Dog ecology in Puerto Rico

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1998:

LUQUILLO, P.R.––To save a sato, one of the
Puerto Rican street dogs lately made legendary by humane
literature, a would-be rescuer first must find a sato– – and
that, these days, is surprisingly difficult.
Mailings from major humane organizations would
have you believe homeless dogs are everywhere in Puerto
Rico. Doing a personal ecological assessment of the Puerto
Rican homeless dog and cat problem, however, I spent six
days and five nights, March 25-30, combing the 320-
square-mile island from Luquillo in the east to Mayaguez in
the west, Old San Juan in the north to Ponce in the south. I
drove every major highway, circling the island and crisscrossing
representative parts of it six times, twice by night
and four times by day, mostly on mere ribbons of winding
asphalt barely wide enough for two cars to pass abreast.

For the first four days, I cruised slums, dumps,
agricultural districts, strip malls, waterfronts, restaurant
areas near beaches, the vicinity of the Carolina airport, and
the El Yunque rainforest—initially alone, but also for about
16 hours of observation time with Perry Fina of Pet Savers,
the outreach foundation of the North Shore Animal League,
which funded my trip to sort conflicting reports about the
homeless animal problem there.
On the fifth day I traveled more than 20 miles on
foot. First I jogged from my lodgings at the Grateful Bed &
Breakfast between El Yunque and Luquillo to the local beach
and back, by different routes. Then I walked west from the
Grateful B&B via back roads to the edge of El Yunque,
turned east, and combed the sidestreets of three villages on
my meandering return to Luquillo. In Luquillo I checked the
streets and alleys of the industrial park, the restaurant district,
and the hotel district. I finished with one last sweep of
the beach area, including the back alley behind the 16 bars
and chicken grills that serve beachgoers, as well as the
frontage road slums across a four-lane highway. Well after
dark I returned by car to do still more surveillance.
The sixth day I revisited El Yunque, then took
back roads along the Rio Canovanas, through the old slave
port of Loiza, and along the beachfront by the slow route to
the airport for a late afternoon departure.
In more than 75 hours of looking, I saw exactly
100 unrestrained dogs, of whom no more than 20 might
have been genuine s a t o s. The rest, often wearing collars,
were more likely free-roaming pets––an impression I confirmed
on my walking tour. That day I found a ratio of 44
restrained dogs to 13 free-roaming dogs, a much higher rate
of evident ownership than could be seen from a car. This
appeared to be because owned dogs inside houses and/or
behind fences are more inclined to rush to a visible point and
bark at a pedestrian than they are to notice a passing vehicle.
I also found that 10 of the 13 free-roaming dogs I
saw that day rose from lounging in the street to trot to a particular
porch or doorway upon my approach, where they
then took a proprietary stance––home, defending their territory.
Of the three dogs who did not rise and trot home, I
later learned that the one in the worst shape (shown on page
nine) was in fact an old pet with hip displasia, who just

couldn’t move quickly.
On my last day, from the car again, I
observed only 14 dogs, of whom 13 were freeroaming.
I often stopped to see what the dogs
would do. All 13 headed home, where several
were greeted by humans––including three dogs
who were initially pursued outdoors by a naked
man who had just jumped out of his bathtub
and was trying to keep the dogs from running
in front of my car.
Over the six days, I saw 77 dogs held
by chains, fences, or leashes. It would thus
appear that only about half of the Puerto Rican
owned dog population is restrained. Yet care
standards appeared lacking to no greater an
extent than the care standards for children, and
certainly to no greater an extent than I saw during
the four years that ANIMAL PEOPLE
published from the rural Adirondacks in upstate
New York, along the Vermont border.
I visited good Puerto Rican neighborhoods,
where all the yards were neatly fenced,
all the children had toys and proper clothing,
and all the dogs seemed well-attended and
loved. I also visited neighborhoods where dogs
and ill-clad children alike played and foraged at
their peril in narrow but busy streets.
