelters
If you don’t want to volunteer in a shelter (which can be heartbreaking) a good option is working with All Sato Rescue. They arrange for stray dogs to be flown to the continental US where they can be adopted. They are always looking for volunteer escorts to fly with the dogs.
Support Animal Friendly Businesses
One standout for animal friendly businesses in Puerto Rico is Converseity Cats. This isn’t a shelter. This is a guy who sells new and used Converse shoes in Luquillo and online. He uses the proceeds of the sales to take care of stray cats in the Luquillo area. He feeds them, gets them neutered when he can, and even arranges adoptions.
If you want to get something nice for yourself while helping the stray dogs and cats in Puerto Rico, check out his website.
Take In A Stray
If you’re on the island, instead of adopting through a shelter, you can simply take in a stray. If you do, getting them spayed or neutered is a good idea. Otherwise you’re just helping perpetuate the problem.
In Luquillo, we have several neighborhood “angels” that help catch and fix the strays and we have many folks that try to help through feeding, adopting, and fostering them.
That’s what Joanna and I do with this adorable female Calico…
Her name is “Una” (short for Una Gata). She is a fixed stray. She doesn’t come inside but she hangs out on our patio a lot and she gets fed daily. Cute isn’t she?
Lastly, you can try to change how Puerto Rico treats the stray animal problem. For example, you can sign a change.org petition to get the Puerto Rican government to do something to help with the animal abuse and stray problems on the island. It might only be a symbolic gesture but doing so is, literally, the very least you could do.