Rescue orgs in Puerto Rico ship abandoned pets to US, fly aid in
SAN JUAN – Faced with infrastructure collapse and uncertainty as to future work prospects, many Puerto Ricans have decided to move permanently to the U.S. mainland. Others, particularly the elderly, sick or those with children, are also being flown out by family members without knowing if or when they’ll be able to return.
The unfortunate consequence of such a large number of people relocating all at once is that space for pets on flights has quickly filled up. Many people have had to leave behind some or all of their pets at local shelters, while other have simply opted to abandon them, representatives of several local shelters and animal rescue organizations revealed.
The Humane Society of the United States, which sent emergency response teams to the island shortly after Hurricane María hit, has been systematically emptying shelters to make room for new animals, both surrenders and rescues. Its emergency response teams have also been doing field work in municipalities around the island, bringing humanitarian aid for animals and people.
“The main things we’re doing with the implementation of the teams on the mainland and Vieques is providing pet food, water, generators, emergency vetting and transportation of animals out of Puerto Rico to the states to be adopted,” explained Tara Loller, senior director of Strategic Campaigns and Special Projects for the Humane Society of the US.
“In some locations we were the first humanitarian aid to arrive, bringing diapers, baby food, formula, everything under the sun,” she added. This was the case in Vieques, where they have set up five clinics and are seeing 60 to 100 pets a day, including horses. They have also been flying food and generators in with helicopters for cancer patients on the island-municipality.
The 23 private planes they have flown in with donations have left with hundreds of animals from the Humane Society of Puerto Rico, the Vieques Humane Society, the Sato Project, Save a Gato, San Juan’s Animal Control and Adoption Center, and many other shelters, Loller said.
Some of these shelters, such as El Faro de los Animales in Humacao and Santuario de Animales San Francisco de Asis in Cabo Rojo, sustained severe damages by the hurricane and are not operational. Many of their volunteers and staff are still rescuing abandoned animals while they can evacuate them to the U.S. mainland or find them a permanent home.
Another organization that has been on the ground since the beginning is Guardians of Rescue, a New York-based nonprofit that also dealt with the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma in Texas and Florida, respectively. “We were tired and beaten but we had to come. Puerto Rico has the worst destruction, is the most expensive, and will take the longest,” Robert Misseri, president of Guardians of Rescue, told Caribbean Business.
Working out of the Humane Society of Puerto Rico in Guaynabo, its members have been carrying out field rescues, organizing chartered flights for animals being sent to stateside shelters, as well as flights to Florida where they are reuniting people with their pets, in coordination with Pet Haven Rescue.
“Some people refuse to leave the island if they can’t bring their pets, so we’re chartering flights to Fort Myers where they can go pick them up. Once they have their pets on their way to the mainland then they are able to leave the island,” Misseri explained. He cited the case of an 87-year-old woman on oxygen, whose family couldn’t convince her to leave Puerto Rico unless she could take her dog.
So far they have booked four private planes, bringing in 3,000 pounds of aid for animals and the people caring for animals. Unfortunately, because telecommunications remain a challenge, Misseri admits they haven’t always been able to get the aid where it needs to go because they can’t communicate with teams on the island. Eight more members of the organization will be arriving to help on Monday.
All of this has put Guardians of Rescue in dire straights. “It’s been extremely expensive. We’re not a big organization and we don’t want to stop but we don’t know how we’re going to continue to do this financially,” Misseri wondered.
The magnitude of their efforts has not gone unnoticed by local rescuers. “There are many people in the United States interested in helping us with the animals and they have been doing the enormous exercise of raising funds to get a plane, which is extremely expensive,” said Maritza Rodríguez, executive director of the Humane Society of Puerto Rico.
Recently a group of shelters pooled funds to charter a plane and fly out 150 cats and dogs to Massachusetts and Maine. The effort was managed by All Sato Rescue, a network of independent animal rescuers from around the island. This was the sixth plane they had loaded since the hurricane passed, although previous ones were organized by the Humane Society of the United States.
Other organizations chartering flights to evacuate animals, sending aid to Puerto Rico, and offering emergency veterinary services include Wings of Rescue, Alpha Crew and Veterinarians for Puerto Rico.
People leaving their pets behind is not a new trend, though, Rodríguez said, although it has increased substantially since the storm, as well as requests for pet travel certificates.
While normally her organization would send animals that were ready to be adopted–meaning sterilized, vaccinated, socialized and healthy–via American Airlines (AA) cargo, these operations are now focused on relief efforts to bring in and distribute supplies and are not accepting animals in cargo, said Laura Masvidal, of AA corporate communications.
“Our flights leaving Puerto Rico are reaching pet carry-on limits, which is why we ask our customers traveling with pets to call Reservations in advance. We are also accepting checked pets but the temperature cannot exceed 85 degrees [fahrenheit],” Masvidal added.
For their part, JetBlue increased the amount of pets they allow to travel in the cabin to 8 per flight and waived the fee until Nov. 15.
“Although the number might vary, we’ve seen an increase in the amount of people traveling with their pets,” indicated a company representative. The airline doesn’t transport animals in cargo.
Other airlines contacted by Caribbean Business did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
To donate to some of the organizations helping animals and people in Puerto Rico, visit:
Humane Society of the United States: http://www.humanesociety.org/
Guardians of Rescue: https://guardiansofrescue.org/
Wings of Rescue: https://www.wingsofrescue.org/
Alpha CREW: https://www.facebook.com/YourAlphaCREW/
Veterinarians for Puerto Rico: https://www.gofundme.com/veterinariansforPR
Humane Society of Puerto Rico: http://www.hspr.org/
All Sato Rescue: http://allsatorescue.org/