Friday, October 19, 2007

The Issue of Puerto Rico Stray Dogs: Their Plight and How to Help them

A good story that exposes this unfortunate situation.

For information about how to adopt a dog from Puerto Rico, go to or call 787-313-5653.


Central Florida groups help find new homes for Puerto Rico stray dogs,0,6592560.story
Jeannette Rivera-lyles | Sentinel Staff Writer

October 19, 2007

News that more than 50 cats and dogs were thrown to their deaths from a bridge in Puerto Rico last week circled the globe and horrified many. Christine Driscoll's reaction was no different. She felt sick to her stomach, angry, frustrated and helpless.

But not surprised.

When Driscoll moved to Puerto Rico 13 years ago, she planned to teach English at a private school. But she was overwhelmed by the thousands of stray cats and dogs on the island and by the authorities' failure to enforce animal-cruelty laws. In response, Driscoll, now a resident of Baldwin Park in Orlando, founded Amigos de los Animales (Friends of the Animals).

For information about how to adopt a dog from Puerto Rico, go to or call 787-313-5653.

Street Dogs, a book by photographer Traer Scott, records some of Amigos de los Animales' success stories.

All proceeds go to Amigos and other animal-protection groups.

Visit Ann Hellmuth's Animal Crazy blog
The organization, which she runs from her home office, rescues and rehabilitates stray cats and dogs in Puerto Rico and finds them homes in Florida and other states.

On Thursday, Driscoll joined forces with the SPCA of Central Florida to find homes for dogs through its shelters. Initially, an official with the agency said, it will take 30 to 50 dogs from the island.

"In the future we might be able to take more," said Jake White, senior vice president of the SPCA of Central Florida.

Driscoll has adopted two dogs of her own from the island -- Paloma and Ally -- and recently placed a dog with an Orlando couple.

Initiatives such as this one are the only chance many of the island's strays have, she said.

"There are just a handful of shelters in Puerto Rico and they are overwhelmed," said Driscoll, 40. "So we don't have another choice. It's either adoption here or euthanasia."

The U.S. commonwealth is at the center of an international controversy over how it deals with an estimated 300,000 stray cats and dogs as well as animal-cruelty incidents. The issue was brought to the fore last week when a private animal-control company seized dozens of cats and dogs from a public housing project and hurled them off a bridge. "Pet Massacre in Puerto Rico," read the headlines from Australia to Latin America.

Animal-rescue groups across the country as well as those on the island quickly denounced the killings, while pointing out that it was not an isolated incident. Animal abuse, they say, is rampant in Puerto Rico, and one animal-rights group is calling for a tourism boycott.

"We don't want to bring anybody down," said Ginny Cornett, founder of Hands for Paws, the Palm Beach-based group calling for the boycott. "But if this is what it will take for the Puerto Rican government to pay attention to the problem, so be it."

The negative publicity has caught the attention of some government officials. On Tuesday, Puerto Rico tourism secretary Terestella Gonz�lez-Denton called for a meeting with Driscoll and representatives from animal-protection groups to discuss possible solutions.

Hands for Paws and Amigos work together, rescuing dogs from an isolated beach in Yabucoa, a coastal town in eastern Puerto Rico that is a frequent dumping ground for unwanted pets. Among the locals, the stretch of sand is known as "dead dog beach" because the strays are frequently tortured, mutilated, beaten to death and even shot, Driscoll said.

Dr. Rafael Ramos, a veterinarian who treats many of Amigos' rescued animals in his San Juan office, says he frequently sees gruesome cases of abuse.

"There's a sector of our society that has lost respect for life," Ramos said. "Animals are not seen as living beings. Strays are seen as pests."

Most of the dogs that Amigos rescues are flown to U.S. shelters once they are nursed back to health, sterilized and vaccinated. Last year, the organization brought more than 800 dogs to the mainland. Many went to the Humane Society of Broward County in South Florida.

"We get a lot of puppies from Puerto Rico, and those are adopted quickly," said Cherie Wachter, a spokeswoman for that organization. "And that fills a need because if people don't find what they want in a shelter, they'll go to a pet store."

