You’re right, Ann Marie. Puerto Rico is a fantastic place, filled with amazing sights, wonderful people, and a whole bunch of scraggly-looking abandoned and stray dogs. Estimates on the number of mutts (or Satos, as they’re called) roaming the main island range from 100,000 to 200,000. Considering that Puerto Rico is 3,500 square miles in area, that’s an average three to six homeless dogs for every square mile.
There are many reasons for the incredible overpopulation. Puerto Rico has few spay-and-neuter programs, even fewer animal control officials, and less than 10 animal shelters. The Humane Society can’t keep up with the overwhelming number of dogs it receives, and according to newspaper articles, 97 percent of dogs in shelters are euthanized. There’s even a stretch of sand on eastern Puerto Rico known as “Dead Dog Beach”—though I’ve never seen it myself—because so many mutts are abandoned on it every day.
I have to be honest with you, though: adopting a dog from Puerto Rico is less than a drop in a bucket, in terms of making a difference. (Math geek friends tell me there are 19,000 drops of water in a five-gallon bucket—meaning that adopting one dog out of 150,000 strays is like one-seventh of a drop.) So I’m honestly not sure there’s much of a point in getting one from there as opposed to visiting your local rescue shelter. But if you’re determined, I can tell you how. There are two ways to do it: 1) Take one home with you after your next trip there, or 2) adopt one that’s flown to the mainland U.S. from Puerto Rico by a dog-loving charity.
TAKING A STRAY DOG HOME
Given that Puerto Rico is a part of the United States (and should be the 51st state, but don’t get me started), the steps are pretty easy. Take it to a veterinarian, make sure that it gets all of the appropriate medical tests and vaccinations—and that it’s healthy enough to travel—and ask for a certificate that allows you to take the pooch on an airplane. The hard part is actually affording the dog. Medical bills can cost hundreds of dollars, and then you have to buy a kennel and pay the extra airline charge. The website Island Dog provides contact numbers for vets and shelters and other useful information for people who want to adopt a Sato.
ADOPTING A DOG THAT’S FLOWN TO YOU
The easiest way to save a stray dog in Puerto Rico, whether you want to adopt it or not, is to become involved with the Save a Sato Foundation. This all-volunteer non-profit rescue organization is leading the fight to decrease dog overpopulation in Puerto Rico through awareness, rescue, adoption, spaying and neutering, and care. The group sends dogs to homes and shelters that have open kennel space on the mainland U.S. all the time. Because airlines require that all dogs be accompanied by a person, Save a Sato enlists travelers to volunteer as dog escorts on flights to cities on the East Coast, like Newark, Boston, New York, and Hartford. It lists its dogs available for adoption through Petfinders.com.