Even in those neighborhoods I saw
little sign of food scarcity, among either dogs
or humans––but I did see far more dogs who
were clearly afflicted with parasites, both internal
and external. At a guess, I would think the
children in these neighborhoods are also more
likely to endure the same or similar miseries.
In addition to the 177 live dogs, I
spotted 30 roadkilled dogs, about an equal
number of roadkilled small lizards, three roadkilled
Norway rats (all on the same stretch of
road beside an unofficial dump outside
Luquillo), three roadkilled ignuanas, a freshly
flattened mongoose, and two roadkilled chickens––a
surprisingly low number considering
that throughout Puerto Rico I saw half a dozen
freeroaming chickens for every dog.
At least two-thirds and perhaps 80%
of all the dogs I saw in Puerto Rico, both freeroaming
and restrained, were unneutered
males. Females evidently have far higher mortality,
as I have previously seen among feral
cats on the U.S. mainland, and female dogs
may also be more often killed at birth.
Among the 100 unrestrained dogs,
nine were lactating females. Three females, no
longer lactating, led puppies. One large sato,
high in El Yunque, ventured forth at night with
a litter of four. The other two, both small and
bedraggled, with long hair utterly unsuited to
the Caribbean climate, had one puppy each.
Two dogs under fairly flimsy
restraint also had one puppy each. Though the
mothers could not roam, the puppies were
quite able to bolt through gaps in the fencing to
either roam or become roadkill.
The relatively low evident fecundity
would suggest that the free-roaming and potentially
free-romaing dogs are, at most, barely
reproducing at a pace to match roadkill attrition.
If the Puerto Rican homeless dog population
is either growing or holding steady, most
recruitment is probably not through reproduction
but through abandonment––not of puppies,
remarkably scarce among the free-roaming
population, but rather of adult dogs.
And dogs are indeed abandoned in
Puerto Rico, typically around age one, for
behavioral reasons, according to my observations
in about eight hours at animal shelters––
exactly as on the U.S. mainland.
But little abandonment appears to
involve intentional cruelty. Some Puerto Rican
shelters have a deserved reputation as death
camps for dogs; the typical abandonment
seems to be by people who want to give an animal
they feel they cannot keep a chance.
I witnessed women and one little girl
in tears as they abandoned dogs, almost certainly
under orders from men of the family.
Gas station cashiers explained that dogs I saw
on their premises had been left hours before by
customers who hoped some other customer
would take them home––and I was tempted to
try to take one very cute, bright chihuahua mix
myself, until I saw she was lactating, possibly
with pups nearby, whose begging might have

been just for food, not adoption, unless one
could find and take her litter too. Long trustbuilding
might be required to get her to lead
the way.
Down in the dumps
Except for the ambitiously humane
Protectores de Animales Regional y Estatal
shelter in Caguas, and the quite conveniently
located Centro de Control y Adopcion de
Animales del Municipo de San Juan, whose
location is very well identified by signs, I
found Puerto Rican animal shelters not only
difficult to locate, but often also reluctant to
give directions and hours by telephone, if
accessible by telephone at all, and typically
quick to demand if asked for their address as to
whether my intention was to drop off a pet. I
never did either locate or connect by telephone
with the Amigos Unidos por Animals
Abandonados shelter in Vega Baja, the apparent
but unnamed target of an “animal collector”
expose in the spring 1998 edition of
PETA’s Animal Times. I also couldn’t find the
Albergue de Animales Municipal de Arecibo,
though a group of teenagers staffing a pet supply
shop attached to a downtown veterinary
clinic that adopts out street dogs tried hard to
give me directions.
The most extreme example of an animal
shelter evidently not doing the job was
that of the Humane Society of Puerto Rico in
Guaynabo. Founded in 1958, and directed for
40 years by now retired Belgian consul
Richard Durham, HSPR in mid-1986 came
under a blistering Internet attack from one
Karen Fehrenbach, a U.S. Drug Enforcement
Agency staffer then assigned to Puerto Rico.
