By Genevieve Cottraux
Playa Lucia on Puerto Rico has long been where unwanted and abused dogs, called satos, have been abandoned. Hundreds of dogs live, or try to survive, there at any given time. Residents of the area have taken to calling it Dead Dog Beach. The rescue group the Sato Project was formed in 2011 to provide care to these dogs and fly the healthy ones out to the United States. Many were in the system to be rescued before Hurricane Maria hit the island on September 20. A volunteer with the Sato Project was able to take in 53 of the dogs, who rode out the storm in crates atop concrete blocks. Then Wings of Rescue came into the picture.
On September 29, volunteer pilots from Wings of Rescue flew a cargo plane of humanitarian relief supplies—including water, diapers, and food—into devastated Puerto Rico. On its return flight, the plane delivered 91 cats and dogs from the Sato Project to New Jersey, where they will receive medical care and be sent to partner shelters for adoption. It is estimated that a total of up to 1,000 animals will be flown to St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, New Jersey. The flight that arrived on September 30 included 3 pot-bellied pigs with the 70 dogs and 4 cats, but the majority of the rescued animals have been dogs and cats, although birds, rabbits, and other pets have also been evacuated. These animals were already in shelters in Puerto Rico and were evacuated to make room in the shelters for impacted animals. Each flight into Puerto Rico includes donated supplies for humans and animals alike.
Wings of Rescue has been busy, with constant flights in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida. Over 100,000 companion animals were displaced by those 2 hurricanes. Dire emergencies from the hurricanes are also being addressed in Louisiana and on the island of St. Thomas.
Founded in 2012, Wings of Rescue is an all-volunteer organization with a mission to fly “endangered pets from high intake and/or high-kill shelters to no-kill shelters from where they have all been adopted into loving homes.” For these 2017 hurricane relief missions, Wings of Rescue’s partners include the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), GreaterGood.org, FreeKibble.com, and the Rescue Bank pet food distribution program.
Shelters from around the United States have been receiving the displaced animals. Flights have been flown from Lafayette, Louisiana to San Diego, California; from El Paso, Texas to locations in Oregon and Washington; from San Antonio to Morristown, New Jersey; from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to Hayward, California; and now from San Juan in Puerto Rico to Morristown.
These animals are, of course, the lucky ones. Dogs left behind on the island of Barbuda when the human residents were evacuated to Antigua after Hurricane Irma hit are resorting to killing the horses, cows, sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens left behind and roaming free for their survival. Dogs in Florida were left tied or penned, unable to escape, while turtles and manatees were stranded in mud. Countless farmed animals were left to die in the paths of the storms.
The rescue work is ongoing, both in the affected areas and at the shelters receiving the animals flown out. The group Red Rover, for example, has deployed to New Jersey to assist HSUS in providing emergency sheltering and care for the animals brought in by Wings of Rescue.
While the United States government has received criticism for being slow to respond to the needs of the regions struggling in the aftermath of the hurricanes—particularly Puerto Rico and others affected by Hurricane Maria—groups like Wings of Rescue, HSUS, and the ASPCA have been there since before the storms hit and will continue to provide aid to the victims.