The situation in Puerto Rico is so dire that Commonwealth and federal authorities have still been unable to do a thorough damage assessment, even though it’s been five days since the hurricane enveloped the island and flooded or flattened so much of it. Cell phone towers were destroyed or rendered inoperative. The electrical grid failed, and the entire island went dark (service is slowly being restored but it may be months before it is restored islandwide). There are massive roadway problems with flooding, downed trees, and debris hampering basic transportation. There are food, water, and gas shortages, and by all preliminary indications, it’s a crisis situation of immense proportions, in a political jurisdiction already saddled with enormous debt and an array of other hardships.
Three years ago, The HSUS and Humane Society International (HSI) launched our Humane Puerto Rico program, to lift animal welfare on the main island and on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. For too long, the animal welfare movement had failed to concentrate sufficient resources, and animal welfare had become an everyday crisis there. Some shelters were euthanizing more than 95 percent of the animals coming in. Since we launched our program – led by Humane State Senior Director Tara Loller and Puerto Rico Director Yolanda Alvarez — we’ve been working with all of the animal shelters on the island, training law enforcement, conducting humane education, strengthening animal welfare laws, contracepting free-roaming horse populations, and much more. Earlier this year, we launched our Sister Shelter Project with Maddie’s Fund and 12 mainland shelters that have agreed to partner with Puerto Rican sister organizations. Just a month ago, we conducted a transport of 200 dogs, in a project dubbed “Operation Grey Muzzle,” to help older dogs get off the island and into new, loving homes on the mainland (many of them might not have survived the storm, so it was very timely that we got them out of there).
Given our deep ties in the Commonwealth, it was logical for Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares to shape an executive order with The HSUS and HSI for assistance with the care, transport, placement, and veterinary health of animals there. We are expecting him to sign it any moment.
We’ve pledged to move shelter dogs and cats off the island during this crisis and to deliver them to the mainland to ready them for adoption for our 400 or so Emergency Placement Partners, led by St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Shelter, a long-time HSUS partner that has agreed to serve as a hub for animals coming out of Puerto Rico. We’ll be working hand in hand on the transports with two extraordinary and long-standing partners – GreaterGood.org and Wings of Rescue. This troika of organizations collaborated in Texas and Florida and together we’ve rescued and moved more than 1,900 animals already. The situation in Puerto Rico will be an even greater challenge, especially with the immense logistical considerations and the breakdown in transportation, energy, water, and agricultural modalities in the Commonwealth.
Today, we sent a plane – one we usually commandeer for animal transport – loaded with supplies for people. We know there is great suffering, and we want to deliver some reprieve. Also, once people are able to meet life’s necessities and their personal circumstances are stabilized, they will be in a stronger position to provide care to animals in their lives and in their communities. Indeed, The HSUS cannot do this alone, and we need all hands on deck, led by caring individuals, especially our partners in human and animal welfare. In a disaster response, federal authorities are tasked with the monumental job of addressing critical human concerns, and in this case, where the needs are so great, we are prepared to take their lead.
Along with our supply warehouse partner in Florida, the Humane Society of Broward County, we’ll continue to support these relief efforts as we prepare to send key staff to Vieques to assess the condition of the island’s horse population, which, according to anecdotal accounts, has suffered major casualties. We have a Spanish-speaking assessment team on standby, that, when appropriate, will work with our shelter partners and the veterinary community to identify the greatest needs across the island, and we’ll be sending in people and resources that are proportional to the needs. We expect those needs to be great. For instance, yesterday we learned that there are more than 850 horses at a racing track in San Juan who are facing severe challenges as well; we have opened up discussions with The Jockey Club and the United States Equestrian Federation to see if a plan to help the horses can be developed.
In all, the nation and The HSUS are facing a crisis of epic proportions for people and animals. We cannot do this without you and without the support of the American people.
Puerto Rico is part of the United States. We will double down on our work there to help them through this great crisis, with our full focus, energy, and resolve. This was a 100-year storm, and there’s been so much loss. And to be sure, there is hardship ahead. If there’s ever been a time for the nation to rush in to help Puerto Rico, that time is now.
P.S. Please donate to our Disaster Relief Fund to support our lifesaving work for this and other disasters.