Backed by some local animal rescuers
and allied with the Caribbean Recycling
Foundation, which then and now was attempting
to establish itself as a brokering agency for
Puerto Rican humane groups, Fehrenbach
accused the HSPR of allowing dogs and cats to
starve, and to suffer lingering deaths from
untreated injuries. But when I requested verification,
Fehrenbach refused to document any
of her claims with either photographs or witness
statements, and instead unleashed a string
of attacks on me via Internet bulletin boards
for even asking questions. Supporting statements
eventually obtained from Fehren-bach
allies seemed shaky, partly because some of
them replicated Fehrenbach’s own statements
word-for-word, partly as well because they
were contradicted by a first-hand report from
Neil Trent of the World Society for the
Protection of Animals, who had visited the
HSPR shelter, he said, only days before
Fehrenbach said she had seen the atrocities.
Durham was gone long before I got
to visit HSPR, and so was Fehrenbach, who
according to both DEA sources and other animal
rescuers active in Puerto Rico ran into
trouble with DEA internal affairs for allegedly
abusing her position. Her case is apparently
still under DEA review. However, without
defending Fehrenbach’s conduct, I did find
reason to believe negligence was and remains
HSPR standard procedure.
When I called, the evident shelter
manager informed me of Durham’s departure
nine months earlier, gave me directions with
apparent wary reluctance, identified himself
as “Freddy,” and explained that even though I
had come all the way from Washington state to
see him, he was trying to close the shelter in
time for lunch at 12:00 sharp, and therefore
wouldn’t be there when I arrived.
When I did arrive, at a facility more
than a mile from the listed shelter address,
“Freddy” was still trying to lock the door and
escape, hindered by two carloads of people
who insisted on giving up dogs. One middleaged
couple eventually dumped a sick sato in a
plastic bag out on the street, along with trash.
“Before our eyes, they throw
garbage,” commented Freddy. Indeed they
did. Allowing Freddy to depart, enabling me
to get an unencumbered look at as much of
HSPR and environs as I could from the outside,
I observed mountains of trash on the two
approachable sides of the building, on both
sides of the street. High barbed wire-topped
fences made a no-man’s-land of the yard.
On closer look, the trash proved to
consist almost entirely of the cardboard boxes
and plastic bags in which people had brought
and left animals, together with rags packed
into the containers to help make the animals
comfortable, tins and disposable dishes of animal
food, and occasional animal toys.
A lactating black mongrel paced nervously
through the trash, ignoring accessible
food scraps, apparently concerned about puppies
who must have been inside.
Deciding to give Freddy the benefit
of the doubt and assume he was ignorant of
proper shelter management, not knowingly
neglectful, and remembering former North
Shore Animal League shelter director Michael
Arms’ frequent admonition that if a shelter
allows itself to look like a dump, it will be
treated as an animal dump, I set about picking
up the trash. I packed every cardboard box
that was sturdy enough to be packed. There
was no dumpster to put the boxes into. Instead
I stacked the boxes along the curb beside my
rented car, intending to consult with Freddy
later as to where I should take them.
Then I tried to pick up a plastic bag
from the street directly in front of the shelter
truck door. Inside I found the remains of puppies
or kittens––I couldn’t tell which––decomposed
to liquefaction, bones, and fur.
A shelter worker appeared from the
far end of the building. He caught the black
dog. Moments later Freddy returned. He and
the other man unloaded and carried indoors
about as much cat litter as ANIMAL PEOP
L E uses in a day for our 18 cats, and as
much dry dog food as we use in a week, for
our two dogs. HSPR, however, boasts 60
runs, and claims to handle 12,000 animals per
year. I wondered if the evident lunchtime purchases
were part of an inefficient daily routine,
or were made for my benefit, to cover for
deficiencies in the operation.
Without receiving a specific invitation,
I followed Freddy into the bleak, windowless
HSPR office. Again Freddy questioned
me: why did I want to see the shelter?
