Back in 2017, Wild at Heart Foundation visited Puerto Rico with one clear goal in mind: to combat the rising numbers of dogs born onto the streets. With over 500,000 strays estimated to be living on the island, this is no small mission, especially when you consider that just one litter of strays born today will result in an average of 67,000 more unwanted dogs born over the course of just six years.
Having witnessed the problem ourselves, it became clear that the only way to make any kind of lasting impact was via high volume sterilisation. In March 2018 we joined forces with with ViDAS to hold our first mass-sterilisation programme on the island. In spite of terrible conditions, very little local marketing opportunities, and even rolling power cuts, we successfully sterilised over 1,000 animals in just six days! Furthermore, offering free sterilisation and vaccination services have served to help the people of Puerto Rico keep their pets safe and prevent unwanted litters.
Fast-forward a few years, and we’re proud of the work we’re achieving in Puerto Rico. Having attracted large-scale funding and operational support from HSUS, we’re now able to combine forces to run tri-annual clinics across the island, as well as supporting a number of smaller local clinics throughout the year. The scale and atmosphere of these clinics is often hard to convey; with thousands of dogs and their owners passing through a stadium-turned-surgery each day, the energy and activity we experience is utterly incomparable.
So let us invite you behind the scenes of our Spayathon clinics to share a day in the life of Wild at Heart Foundation in Puerto Rico…
The wait begins!
At every clinic, the line begins to form long before dawn, testament to the dedication of thousands of locals who are committed to playing their part in controlling the island’s escalating stray dog problem in a humane and responsible way. Despite queueing for hours, we’re always incredibly grateful to see people embracing the opportunity with such patience and appreciation, and it’s an honour to support communities in this way.
Step One: Registration
From pets and “community dogs” (the local term for dogs that take up permanent residence in a neighbourhood), to strays and street dogs, every animal who passes through the clinic begins with registration. Starting from 6am, over 500 animals each day are weighed, tagged and registered.
Step Two: Pre-Medical
Once registered, dogs wait to receive their pre-medical check up. Here, a qualified vet gives a thorough examination to ensure each animal is healthy and fit for surgery, before preparing them for sedation. At this point, owners or human chaperones hand over their dog to the surgical team.
Step Three: Surgery
A team of around 20 highly-skilled surgeons specialising in high-volume sterilisation use specially-designed, sterile mobile equipment to spay or neuter each dog that arrives on their table. Each operation is remarkably swift, with a surgeon averaging some 25 animals a day!
Step Four: Recovery
Next, the dog is transported to Recovery where Nikki and her team of volunteers monitor their progress as they come round from anaesthetic. Vaccinations, including rabies jabs, are administered, and all dogs are treated against worms, ticks, fleas and lice. They also can expect to have their nails clipped and ears cleaned.
Ready for home!
Once the dog has made a full recovery and has been cuddled back to a stable state, owners and chaperones leave with detailed aftercare information & support. We are so grateful to the thousands of people who attend our clinics, all of whom play an active role in compassionately managing the problem on their doorsteps.
We are incredibly proud of the work we achieve during the short but intense period of the Spayathon clinic; but our work does not end there. Whilst mass-sterilisation is the most effective and compassionate means of tackling the stray problem on the island, it’s too late to save the lives of those who have already been born, dumped and neglected.
Wild at Heart Foundation believe in dog; in every single dog who needs us. We cannot turn a blind eye to the instances of extreme neglect, abuse and sickness that we witness whilst on the island. That’s why we’re committed to providing urgent care to dogs like Legend and Bella, funding their medical treatment and ensuring they are nursed back to health.
Shelters across Puerto Rico are full to bursting; due to extreme overcrowding they are forced to operate a 99% kill rate, with dogs being euthanised within 48 hours of arrival. We are passionate about building a network of local fosters for the dogs we rescue, as well as a longer-term campaign to build a humane, safe and spacious shelter on the island.
Giving a stray dog a second chance at happiness is one of the most rewarding aspects of everything we do at Wild at Heart Foundation, and Puerto Rico is no exception. Thanks to our foster network on the island and links with humane shelters in the US, we have funded and facilitated the adoption of hundreds of rescued dogs and puppies.
We refuse to ignore the suffering of even a single dog on the island, but we need your help to give them the treatment, care and love that they so desperately need. It takes a team of vets, experts and volunteers to keep our Spayathon clinics running. But it takes the support of thousands to make it possible.
We are reliant on the generosity of our donors to keep our clinics running. Whether you can spare £1, £10 or £100, we’re so grateful for whatever you’re able to donate.
Please, give what you can.
“It is always with a huge mix of emotions that I return to Puerto Rico: heartbreak in the face of so many animals’ suffering; a level of trepidation at the scale of the problem; joy to be reunited with the amazing community of volunteers, fosters and animal lovers on the island who give me hope for the future; and, determination to keep fighting, to make a difference.
It may be the dogs that keeps me coming back to the island.. but its the support of our donors and followers that keeps me going once I’m there. Our team works tirelessly … 18 hour days, gruelling physical work, gut-wrenching reminders of the effect that poverty, miseducation and neglect has on the island’s canine population … but your compassion is our fuel!
I am so so very grateful to everyone who engages in an issue that is taking place so far from most of our homes .. if you would consider donating what you can, your contribution will play an active role in stopping the escalating stray problem in its tracks..
Slowly but surely, we are making a difference.
From the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of the dogs of Puerto Rico, thank you.”
Nikki Tibbles, Wild at Heart Foundation Founder