Our team has just completed the first stage of Spayathon for Puerto Rico, an ambitious initiative to spay and neuter 20,000 cats and dogs at no cost to pet owners on the island, and it’s been an amazing success. For seven days, surgical teams, ground teams of trained volunteers and staff members from partner organizations, and responders from the Humane Society of the United States — with the backing of a coalition of 22 organizations — worked to spay and neuter 5,608 dogs and cats and provide them with vaccines, food, collars and leashes.
The coalition members conducted the clinics at seven sites strategically chosen to reach as many people and animals as possible, including Ceiba, Carolina, Culebra, Manati, Moca, Ponce and Vieques. People began lining up with their pets as early as 8 p.m. the night before, and by 6 a.m. each day the lines were at capacity at all clinics.
Three years ago, when we first began our work to help the animals of Puerto Rico, we made a commitment to stay the course no matter the challenges. After Hurricane Maria devastated the island last year, the challenges expanded, but one thing we witnessed at the time, and have continued to see since, is the amazing bond between the people of the island and their animals, and the tireless determination of the animal shelter and rescue organizations ready to help them.
During this deployment, we continued to witness the incredible bond. Among the animals we helped last week was Chloe, an eight-year-old Chihuahua and her owner, Soraya. Soraya described Chloe as her life – the two even “sing” together — and was understandably nervous about the surgery, but the two were reunited in the recovery area and Chloe was ready to go home soon after.
Then there was Chula, whose owner, Dixie, arrived on the first day of Spayathon with his two dogs, Chula and her puppy, Phoenix. Dixie had found Chula after Hurricane Irma – a friend had seen someone throw the dog, pregnant at the time – out of a van, but had been unable to catch her. Dixie and his wife took her in and after she had her puppies they found homes for all but one, Phoenix, who stayed with the family. Both Chula and Phoenix were spayed and vaccinated and returned to their home happy and healthy.
Spayathon also helped many cats. Eight-year-old Frisky has been getting into fights with other cats, and his owner had been considering getting him neutered. Finding out about the event was just the push that she needed. She was grateful to get Frisky neutered and vaccinated.
We also heard from members of the community who had dreamed of such help for animals coming to the commonwealth. In Ceiba, a retired veterinarian visited the clinic to thank the veterinarians. He can no longer work because of arthritis in his hands, but told them that this had been a lifelong dream of his. A rescuer broke down in tears of joy when she heard that all of the clinic sites were full.
The stories go on and on, and we are proud of each and every animal we helped over this past week. But just as incredible was the massive behind-the-scenes effort involved. With the support of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello and First Lady Beatriz Rossello, and in conjunction with the Puerto Rico Board of Veterinary Examiners and the Puerto Rico Veterinary Association, the HSUS and 22 organizations banded together for this effort – a level of interorganizational collaboration that was unprecedented. Local and national NGOs, veterinary organizations and corporate sponsors came together to bring the best in practices, procedures and care to the cats and dogs of Puerto Rico.
The impact of Spayathon will be felt for years to come, and would not have been possible without the collaboration and support of each partner. Maddie’s Fund®, PetSmart Charities, Petco Foundation, GreaterGood.org and The 20/22 Act Society, are providing financial support for this initiative. Banfield Foundation, Best Friends Animal Society and Rescue Bank are providing critical supplies, such as vaccines, pet food and crates. Veterinary teams from Emancipet, ViDAS, Veterinarians for Puerto Rico, Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell University and Helping Paws Across Borders are providing high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter services in locations across the island. Ground support is being provided by Puerto-Rico-based groups, including the Humane Society of Puerto Rico, The Sato Project, the government of Puerto Rico, Junta Examinadora de Medicos Veterinarios de Puerto Rico, Colegio de Médicos Veterinarios de Puerto Rico, The Puerto Rico Dog Fund, Friends of Culebra Animals, Wild at Heart Foundation and Our Big Fat Caribbean Rescue.
The next three rounds of Spayathon will be conducted between November and May of 2019. Besides altering thousands of animals, the campaign also aims to create lasting change for the island. In addition to providing critical services to pet owners, dozens of veterinary professionals will receive high quality, high volume spay and neuter training through the ASPCA Spay/Neuter Alliance. At the conclusion of the campaign, the surgical equipment, supplies and other assets that are left over will be donated locally, as part of a long-term plan to establish a lasting high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter infrastructure on the island.