Wachter said her shelter takes puppies only when they have available space and said no animals are euthanized there. The SPCA of Central Florida has a similar policy. Amigos' animals also go to shelters in New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Driscoll is hopeful that things will take a turn for the better on the island.

"We finally have the attention of people that ignored us for the longest time," Driscoll said. "Something good has to come out of this."


Anonymous said...

The bridge story left a mark on us. We just returned from Puerto Rico this past weekend. While there, my son found a very tiny kitten under a car in the hotel parking garage, mewling to break your heart. It was covered with fleas, motor oil from the floor of the garage, its eyes gummy from discharge.

After cleaning this baby up in our hotel room, I started to look on the internet about bringing pets home from PR to the US. Upon learning I needed only a travel certificate, I tipped the hotel concierge to help us in any way possible. I gave him my cell number, and the concierge duly was able to make a last minute appointment with a local veterinarian, as well as inform the vet ahead of time as to why we were there.

Our kitten was too young to be vaccinated, but we obtained treatment for his eyes and for his intestinal issues, and a test for Feline Leukemia (negative). We were given a travel certificate (the vet stayed beyond hours to help us, as we had to leave by plane today), and we brought our baby kitten home this very day.

It was not difficult AT ALL. The ticket agent at the airport in San Juan was incredibly nice to us after she asked us if ours was a Puerto Rican cat.

Just to say that if I hadn't read the stories about Puerto Rico and the problem with stray animals, I may have not looked into the situation and merely left the kitten with a shelter. I am so glad that I knew it was a one-chance situation with this little guy.

And yes, once you see one stray animal, you see the rest of them. We must have counted at least 5 dogs and another 2 cats (adult) roaming freely around the highways.

Thank you for this site.

GEARI.ORG said...

Thank you for your post and thank you for acting to help the kitten. You truly did the right thing.

I too was once in Puerto Rico and I remember the strays. Very sad and very troubling. Unfortunately they have done little to solve the problem.

Anonymous said...

Just a follow up to the comment above - we are 7 weeks home, and our kitten is doing great. All of his issues have cleared up, and he is the most beautiful yellow and white boy who will hopefully grow into a nice big tomcat.

I wanted to add, for anyone else who is looking for information on this, like I looked - if you find a stray animal in Puerto Rico that you would like to bring home, you need to:

1. You need travel documents for the animal you want to bring to the US from PR. Only a vet can issue these, so

2.Get to a local vet. We had the bad luck of having our only day available be a holiday (MLK day), but a friendly tip to your hotel concierge (or ANY hotel concierge, if you are not staying with a hotel, trust me, you will not be investigated, just leave a cell number). A concierge will not only help you get an appointment with a local vet, but will explain to the vet your circumstances in advance. This helped immensely.

After you get your documents,

4. Call your airline and tell them you will be bringing an animal home with you, and that you have the documents. Give them your name and flight number and find out their policies on:

A: where the animal must travel (cargo or cabin)
B: What kind of carrier is acceptable
C: If you need a reservation for the flight, and
D: airline charge for animal passenger.

In our case, American Airlines permitted our kitten to travel with us in a carry-on soft carrier that fit under the seat in front of us. The cost was $80 for an animal passenger, and you do need to let them know ahead of time, because American permits only up to 6 animals in cabin on any given flight.

Once we were booked with our kitten, we found we were home free. We were asked to put the cat's carrier through the X-Ray machine, but to take the kitten himself out at the last minute and just carry him in hand through the metal detector.

The American Airlines check-in attendant looked at our documents to see that they were in order but did not take any of the carbon copies available. Everything was handed back to us with no further red tape.

No one else past the ticket agent asked to look at the cat's documents, except for the vet back home in the US, who looked at the previous vet's notes.

Again, I just hope this helps someone else who finds a potential pet in Puerto Rico who wonders if it's possible to bring home to the US. It is.

Good luck to everyone.

GEARI.ORG said...

Thank you for this very useful information. Hopefully it will help lead to other adoptions.

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