Puerto Rico is in the news for its financial crisis, but there’s another crisis that’s not in the national news – the treatment of animals on the island.
That crisis is the main reason for the effort by The HSUS and Humane Society International to bring solutions and change to the island. In previous blogs about our Humane Puerto Rico initiative, launched earlier this year, I announced news of our extraordinary partnership with the government and our humane education program in every public school. We’ve also trained the FBI, police, health department inspectors, animal control, and prosecuting attorneys in animal cruelty. We’ve provided social media training for shelter workers, volunteer engagement, and compassion fatigue. And we’re working with the shelters to standardize intake and reporting by giving them free software, training in using it, and free computers and printers. Humane Society International has also been on the ground working spay/neuter/vaccination clinics throughout the island.
It was not too long ago that The HSUS hired its first-ever Puerto Rico director, Yolanda Alvarez, after a generous HSUS member visited Puerto Rico and was deeply troubled by what he saw. Yolanda then partnered with Tara Loller, our puppy mill policy implementation director, and they worked with Attorney General Cesar Miranda Rodriguez to build the elements of the program. This partnership has led to an unprecedented program to reverse the fortunes of the animals on the island. Yet, despite the hopefulness, the stories of the on-the-ground work from our team can be heartrending, and it’s the case that animals are struggling to survive right now.
I was particularly moved by one story from our team and a wonderful veterinarian, Dr. Osmar Rivera, who came across two puppies huddled in a construction barrel, near Bahía de Puerca, amongst the trees and make-shift shelter. Both were in severe shape and in need of immediate medical attention.
While out on a rescue, Loller and Dr. Rivera said they reached in to get one of the pups out, and then the other. In normal conditions you can safely lift and hold the dog by the neck, but in this case their skin was so damaged by the severe mange she could only gently lift them out while wrapping them in a t-shirt. They rushed the dogs back to Dr. Rivera’s clinic in San Juan, and discovered they are just six months old. But they told me you’d think they’d already lived a long, hard life by looking at their faces and their weakened bodies.
Blood tests revealed they were sisters, and our team decided to name them Demi and Dolores. They curled up on a blanket for the night after eating a good meal and fresh water – two things that must been welcome and alien to them. They received the treatments for their severe skin issues (Demodectic mange) and other immediate care. In one brief moment Demi and Dolores received a chance. A chance to be real dogs, to feel love, to give love, and to be cared for.
Some days later, Dr. Rivera told our team that Dolores hadn’t made it. She had just been through too much. It was hard for our rescuers to get that news, but I know that at least she had experienced kindness and the best care we could provide in her final days. Though Demi looked to be the weaker of the two, she seemed to be getting physically stronger each day. Eventually she moved into foster care, and is continuing to get well, grow out her coat, and play with her housemates. In time she will find her forever home, and she is proof that when given that one chance, every dog can have her day.
Stray dogs in terrible condition are not uncommon in Puerto Rico, and that’s precisely why we are seeking to drive such change for them in the Commonwealth.
You can see Demi the day we found her in our video below. We’ll post more updates as she continues her convalescence – a symbol of the travails of Puerto Rico’s animals, yet also an example of the resiliency of creatures who are given a second chance.