Dead Dog Beach is a real place that serves a surreal purpose. It’s located on the southeastern coast of Puerto Rico, at the end of a road too long for dogs to walk down, so they’re taken there, and left.
A similar fate awaits over 200,000 strays that roam the island. Locals call them Satos, the Puerto Rican term for mutt. It carries a connotation that suggests abandonment, abuse and helplessness, but also resilience, kindness and love.
We spoke to six organizations that work tirelessly to get these dogs off the streets and into their forever homes, no matter how long it takes.
Jackie Renda’s Buffalo Sato Rescue was inadvertently founded while on vacation in Puerto Rico, when a stranger she met showed Jackie a picture of two puppies her aunt Enid (Jackie’s now–business partner) had found on a dirt road. She explained that if taken to the shelter, they’d be put down immediately. “I quickly knew the boys were not going anywhere but had found a home with me!” Jackie took Eduardo and Gepetto (now Jo Jo and Ed) with her to New York, where the brothers still live together today.
On the nature of Satos:
“I have seen first hand those Satos that have been abused come out of their shells once they are adopted into a loving home! Satos are the ultimate underdog! They are extremely smart. I think they have evolved that way sort of as result of survival of the fittest given what they’ve had to endure.”
Julie Sinaw and the team from Animal Lighthouse Rescue believe that education is the key to ending the island’s overpopulation problem. “Right now, many Puerto Ricans think that spaying/neutering their dogs is harmful to them,” she says, “That their dog loses its value in society by it being spayed or neutered.”
On implementing education:
“Our team goes into schools to try to educate the younger students, elementary and middle school-aged kids. We also have local brownie troops come into the shelter to meet some of the dogs.”
On the future of Satos:
To Julie, the near future looks bleak. “Because of the economic problems hitting Puerto Rico, people cant afford to take care of their dogs. They are abandoning their dogs left and right,” she says, ” In the 6 years I’ve been rescuing Satos, I have seen changes. I absolutely see hope in the future. And the more awareness is spread, and the more we are involved, the more changes will happen.”
3. Island Dog
Island Dog is based in Puerto Rico, where its founder Katie Block has lived since 1999. When she first started Island Dog nine years ago, she says, “dogs, puppies, and kittens could be found everywhere. I would go to the Walmart and find abandoned puppies in a shopping cart.”
On spaying & neutering:
“Daily we work with local vets to sterilize the street and community dogs” she tells us, “Our discount voucher program provides owned pets the opportunity to be sterilized and vaccinated. We provide health exams, vaccines, and surgery.” Since the sterilization program began six years ago, Island Dog has sterilized over 5,000 animals, preventing over 90,000 births.
On the best part about rescuing Satos:
“BY far the most fulfilling part of our job is an airport trip. I often find myself fighting back tears when I see 50+ dogs leaving the island (in one day) for a better life.”
How you can help:
Help Island Dog provide the much needed medical attention to the Satos by donating medications and supplies. See a list of needed materials and how to donate here, or click here for adoptions and foster care.
Before she became President and Executive Director of Amigos de los Animales, Adrienne Galler Lastra lived a corporate lifestyle. “Seriously though,” she says, “life is so much better now than when I worked to make a living.” The non-profit volunteer organization rescues, rehabilitates and re-homes the strays of Puerto Rico full time.
On the stray problem in Puerto Rico:
“Strays are a problem in low socio economic areas [Like Puerto Rico] where public education is very bad.” Adrienne recently had to reclaim a Rottie and a Chocolate lab three years after adopting them into, what she believed was, a fitting home.
On why rescuing is worth it:
“There is nothing better than seeing your rescues become healthy, happy and well balanced and full of good food and love,” she says, “When people from the states write me and send me pictures of their babies that were once mine, and they tell me how much better life is since they’ve had their pet, it makes it all worth it.”
How to help:
Amigos de los Animales is in need of monetary donations along with medical supplies, cleaning products and food, click here for full lists. Visit Petfinder for an updated list of adoptable pups, or contact [email protected] for information on how to volunteer.
Secretary of All Sato Rescue and long-time animal advocate Twig Mowatt works remotely from Boston for the San Juan-based ASR. ” It is beyond heartbreaking” she says about the perpetual dumping of dogs on the island, “I have the luxury of not being in the field the whole time. I don’t know how my colleagues do it and keep their sanity.”
On determining which dogs go, and which stay:
Choosing which dogs are flown to the states depends on several states of urgency. Twig tells us things to consider include: “Is there a dog that needs to be moved quickly because it’s previous owner has just died? Is it in danger of being euthanized?” What are the partner shelters’ requests? “Some shelters want all puppies, some want a mix of sizes and ages, some want all small, etc.”
On Dead Dog Beach:
Twig tells us that Dead Dog Beach is only the tip of the iceberg. “There are dumping grounds for dogs all over the island” she says, “People move off the island and dump their family pets off on the beach on the way to the airport! Every day is a new tragedy–or two–or ten.”
How to help:
Read extensive list of essential medical, veterinary and cleaning supplies, kennels, bowls, leashes and dog food on their page here. There are twenty shelters and rescue groups in the states partnered with ASR, find one near you here.
Chrissy Beckles is a champion amateur boxer and a professional dog rescuer. “People think this is a tough ‘job’. This isn’t a job, this is my life,” she tells us. Chrissy fights to raise money for The Sato Project; the organization focuses its efforts on Dead Dog Beach and visits the location twice a day, 365 days a year, “rain or shine, holiday or hurricane.”
On what rescuing Satos is really like:
“It is hard not to get emotional – some of these dogs are being dumped in simply horrific condition. However we always tell ourselves ‘Their life is going to change today’. And then we run through bushes, crawl into caves or swim after them to bring them to safety. And if you cannot recue them today then you try again tomorrow. Many do come right into your arms” she says,”Others take time. Years. But we never, ever give up.”
“We have a saying at The Sato Project ‘No dog left behind’. And we do our damnedest to abide by those words every single day.”
How to help:
Donate to The Teddy Heartworm Fund to help with the treatments of roughly 70% of heartworm-positive Satos that The Sato Project encounters. For fostering, fill out an application here and send it to the foster and adoption team at [email protected].
Featured image via Animal Lighthouse Rescue Facebook