Our longstanding work in Puerto Rico was made all the more urgent when Hurricane Maria pummeled the islands and all but eliminated utilities, transportation, and other essential services for weeks and, in some parts, months.
Given our work on the ground, and our connections with so many key constituencies in Puerto Rico, we were in a position to respond and try to bring relief and help the people and animals get back on their feet. HSUS and Humane Society International teams arrived on the main island of Puerto Rico and Vieques as soon as aircraft were allowed in, to deliver aid to thousands of people and animals in disaster-stricken areas, many in low-income neighborhoods.
What touched our people on the ground was the amazing human-animal bond they saw in full bloom even in a time of distress and hardship. No matter the obstacles, and perhaps precisely because of them, the people of Puerto Rico were committed to helping their companion animals and caring for them.
Earlier this month, The HSUS and its partners collaborated on our latest on-the-ground operation there — Operation Viva Vieques, which included spay/neuter and vaccination clinics for cats, dogs, and horses, and medical care for injured and sick animals on the island, off the west coast of the main island.
Dozens of veterinarians from Puerto Rico and veterinary teams from around the world deployed to the island where we hosted 20 free spay/neuter and vaccine clinics. There were also free horse wellness clinics. Altogether, our teams treated 759 animals at our makeshift clinics. We also castrated horses, provided farrier care and lessons for locals on hoof health, and trained others in prophylactic dental care for horses. It’s a remarkable horse culture on Vieques, and we were glad to put our shoulder into addressing the needs of the island for that set of animals.
The program also has an educational aspect, and we engaged Viequenese youth on animal care and wellness. The week culminated with the “Celebration of Vieques Animals” a joyous festival where The HSUS and its partners celebrated locals and their love of animals.
We worked with our partners to transport shelter animals out of the island and they are now being placed with The HSUS’s and The Sato Project’s emergency placement partners.
Since Hurricane Maria, we have transported more than 2,000 dogs and cats in animal shelters to mainland United States. The HSUS, HSI, and our partners have also distributed more than 250,000 pounds of humanitarian aid, including diapers, food, water, batteries, solar lighting, and generators, in Puerto Rico. We have helped 1,000 households with pets, mainly in low-income neighborhoods, giving them food, water, and essential care items.
After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, I promised that our work there would continue. With Operation Viva Vieques, we brought a little more hope and help to the island’s long-suffering residents, human and animal. There is a long road ahead, but step by step we march.