By Brittany Bernstein and Jillian Weynand
Serena, a young brown pitbull, has made the journey of more than 1,600 miles to Patchogue, New York. She was pulled out of the back of a truck filled with 54 barking dogs. She is one of the 55 that New York Bully Crew rescued out of the 300,000 that still remain in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria’s devastation.
Since October 19, commercial airlines have been enforcing a “no animals over twenty pounds” policy that has made getting larger animals like pitbulls off the island nearly impossible. The embargo is a result of the federal government taking over the cargo compartments of planes in and out of Puerto Rico to transport supplies, Sylvie Bedrosian, a volunteer at Save a Sato, one of Puerto Rico’s oldest shelters, said.
“That’s a huge problem,” Bedrosian said of the embargo. “Imagine if you want to take your dog and you can’t. It’s not like you have an aunt or a cousin [to take the dog]. Everybody is without power and water. You cannot leave that dog on somebody who doesn’t have the resources to take care of it.”
One rescue worker found a dog tied to a fence with a twenty dollar bill tucked in its collar, Bedrosian said, a testament to how desperate people are.
Last year CNN reported that over 300,000 dogs live on the streets of Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria has only made the situation worse, Carla Mohan, New York Bully Crew’s Puerto Rican organizer said, acknowledging that many on the island are still without fresh water and electricity one month after the hurricane hit.
“The overpopulation of strays, and the neglect and abuse rate on the island is astronomical,” Mohan said. “The animals of Puerto Rico desperately need help.”
Save a Sato, which can hold 150 dogs, is at capacity, much like other shelters on the island. Save-A-Pet NY has worked with Save a Sato to bring dogs to Florida, where some dogs are reunited with their owners, some are sent to local shelters and others are transported to Save-A-Pet’s Port Jefferson facility, in order to provide some relief for overcrowded Puerto Rican shelters.
Like New York Bully Crew and Save-A-Pet, The One Love Dog Rescue of Smithtown, NY, runs with the help of volunteers who act as foster parents to animals until they can be adopted.
“I started fostering dogs last summer and I am fostering my 36th dog now,” said Ashley Batista, a volunteer foster with the One Love Dog Rescue. “I have fosters from Puerto Rico and a few from Puerto Rico have been adopted through One Love already.”
The One Love Dog Rescue cares for dogs that are in need of a new home after being abandoned or abused.
“With foster dogs you want to spend a lot of one-on-one time with them,” Batista said.
In order to unite the Puerto Rican dogs with their adoptive or foster “parents,” both New York Bully Crew and Save-A-Pet have contracted private planes to fly dogs from Puerto Rico to Florida. The flights come at no small cost: $15,000 each, Save-A-Pet President Dori Scofield, who has partnered with Paws Landing, said.
“Financially, [the cost of travel is] ruining our organizations,” Scofield said. “We’re just doing everything that we can.”