Puerto Rico is an island that has been historically ravaged by natural disaster. Thrown into deep poverty, local communities have been left bereft of funding and resources to care for their animals, and dogs have been turned out or born onto the streets in their thousands. The rapidly growing stray dog population is struggling to survive in the face of neglect, disease and starvation.
Wild at Heart Foundation worked tirelessly to stop this problem in its tracks. Through our pioneering spay & neuter clinics, and our commitment to rescuing those dogs who need it most, we changed the lives of tens of thousands of Puerto Rican strays and prevented millions of puppies being born.
When our founder Nikki Tibbles travelled to Puerto Rico decades ago, she was expecting to find respite and relaxation. Instead she discovered a dire stray dog crisis, and untold levels of neglect, sickness and abject human cruelty wherever she turned: from boxes of puppies dumped as though they were little more than rubbish, to sick and skeletal dogs roaming the streets on the brink of starvation.
After spending her holiday sneaking dogs into her hotel room, combing the beaches at night to feed the communities of strays that gathered there, and even flying two dogs home with her, Nikki vowed that the next time she returned to Puerto Rico, it would be to put an end to the suffering she’d seen; suffering that she thought could not get any worse. But then Hurricane Maria hit.
In 2017, as people began to flee the island and leave their homes, animals were being abandoned in their thousands. Animal-lovers were faced with a heartbreaking choice, and many felt they had no choice but to leave their beloved pets behind as they escaped to safety. Thousands more weren’t as lucky; left for dead, tied up or caged in backyards and shelters, they were deserted with no way to save themselves. With thousands of dogs roaming the streets with no food, shelter or basic care, breeding and fighting spiralled out of control and the stray population skyrocketed.
In just a few short years, the situation reached catastrophic levels. There are currently an estimated 500,000 stray dogs on the island, a number that is growing at an unprecedented rate. Dogs on the street face a daily battle against starvation, disease and cruelty, whilst dogs in public shelters live out their final days with a death-sentence hanging over their shoulders: impounded dogs are given a mere 48 hour window in which to be claimed (a near-impossibility for an unowned stray).
As a result, some 500 dogs are euthanised on the island every single week.
In September 2017 after Hurricane Maria ripped the island to pieces our team flew out to Puerto Rico to help the thousands of animals left abandoned on the island in dire conditions. A desperate rescue mission, this gave us the opportunity to assess the situation on the ground – far worse than we could even have imagined – and formulate a plan of action to begin implementing lasting change.
In March 2018 we joined forces with ViDAS, a group comprised of veterinarians, veterinary students, technicians, and animal–loving volunteers, 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.
The model was a real achievement; but if we hoped to make a significant enough dent in the rising problem, we knew we’d need more feet on the ground and greater funding. Fortunately, the success of our clinic attracted the interest of Humane Society US, leading to us forming a partnership with them and a coalition of organisations to roll out a wider mass-sterilisation initiative to the pets of Puerto Rico. Offering free sterilisation and vaccination services, our combined efforts have served to help the people of Puerto Rico keep their pets safe and prevent unwanted litters.
Alongside the sterilisation initiatives that we’ve implemented, Wild at Heart Foundation were responsible for the rescue of hundreds of dogs and puppies from Puerto Rico who would otherwise have been euthanised. Dumped at the clinic gates, these dogs had no hope of survival if we did not find them safe refuge. We worked hard to build a network of fosters on the island who could give these helpless animals somewhere safe to recover before they reached our friends of New York, where their second shot at a happy life can finally begin.
18 months and seven clinics later, and the combined “Spayathon 4 Puerto Rico” initiative successfully spayed / neutered over 35,000 animals. 12,225 of these dogs have been directly treated at a Wild at Heart Foundation x Vidas clinic. You can take a look inside our Puerto Rico clinics in our ‘behind the scenes’ blog post!
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