What was my intention?
“You realize,” Freddy warned,
“that shelters in Puerto Rico are not like the
ones in North America.”
Then he saw my camera.
“There will be no picture-taking,”
he added.
In other words, whatever was
behind the doors was so bad that he didn’t
want anyone else to see it.
“Then that is where our conversation
ends,” I informed him.
I did later get to see part of the
HSPR interior. Disspirited dogs were hard to
see among piles of trash. More trash rotted
and reeked in tall grass behind the shelter.
Soon after my return to Washington,
the current HSPR president called to lament
that she hadn’t been able to meet with me, and
to complain about the difficulties of operating
with little money and public support. Her
office, I understood, was in Santurce, which
raised some question as to whether she or
Durham had really known much if anything
about the shelter operations.
Having seen many shelters in less
auspicious locations and less affluent communities
whose staff managed to take in abandoned
animals before they were crushed in the
street, who picked up trash and didn’t act like
fugitives, I was utterly unimpressed with her
continuing string of excuses, unsupported by
any description of active efforts to straighten
out the problems. I told her that if she can’t
run an operation visibly deserving public support,
she should get out of the business, that
HSPR was flat-out the worst so-called shelter
I’ve seen in many years, and that doing a job
that badly wasn’t doing animals any favors.
Revisiting HSPR two days after my
first visit, with Perry Fina this time, we discovered
the grass had been mowed behind the
barbed wire, a fence had been fixed so that
visitors couldn’t walk behind the shelter if they
cared to brave the refuse and stench, and a
dumpster was in place––though the trash I had
picked up remained where I’d left it, including
the stinking bag of puppy or kitten remains.
That bag clearly didn’t represent an
isolated incident, as Perry soon discovered the
right jawbone of a small adult dog, directly in
front of the shelter.
We failed to capture two small satos,
a male and female, whom we found apparently
living in the cemetery across the street.
Going to the dogs
We were not surprised to find satos
nearby. Both on the mainland and in Puerto
Rico, animals probably abandoned at shelters
in off-hours commonly haunt shelter neighborhoods.
On the mainland, the abandonees are
more often cats. Dogs–– because most U.S.
mainlanders no longer tolerate free-roaming
dogs––tend to be quickly caught. In Puerto
Rico, they remain at large. The most freeroaming
dogs and cats I saw anywhere in
Puerto Rico were close to animal shelters, not
only HSPR but also even the tiny but quite
well-managed Villa Michelle, on a mountaintop
above Mayaguez.
At Villa Michelle, directed by academician
Hilda Ramirez, the problem is simply
location. A highway sign directs visitors
toward Villa Michelle, but the road then
winds through several intersections, climbs
steep hills, and is too narrow in places for two
cars to pass abreast. Either unable to find Villa
Michelle or unwilling to risk accident, some
people whose initial intent may be to surrender
animals apparently give up and dump the animals
I found nothing at all wrong with
Villa Michelle itself, and was favorably
impressed by the exercise arrangements for
both the dogs and cats. But nowhere else did I
see as many clearly dazed, wandering, homeless
dogs and cats within a matter of blocks,
and I also found the bones of an apparently
abandoned dog in tall grass directly opposite
the shelter gate, just below the lip of the roadside
ravine. At a guess, a car descending the
mountain from above hit and killed the dog,
knocking the remains out of sight of the shelter
staff, before anyone at the shelter knew the
dog had ever been there.
I found feral cats living around the
refuse depot across the street from the Centro
de Control y Adopcion de Animales del
Municipo de San Juan, run by the University
of Puerto Rico veterinary school. Bunkered
behind glass, the Centro staff one after another
left me to stand around by myself while
each disappeared, ostensibly to get permission
to talk to me from someone else. The management
might be surprised to learn how much a
reporter can find out from an hour and twenty
minutes of eavesdropping on conversations
between staff and visitors, reading signs, seeing
what literature is out on desks or posted,
noting the behavior of the visible and audible
animals. By the time I left, it was plain that
the Centro de Control y Adopcion de Animales
del Municipo de San Juan is at best a mediocre
by-the-book animal control agency, with the
location and physical facilities to promote
adoptions, high-volume low-cost neutering,
and pet care education, but no real will to do
so. Contact between human visitors and the
animals was discouraged. Most animals were
kept well out of sight. Cages of kittens were
allowed to play in view of the waiting room,
but no one made an effort to show them off, or
promote the petting and cuddling that ends up
sending one or several home.
