This November, our team returned to Puerto Rico once again to commence our sixth high-volume sterilisation clinic to date. Sterilising over 3,000 animals in just six days was an incredible achievement, and we’re so proud as always to play a role in what has now become such a vast and record-breaking operation – we’ve come a long way from those early days when we first established a makeshift clinic, that’s for sure!
But it’s not a Wild at Heart project trip unless we’re rolling up our sleeves and getting to know the locals! And when we came across a family of “community dogs” living in our neighbourhood, and met the people who are caring for them, we knew we had to help. Community dogs is the term given to stray dogs who live on a particular patch / area. They’re known (and often well-loved!) by locals, and are usually fed by residents and business owners in the area.
Compared to the vast majority of dogs around the world who suffer a life of cruelty and starvation on the streets, we must remind ourselves of the relative good fortune of community dogs. Whilst we may wish to see them all tucked up in a warm bed under a safe roof, it’s thanks to the kindness and generosity of the people they cohabit with in their neighbourhood that they’re able to survive and experience a level of human kindness and love that is sadly a luxury on the streets.
Take the man in the neighbourhood we stayed in who looks out for a family of loveable overgrown pups; they’ve been relying on his generosity since they were tiny. Now over a year old, they’re well-fed, playful, and enjoying a quality of life on the street that few are lucky enough to know. That’s thanks to his compassion.
To help support these local efforts, we wanted to provide a service that they would otherwise be unable to offer these community dogs: we took the opportunity to sterilise and vaccinate them, ensuring that no more puppies are born into the pack (which means fewer mouths to feed!) and giving the dogs they’ve grown to love a better chance at living a happy, healthy life.
Waking up before dawn a few days into the clinic in order to allow time to catch the dogs without causing them undue stress, we headed down to the area where they sleep. Their community have helped show them that humans can be trusted so they came trotting up to greet us with wagging tails, and – after a few minutes of tentative caution – were more than happy to be stroked and fussed.
The best way to a dog’s heart is through it’s stomach, so we spent time feeding them a tasty breakfast before easing them into slip leads – easier said than done! Whilst they’re not fearful of basic human interaction, these dogs have grown up on the streets, alert to danger. As soon as they feel an alien sensation round their neck, most stray dogs inevitably start to panic, so we were sure to remain calm, soothing and relaxed, allowing them plenty of time to read the situation and eventually trust us enough to coax them into the car.
From here, we were able to take them to be treated on the island – something that we’re only able to do thanks to the generosity of our donors who support funding efforts to care for strays both in and out of our clinic. Once they’d been operated on, vaccinated, and treated against fleas, ticks and worms, they were ready to go home.
It’s always a good feeling to give a street dog the kind of treatment usually only reserved for owned dogs, but one of the most heart warming part of the experience was taking them back to their “patch”, and seeing their excitement as they realised they were home. Still a little groggy from their surgery, they perked up as soon as they realised where they were and it was wagging tails and happy dances all round!
You can read more about “Trap, Neuter, Release” method of sterilisation here.
We’ve visited the family every day since to donate food (and get our daily dose of cuddles!) and we were delighted to meet with the man who showed them how to trust. As a business owner on the backstreet where they’ve settled, he sees them every day and takes a vested interest in their health and their future. We were honoured to be able to give something small back to this community patch, but the survival of dogs like these is thanks to the day-to-day kindness of strangers.
There are hundreds of people here in Puerto Rico who give freely, even when they may not have a lot themselves, to help the strays in their area. From caring individuals to organisations large and small, this island of dog-lovers need our help. Not because they don’t have the will. Not because they don’t have the knowledge. But simply because they have been dealt a problem too great to manage alone.
Wild at Heart Foundation believe whole-heartedly in collaboration, and supporting local efforts wherever and however we can. We’re proud to be working alongside our incredible operations partners in Puerto Rico (Vidas, The Puerto Rico Dog Fund, and Humane Society US) to offer a free service that would otherwise be unavailable to local dog owners. We’re humbled to be a part of a huge movement towards lasting change. But most of all, we’re in awe of the people who share their knowledge and allow us to support their incredible rescue efforts.
We cannot help local rescue efforts without public funding – it is only thanks to your donations that we have been able to find homes for hundreds of Puerto Rican strays to date. Your generosity will allow us to support the dog-loving community here still further; please, give what you can.