From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1998:

CAGUAS––Emilio Massas,
founder and director of Protectores de
Animales Regional y Estatal, not only
invited me to visit when I called, but
dropped everything to drive across town
and lead me to the shelter.
I had been told by Alice Dodge
of Pet Search that Massas ran the best shelter
in Puerto Rico, and therefore saved
calling him for last.
But I also had been told by others
that there were good shelters elsewhere in
Puerto Rico, only to find on a visit that
each had serious deficiencies. One location
listed as a shelter by some activist groups
turned out to be a porch with one dog. The
best Puerto Rican shelter I’d already seen,
Villa Michelle in Mayaguez, was great––if
you could find it––but was far too small to
fully serve the community.

By the time I followed Massas’
pickup truck off the paved road and up a
hill to the PARE shelter, beside a former
city dump now being converted into a public
park, I was ready for anything.
What I saw was a facility similar
in size, cleanliness, and facilities to the
well-regarded Bennington County Humane
Society, in Shaftsbury, Vermont––but
handling five times as many animals, on a
budget of about $240,000 a year.
PARE in 1996 received 7,224
animals: 5,616 dogs, 1,607 cats. Among
them, about 450 dogs were returned to
their owners. Following strict adoption
screening that includes an in-home visit by
Massas himself, PARE adopted out only
191 dogs and 38 cats, for a total adoption
rate of just 3.1%, and sent another 133
dogs and 27 cats to St. Louis, Missouri,
for placement by Pet Search.
Altogether, PARE killed 85% of
the animals it received, under animal control
contracts with Caguas, San Lorenzo,
Barranquitas, Cidra, Cayey, and Fajardo.
Despite the high rate of killing,
it was apparent that the PARE emphasis is
on saving lives. About 60 dogs at a time
are housed in two banks of runs, with a
third bank under construction. All of the
dogs get outside-the-run time. Cage cards
confirm that Masses keeps dogs with seemingly
good prospects for as long as possible
in hopes homes can be found.
Among about 40 cats are also
some longtime residents, some of whom
have become shelter mascots.
The euthanasias I witnessed were
all of animals arriving with serious health
problems. I was asked for an opinion on a
kitten with a severe eye condition, recommended
euthanasia, agreeing with Massas,
and looked inside the plastic garbage bags
into which technicians were putting
remains to see what animals had been
killed before I got there.
Each, I could see, would have
been euthanized at almost any good shelter,
including no-kill shelters which lack extraordinary
resources for healing and recovery.
None looked like the typical Puerto
Rican street animals I had been counting
and inspecting: these had fallen on very
hard times, mostly due to severe parasitic
infection or vehicular injury. They tended
to be the very young and relatively old, the
same animals predation would cull from a
wild population.
It was my pleasure to introduce
Massas to Perry Fina of Pet Savers, and
recommend that they collaborate to send
more adoptable animals to the mainland.
Already the PARE shelter seems
to be neutering more animals than any
other facility in Puerto Rico. With Pet
Savers’ help, it can expand to do more.
The most striking aspect of
PARE, however, was not the potential it
has for accomplishment with help from the
mainland, but rather how much it is
already accomplishing by making no
excuses, putting the emphasis on success.
Massas dreamed of starting
PARE, he told me, when he was 27. He
was 40 by the time he finally opened the
doors, in 1989. In the interim he worked
as a medical technician and studied shelter
operations on the mainland, including a
stint during the 1970s at the Lucky Star nokill
cat shelter in Denver, sponsored by the
Coors brewery. Massas brought to PARE
ideas, experience, and the notion that
through the PARE shelter he would train a
generation of young people to open similar
facilities around Puerto Rico as needed.
Much remains to be done. The
shelter needs sound baffles between the
working areas and the tin roof, for
instance, and separate dog and cat intake
areas. Even more, it needs a water supply:
water now must be trucked in.
That alone is an obstacle that
might have caused others to shrug and
accept substandard conditions. To Massas
and staff, though, it seems “impossible” is
just a degree of difficulty they have committed
themselves to overcome.
[PARE welcomes donations at
POB 7686, Caguas, PR 00726-7686.]

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