Amidst the tragedy and suffering wrought by Maria in Puerto Rico – and that toll exacted on animals and people is incalculable — there are also extraordinary demonstrations of the power and durability of the human bond with animals. Adam Parascandola, director of animal protection and crisis response at Humane Society International (HSI), reports that the teams have been visiting small villages in Puerto Rico that have not had many services and have been bringing dog and cat food and setting up makeshift clinics as needed. When they arrive in these areas people flood out of their houses with their animals to show them off and pick up food. They want to provide nourishment to the animals as badly as they want food for themselves.
“Despite people having lost so much, they are still deeply concerned about their animals and grateful that assistance is available for them,” Adam told me. “In each of these places there are also people who feed and care for the stray animals. I think it is a really powerful testament to the bond between people and animals.”
One colleague recounted a story of a woman chasing after the HSI truck, while somehow juggling four Chihuahuas in her hands and arms.
At our public animal clinics, we have seen hundreds of animals affected by the hurricanes. Cindy Mitchell, who moved from Texas to Vieques earlier this year, found a dog she named Nefertiti living inside a tire with her seven puppies, no more than six weeks old. They had ridden out two storms, and were “terrified and starved,” Cindy told our staff at the clinic. Dr. Dickie Vest, DVM, conducted checkups and administered distemper vaccines to all the dogs.
Nefertiti’s story has a happy ending: Cindy is adopting her, and three of the puppies have been adopted by families in Vieques. In partnership with Our Big Fat Caribbean Rescue, we’ll fly the other four puppies to the caring hands of one of our over 300 Emergency Placement Partners, and in the coming week they too will find their forever homes.
Ten-year-old Jayshwua heard about our clinic from a friend and rushed his dog, Pen, to receive care, waiting patiently in line for his turn. “My dog is sick and I didn’t know how to help,” Jayshwau said. “It’s hot and a long line, but I’m happy I waited for my turn.”
Since the hurricane, HSUS and HSI veterinarians, staff, and volunteers have been bringing food and medical aid to animals and people. In addition to delivering approximately 70,000 pounds of humanitarian and animal aid supplies, including water, diapers, baby food, dog, cat, and equine food, and more, to the island’s residents, we are operating public animal care clinics in various locations on the island, where our team of responders and veterinarians is providing free medical care for dogs, cats, horses, goats, and other animals so they can stay with their families.
These public clinics in Vieques have helped more than 400 animals so far and supported hundreds of families in their effort to provide basic care and food to their pets. On mainland Puerto Rico, we are reaching countless others. We have distributed food, water, and other essentials to at least 1,000 households that have pets, mainly in low-income neighborhoods in Naguabo, Fajardo, Ceiba, Rio Grande, Loiza, Las Marias, and Isabela.
The HSUS has already been on the ground in Puerto Rico for the last three years as part of our Humane Puerto Rico program, designed to lift the circumstances for animals and the people who care about them on the main island and also in Vieques. Some of the hardest hit during this storm are shelters we are working with, under our Sister Shelter Project, and in the days following the storm we are making sure these shelters are getting the support and supplies they need.
Wherever we can, we are transporting animals that were in shelters prior to Irma and Maria off of the island to animal rescue organizations on the mainland. We have transported more than 1,200 animals from shelters in Puerto Rico, who have been routed to more than 50 animal rescue organizations in the United States. Earlier in the week, we transported 110 dogs and 13 cats to Virginia. Among several other generous supporters, Georgina Bloomberg continues to sponsor lifesaving flights of hundreds of animals from hurricane-torn shelters in Puerto Rico to the mainland. These flights also bring in resources, including humanitarian aid and pet food, that are distributed to the sister shelters.
Our HSI team is also working with the government in Costa Rica after Tropical Storm Nate, and we are checking on villages where access has only recently opened. Many of the areas are still blocked and the team has to cross rivers and hike, all while carrying in needed food and supplies. Their work will expand to the other affected areas in Costa Rica as access to other regions open up.
For all those affected by these disasters, we are giving them our all, and we don’t plan on relenting. The suffering continues, and that requires our continued resolve and focus and investment.
P.S. Please donate to our Disaster Relief Fund to support our lifesaving work for these and other disasters.