In Puerto Rico, organizations work to give animals battered by hurricane a second chance

This is part of a series of originally reported stories from Daily Kos on the impact of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, communities, children and more.

In the aftermath of a natural disaster, most of our attention goes to the safety and well-being of human beings. Emergency medical and rescue services, food, water, shelter—all of these things are of immediate concern. But what may fail to come to mind for many is the safety of animals.

In Puerto Rico, the disaster recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria have failed people in a major way—Refugee International describes the poor coordination between FEMA and the local government as “prolonging the humanitarian emergency on the ground.” Surprisingly, though, this has not been the case when it comes to animals impacted by the storm.

Shortly after the storm, in October 2017, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló signed an executive order allowing the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International to provide care to animals on the island. During that time, the Human Society and its partners provided food, transport, care and health assistance to animals while simultaneously supporting residents. Rosselló extended that executive order this month, which means that these organizations can continue their work for the next 18 months. 

I traveled to Vieques in January in order to find out more about the condition of the island in the months since Maria. While there, I spoke to Janie Chadwick—a woman working with the Vieques Humane Society. An expat from Vermont, she was working at the tiny airport bar/restaurant. In between orders, she was happy to talk about the coordinated efforts to save dogs who have been abandoned or lost. I was shocked to learn that Humane Society personnel were among the first people to travel to Vieques after the hurricane. It made me wonder about the message it sends to the people of Puerto Rico that the efforts to coordinate rescue and transport for animals were better planned and more thought out than the efforts to save human lives.

Janie said the following:

“The Humane Society was among the first eight people on the island and set about immediately clearing our local shelter of 100 dogs. Those dogs were sent to various states like Indiana, Wisconsin and Florida. But we worked on the island, too. We sponsored well animal clinics and managed to get 765 animals spayed and neutered. We had a 30-day task force that was responsible for coordinating and airlifting pets to the mainland.”