Humane Society Naples rescues 29 dogs from Puerto Rico ahead of Hurricane Dorian

The odds were ever in the favor of 29 lucky dogs from Puerto Rico.

Not only did Hurricane Dorian skirt the island, even if the storm had made landfall, the dogs wouldn't have been there anyway.

The Humane Society Naples welcomed the dogs this week as part of its ongoing effort to rescue dogs from Puerto Rico, which struggles with its stray dog population. 

"If these dogs weren't coming to us, they'd be euthanized," said Jon Foerster, director of community affairs for Humane Society Naples.

"Can you imagine one of those dogs being put down?" he said, gesturing to Milly and her sister, Molly, 2-year-old shepherd mixes who are two of the 29 rescue dogs.

Shelter Manager Kristin Sampson gives treats to Molly, right, and Milly, left, two of 29 dogs brought in from Puerto Rico ahead of Hurricane Dorian, at Humane Society Naples on Thursday, August 29, 2019. The shelter has a partnership with All Sato Rescue, a nonprofit that rescues stray and abandoned dogs in Puerto Rico.

The dogs come from a rescue organization in Puerto Rico called All Sato, which is Spanish slang for "mutt."

All Sato flies the dogs on a cargo plane to Miami. From there, Humane Society volunteers pick them up and take them to the shelter's boarding facility on Oakes Boulevard for processing, medical evaluations, behavioral analysis and, if necessary, spay and neuter surgeries.

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Once the dogs are deemed fit for adoption, they're transferred to the Humane Society's main location on Airport-Pulling Road, where they'll wait to find their forever home.

"They're all such great dogs," said Kristin Sampson, the shelter's manager. "They're all very sweet and we're so glad we were able to get them before the storm."

The shelter rescues dogs from Puerto Rico throughout the year, regardless of hurricanes, although in this case, the Humane Society made an effort to receive a group of dogs ahead of Dorian, Foerster said. 

Foerster said Humane Society Naples receives dogs from All Sato about 10 times a year. In the past five years the Humane Society has rescued 750 dogs from Puerto Rico, not including the 29 who just arrived.

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"Stray dogs are a big issue in Puerto Rico," he said. "People just abandon their dogs and they're left to wander the streets and beaches. And during storm events, these dogs have no place to go. They're left on their own out in the open."

Puerto Rico has always had a large population of stray dogs, but that population grew in 2017 after Hurricane Maria forced many people to abandon their homes and belongings, including their pets. It's now estimated that there are more than 500,000 stray dogs on the island, according to the Humane Society.

Molly, left, and Milly, right, two of 29 dogs brought in from Puerto Rico ahead of Hurricane Dorian, play at Humane Society Naples on Thursday, August 29, 2019.

Sarah Baeckler Davis, executive director of Humane Society Naples, visited All Sato earlier this year to witness the organization's work firsthand.

"We spent several days riding along as they visited scores of dogs abandoned on beaches and roadways, left to fend for themselves with no care or food," she said. "(The volunteers) work to gain their trust, sometimes taking weeks or more, and then rescue these sweethearts and send them on to loving homes."

Foerster said Collier County is lucky because it has a high adoption rate, which means organizations like the Humane Society and Domestic Animal Services can help alleviate other shelters that are at capacity.

The Humane Society was also lucky because just this month it held its annual "Clear The Shelter" event, during which 120 animals were adopted in a single day, which meant the shelter had room for the dogs from All Sato.

Molly, one of 29 dogs brought in from Puerto Rico ahead of Hurricane Dorian, pants after running around outside at Humane Society Naples on Thursday, August 29, 2019.

In light of the hurricane, which as of Thursday afternoon was expected to hit the east coast of Florida early next week, Foerster said he wants to remind dog and cat owners to have a plan for their pets during storms.

"Make sure you have enough food, water, litter and medications for your pets, just like you would for any other member of your family," he said. "And make sure their vaccinations and microchips are up to date so that if they do get lost during the storm, we can help return them to you."

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Milly and Molly went up for adoption Thursday afternoon, and Foerster said he expects the rest of the dogs to be available soon.

For information about pets available for adoption, see hsnaples.org or call 239-643-1555.