Six years ago there was only one no-kill shelter in Puerto Rico. It did 2 adoptions a year, and often at least one dog would be returned. All the other shelters had a 95-98% kill rate.
These days, however, it’s a different story. Thanks to their U.S. partner Animal Lighthouse Rescue in NYC, the shelter has brand new facilities, regular transport trips to America, and, most importantly, funding.
All those involved with Animal Lighthouse, which is a volunteer based organization, are passionate about saving the satos that roam uncared for on the streets of Puerto Rico. Conservative numbers place 250,000 satos in the U.S. territory. Higher estimates number in the millions.
What is a sato? In Puerto Rican slang, it means stray dog. So all the dogs that roam the street; those left to fend for themselves; those abandoned at the infamous Dead Dog Beach–these pups are all the ones that AL sets out to save.
The situation in Puerto Rico is not one many dog lovers Stateside are aware of. Active volunteer Eric Knapp, also known as the “dog guy” at his workplace Google, admits that before adopting from AL, he was one of those Americans. He talked to us about the life-changing experience he had when he rescued his satos and discovered exactly where the new loves of his life had come from:
“The saying ‘who rescued who?’ completely applies to me and my dogs, I totally live that, they rescued me. Before them, I grew up with pedigree dogs. I didn’t know the situation down there, but read about it after [I adopted] and then went and saw for myself. To this day even, after so many years with my pups, what breaks my heart, when I think of the reality of the situation, is what happened to the dogs in my pups’ litters that didnt make it to a loving home.”
Once a month, Julie and other AL volunteers make trips down to Puerto Rico. They rescue dogs off the streets, get to know their temperaments, provide care, and then find them homes. Most of them are flown up to NYC, where they find eager adopters.
AL likes to say that when you adopt a sato, you save two lives–the dog you adopt, and the other dog that is able be taken into the shelter in place of the former dog.
Animal Lighthouse is a small rescue, though they have recently begun to grow. They are lucky to have the help from an anonymous funder, who provides for their transport trips and sometimes pays for a hundreds of dogs to be spayed and neutered. However, the rescue’s goal is ultimately to become self-sufficient so they can expand their rescue efforts and spread awareness about the situation in Puerto Rico.
As Julie explained, “Although Puerto Rico is part of the U.S., there is little enforcement of U.S. laws when it comes to animal rights. The government doesn’t really do anything, even though these dogs live on American soil.”
Eric, Julie and the others at Animal Lighthouse (their volunteers come from all walks of life, ranging from models, to lawyers, to real estate agents) work tirelessly to shed light on the situation. Why?
Well, as Eric poignantly put it, “Dogs, the way they are today, were made by humans. So we have the ultimate responsibility to them.”
To learn more about Animal Lighthouse Rescue’s work, or to adopt one of their pups, go to their website. Also check out their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates on their rescue efforts and the pups they find!