Except around shelters, free-roaming
dogs appeared most often in older slums
and suburbs. The most certain s a t o s l u r k e d
near traditional semi-outdoor grills, which
send the smell of hot chicken wafting throughout
their neighborhoods, produce plentiful
food waste, and serve a clientele who eat outdoors,
vulnerable to begging. S a t o s a l s o
appeared around fast food franchise dumpsters,
where one finds feral cats on the U.S. mainland.
Feral cats are scarce in Puerto Rico; I
saw just 23 cats of any kind. Cats have never
been popular pets in Puerto Rico, and even
though most of cats I saw were both
unneutered and free-roaming, the presence of
free-roaming dogs has apparently inhibited

successful outdoor kitten-rearing.
I could have counted many more dogs by concentrating
my efforts just on the locales most likely to have them, or
by spending more time with rescuers who attend free-roaming
colonies, but the purpose of an ecological assessment is not to
produce inflated counts. Rather, the object is to find the true
dimensions of a situation, including an overview as to how representative
the habitat of a particular kind of animal might be
relative to the totality of the surroundings.
Free-roaming dogs, including satos, are common to
certain sites in Puerto Rico, but on the whole the niche for genuine
s a t o s appears to be diminishing. This may be more
responsible for their apparent rapid decline than any of the still
small subsidized neutering programs on the island: the oldest,
that of PARE in Caguas, still neuters fewer than 50 animals a
week, and none of the others appear to be neutering more than
25 a week.
Like other wildlife, feral or otherwise, s a t o s n e e d
adequate food to survive and reproduce at a rate exceeding
attrition. For centuries the Puerto Rican dogs suffered little
predation. The only mammals native to the island are bats,
none of the native birds are big enough to be much of a threat
even to puppies, and none of the reptiles––mostly skinks, with
some geckos and iguanas––would harm a dog except in selfdefense.

Satos enjoyed relatively abundant food not long ago,
when the biggest business in Puerto Rico was cattle ranching,
with byproducts including slaughter offal, carcasses of animals
dead in the field, afterbirths, and dung. Since there was little
if any refrigeration, satos also enjoyed more food waste. They
supplemented their diets with windfall fruit.
That began to change more than 30 years ago, but the
real transformation has only come within the past decade, with
explosions in the rates of car use and ownership, the simultaneous
advent of refrigeration and the fast food industry, the disappearance
of village slaughtering sheds, the decline of openair
grilling, the contraction of the cattle business, and urban
sprawl overtaking not only the former cattle ranches but also
the fruit trees.
Simply put, the increase of car use has subjected the
Puerto Rican free-roaming dog population to quasi-predation at
unprecedented levels, just as development has contracted the
food supply from sources other than human owners.
Projections of the Dr. Splatt and Strah Poll roadkill
studies suggest cars annually kill about 0.3% of the mainland
U.S. dog population. In Puerto Rico, cars seem to be killing
20% or more. The food supply would have to be plentiful
indeed to boost canine fecundity enough to offset such losses
––but canine births appear surprisingly low relative to dog
numbers, due to the disproportionately low number of females.
If Puerto Rico had native mammals such as deer,
rabbits, raccoons, woodchucks, squirrels, chipmunks, and
prairie dogs, more car use could increase the food supply for
homeless dogs, as they might scavenge the roadkills of other
species––but Puerto Rico has no native species of sufficient
size or abundance to make roadkill even an incidental source of
canine nutrition. Feral mongooses living in and around E l
Y u n q u e are both relatively scarce and capable of fending off
dog attacks. Though some Puerto Rican dogs are adept ratcatchers,
rats don’t seem to contribute significantly to most
dogs’ diets. Dog might eat roadkilled dog, but cannibalism
inherently does not stimulate population growth.
