Last year, The HSUS and Humane Society International supercharged animal protection in Puerto Rico – putting unprecedented resources on the ground to turn around the sad and overwhelming plight of animals on the island. Mired in crushing debt that’s made headlines across the United States, it’s Puerto Rico’s animals that are in the most acute need. It is estimated that there are more than a quarter million street dogs and a million stray cats; there is no commonwealth law to forbid cockfighting; shelters are overcrowded, and their directors overworked and defeated.
We aim to change all of that, with comprehensive training for every law enforcement officer in Puerto Rico, with humane education for every child in its school system, with appropriate outreach and assistance to every shelter, with spay-and-neuter programs across the island, and with a campaign to upgrade and strengthen anti-cruelty laws there.
Thus far, on this island of nearly four million people, we’ve trained 1,200 teachers and education workers, more than 1,200 law enforcement officers, and we’ve offered humane education materials, including copies of Kind News magazine, and activities programs to hundreds of thousands of K-12 students. We’ve signed an executive order with the governor of Puerto Rico calling for the well-being and protection of animals. We have provided resources — including computers and software — and training to animal shelters, and HSI has established spay/neuter/vaccination clinics in 14 towns, with a plan to expand such services to all 78 jurisdictions in Puerto Rico.
This week, our experts are in Puerto Rico specifically to train 650 law enforcement officials on various forms of animal abuse they might encounter on the job; the curriculum includes instruction concerning dogfighting, puppy mills, investigation techniques, and more. Attendees include 60 prosecutors, and we are also making plans to train judges in animal cruelty investigations so they can work more effectively with prosecutors and law enforcement.
All law enforcement attendees will receive resources to assist them in their work against animal abuse, including an evidence kit and a digital camera. As we continue working with these officials, we will move our operations to different parts of the island to make the training more accessible for locals.
To improve the lives of Puerto Rico’s animals, including street dogs and cats, we are making plans to work with the commonwealth’s 78 mayors to build spay/neuter clinics with money that would have otherwise been used to round up and kill street dogs. We are building a coalition with veterinarians to bring them onto the same page with us and our shelter partners on spay/neuter/vaccine efforts. And we are working with the Department of Tourism and the board of directors for the Hotel & Tourism Association to reach out and educate tourists who’ve felt pained and helpless after seeing injured or mange-covered street dogs.
We’ve been welcomed with open arms across the island. People are hungry to make Puerto Rico far more humane and friendly to animals. At this week’s training, law enforcement officials have been packing the classes. According to The HSUS’s Tara Loller, who has been working in Puerto Rico since the start of the program, attendees show an incredible enthusiasm. “They ask so many questions, and are truly eager to learn more about animal cruelty investigations, and how they can play a role in the transformation of circumstances for animals in Puerto Rico,” Tara says. “When we discuss the link between animal crimes and human violence, they connect the dots right in front of us and say they are now more aware of what to look for on all of their cases.”