We launched our Humane Puerto Rico program two years ago because animals are in crisis in this long-neglected, populous part of the United States. One fact, among all others, stared us in the face: some shelters in the Commonwealth had a euthanasia rate of 95 percent. There was a broad recognition that if an animal found its way into one of these facilities, it probably wasn’t coming out alive.
There are caring people at the shelters – underpaid, overworked people with heart and a commitment to helping animals. But they do not have sufficient financial, human capital, or community support, and often don’t have the equipment, training, and other essentials to care for homeless animals and connect them with people who can provide a loving home. What’s more, they’re placed within a setting that is rife with challenges, with 300,000 street dogs and more than a million cats roaming in the Commonwealth. Many shelter workers suffer from compassion fatigue, and when we conducted workshops to help them cope with their work struggles, they told us that our workshops amounted to a life-saving intervention. Rather than continue to confront misery and tragedy all around them, they felt like they couldn’t continue and wanted to escape a world filled with so much pain.
As we work to unwind the set of animal problems in Puerto Rico, we are receiving remarkable support from the people of Puerto Rico and the political and corporate leaders on the island – from politicians helping rewrite animal welfare laws, to school administrators allowing us to conduct humane education programs in all public schools, to law enforcement leadership who support our training programs for every cop in the Commonwealth, to veterinarians who are helping us conduct spay-and-neuter programs in 61 of 78 municipalities. The people want us there, they are desperate for this help, and welcoming in every way.
Several weeks ago, I announced our horse contraception program, to deal with 2,000 free-roaming horses, on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. This week, we launch another facet of our larger Humane Puerto program – principally to help municipal shelters by allowing them to be adopted by top shelters across the United States’ mainland. With an incredible assist from Maddie’s Fund – which does life-saving work to advance the goal of a “No Kill Nation” — leaders from 11 shelters are traveling to Puerto Rico this week to launch our Sister Shelter Project. These shelters include Bakersfield SPCA in California, Dumb Friends League in Denver, Colorado, Larimer Humane Society in Fort Collins, Colorado, Humane Rescue Alliance in Washington, D.C., Humane Society of Central Oregon, Mohawk Hudson Humane Society in Menands, New York, Monmouth County SPCA in New Jersey, Operation Kindness in Carrollton, Texas, Second Chance Animal Shelter in Massachusetts, and Norfolk SPCA and Virginia Beach SPCA in Virginia.
These shelter leaders will visit shelters in Puerto Rico to lift them up and professionalize their operations in the months and years ahead. All of us imagine a complete makeover of animal sheltering in Puerto Rico. These are A-list shelters, allied with us as Emergency Placement Partners, and known entities to all of us at The HSUS, and we have supreme confidence that they can help us achieve our goal.
The stateside partners in the Sister Shelter Project have experts in disease management, volunteer programs, community outreach, customer service, and lifesaving adoption programs, all items desperately needed in Puerto Rico. Tackling euthanasia and promoting adopting and sterilization and animal health takes an extraordinary set of approaches to be successful, but these shelters know the formula for success. What a wonderful, giving instinct they have to stretch beyond their communities and to help animals in such desperate need.
It is profoundly sad to see dogs with mange and other maladies roaming the streets of Puerto Rico. To know that animals in shelters are likely to be euthanized. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
We can choose to stand aside and let that persist. Or we can put our shoulder to this situation and solve the problems to the greatest extent possible. That’s what we’re doing. But it will take an extraordinary cast of players to be successful. Today, we add to the ranks our team of Sister Shelters. Hope swells.