In short, reports that Puerto Rico teems with homeless
dogs are exaggerated. And it is not just my own observation
that says so: a team of 22 volunteer animal control officers
from the U.S. mainland, organized by retired USDA veterinarian
Isis Johnson of the Puerto Rican Street Animal Project, with
help from the American Humane Association and National
Animal Control Association, in two weeks of patrolling Puerto
Rican streets in January 1997 reportedly caught and killed just
70 dogs––well under one dog per person hour. At that, the
ratio of dogs I saw to the time I spent looking suggests that the
animal control officers probably did catch about 75% of the
free-roaming dogs they saw.
Partly, the lower numbers of homeless dogs than has
been reported may reflect a recent decline in the population.
Partly it may be because previous investigators have relied on
rescuer reports, and rescuers, who tend to deal with the most
distressed animals, also typically overestimate the universality
of personal experience. As far back as 1981, researchers
Robert Calhoun and Carol Haspel documented that Brooklyn
cat-feeders tended to overestimate the number of cats consuming
the food they left out by about a third, and I wouldn’t be
surprised if sato rescuers similarly think they are dealing with
more dogs than they do, just because to a rescuer the stream of
animals needing help often does seem endless.
Mostly, though, I think investigators familiar with
the dog-keeping norms of the U.S. mainland tend to hugely
underestimate how many free-roaming dogs do have homes.
In fact, Puerto Rico appears to have about the same
ratio of dogs to people (about one dog per five human residents)
as the U.S. mainland, but Puerto Ricans are far more
likely to let their dogs roam at large––as was common on the
U.S. mainland until under 20 years ago, and is still the norm in
many rural areas.
Puerto Rican shelters report receiving about 50,000
animals per year, among them, mostly dogs. This is plausible.
But it also means that the 3.5 million residents of Puerto Rico
are sending about the same number of dogs and cats per capita
to shelters as the 3.5 million residents of Los Angeles, the 2.7
million residents of Chicago, the 1.6 million residents of
Philadelphia, and the 1.6 million residents of Houston.
There are differences, in that Puerto Rico doesn’t
have great numbers of feral cats, and therefore doesn’t have
great numbers of cats entering shelters, relative to dogs; U.S.
cities don’t have large free-roaming dog populations.
In addition, Puerto Rican shelters tend to have very
low adoption rates, typically under 10%, so far more animals
are killed. Pets are not adopted from shelters chiefly because
they are readily available from friends and neighbors. But
adoption rates in the U.S., now running at 25% plus on average,
were typically also less than 10% just 15 years ago, and
began to rise only as the advent of affordable neutering reduced
the percentages of pets who will ever either birth or sire a litter
to under 10% of owned cats and under 30% of owned dogs.
Humane ethic
Puerto Rican pet care clearly requires improvement.
Most obviously, owners must be encouraged to neuter pets.
They also must be encouraged to treat pets more often for parasites,
who thrive in the hot climate––but horses, emaciated due
to worms while knee-deep in grass, are a more common sight
in rural areas than either scrawny or mangy dogs.
There are three evident obstacles: lack of veterinarians
willing to do low-cost and/or free neutering, vaccination,
and parasite treatment, against the reported opposition of the
Puerto Rican Veterinary Medical Association; lack of aggressive
neutering, vaccination, and parasite treatment promotion;
and lack of ready access to affordable veterinary clinics.
The importance of access may be underestimated.
Although Puerto Rico is small and highly mobile, travel tends
to be slow due to winding roads and congestion. Ways must be
found to make affordable neutering, vaccination, and parasite
treatment accessible to all Puerto Ricans within a half hour’s
The advent of injection sterilization of male dogs,
now undergoing field trials in Mexico and at the Arizona
Humane Society, and soon to begin trial by the North Shore
Animal League, should solve the cost and access problems,
since it is much easier and less expensive to transport a syringe
than even a mobile surgical neutering clinic. Injection sterilization
should also get around the psychological problem that
Puerto Rican males, like many mainland counterparts, are
alleged to have with submitting their dogs to castration.
Use of low-cost neutering and other affordable veterinary
treatment could be boosted by spot announcements on the
many popular salsa radio stations––a medium that so far as I
could tell was not being used. Puerto Ricans are avid radio listeners,
and keen competition for ad dollars should keep air
time within reach.
Conducting a keep-your-dogs-home campaign via
radio spots would also be a good idea––but must be tempered
with recognition of the differences between typical Puerto
Rican accommodations and those in the U.S.
The message I’d use: “You have an investment in
your dog––love, care, neutering. Your children would be
heartbroken if a carkilled your dog. Please, keep your dog
Puerto Rican houses tend to be quite small by U.S.
standards, making “keep your pet indoors” messages unrealistic.
Puerto Ricans who can afford fences––and have yards to
fence––tend to have fencing already, for security reasons, and
tend likewise to keep their dogs fenced. Telling the remainder
of the Puerto Rican population to keep their dogs under physical
restraint will, if successful, mean only that more people
will keep their dogs tethered, alone and miserable. From my
conversations with Puerto Rican dog owners, however, I suspect
most would just ignore the message.
In my observation, male dogs are not neutered in
Puerto Rico, and dogs are not generally tethered, not from
negligence, but from the perception that castration and tethering
are inhumane. At least as regards dogs, basic humane values
are in place. This shows as well in the public resistance
that the animal control officers brought to Puerto Rico by Isis
Johnson found to the idea of rounding up and killing street dogs
en masse. As Johnson lamented in the December 1997 edition
of NACA News, many Puerto Ricans just wouldn’t cooperate,
because they thought the killing was cruel and unnatural.
What Puerto Rico lacks is not an ethic of kindness
toward animals so much as more knowledge about quality animal
Escalated adoption promotion will have limited success
in Puerto Rico: most people who might want a dog
already have one, homes and yards are small, and dog-keeping
costs money.
However, it appears to me that U.S. adoption shelters
in areas where demand for dogs exceeds the birth rate, including
the North Shore Animal League, could easily accept and
place almost every healthy or recoverable Puerto Rican shelter
dog for some years to come. Most of the dogs entering Puerto
Rican shelters are small to medium sized, young, and have
been socialized. I saw some potentially dangerous dogs in shelters,
including a few truly scary pit bulls and Rottweilers, but
most Puerto Rican shelter dogs are of good disposition.
Two projects, Save A Sato, organized by Karen
Fehrenbach, and the St. Louis-based Pet Search, led by Alice
Dodge, already fly adoptable animals to U.S. shelters on a regular
but limited basis. Perry Fina of Pet Savers and Emilio
Massas, director of the PARE shelter in Caguas, were close to
finalizing details of a much bigger transport program as ANIMAL
PEOPLE went to press.
As in the rural U.S. South, where Pet Savers has provided
animal transport from selected major animal control shelters
to the North Shore Animal League adoption shelter on
Long Island for a decade, a successful dog transport program
can be used as a magnet to get owners to bring unwanted litters
and pets into shelters. Then the mothers can be fixed free or at
big discounts.
Judging by recent rapid gains against pet overpopulation
in the U.S., an effective extension of humane services
could bring Puerto Rican dog and cat fecundity under control––without
more shelter killing––in five years or less.
My hope is that extension and expansion of the
already successful PARE programs, including to other sites,
will encourage the HSPR and San Juan animal control to
markedly improve their services in order to remain competitive,
and that Puerto Rico can get to no-kill animal control as fast or
faster than the many major U.S. cities with similar shelter
intake rates.

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