These Rescue Flights Brought 300 Pets Closer To New Families While Easing Puerto Rico's Homeless Pet Problem

·3 min read
man and woman meeting dog from the puerto rico rescue flight
man and woman meeting dog from the puerto rico rescue flight

Tara Steinberg / The Sato Project

Three hundred dogs and cats were airlifted from Puerto Rico to new, loving homes last month, the result of a massive nonprofit effort to relieve the island's stray pet overpopulation.

In the two packed rescue flights—165 dogs and 135 cats—the animals were airlifted to the U.S. mainland on Aug. 27, thanks to the efforts of a coalition of animal welfare groups, including the Sato Project, Wings of Rescue, and Tito's Handmade Vodka's Vodka for Dog People program.

Why? Puerto Rico has a severe stray pet crisis. There are approximately 500,000 stray dogs roaming the island with little access to food, fresh water, and medical care, says Tara Steinberg, communications manager at the Sato Project. Steinberg attributes the large amount of strays to a lack of access to veterinary care, infrequent spay and neuter procedures, and multiple natural disasters. She adds that, unlike some states, Puerto Rico severely lacks government and community support for animal welfare.

"There are 78 municipalities and only five shelters [across the island]," Steinberg tells Daily Paws. "So, for the [stray] animals in Puerto Rico, non-profit organizations like us are truly their only hope."

pets in crates loading off the plane from the puerto rico rescue flight
pets in crates loading off the plane from the puerto rico rescue flight

Tara Steinberg / The Sato Project

Luckily, many rescue organizations don't shy away from doing some heavy lifting to ensure the welfare of as many animals as possible. This particular "freedom flight" was planned with Wings of Rescue in early spring, and organizers added additional passengers to its roster wherever they could. Sixty of those pets were flown straight to their adoptive families, while the rest went to shelters in New York and Maine. Though the journey was long, many of the pets have already settled in their new homes, while the rest eagerly await meeting their forever families.

"Everyone is going great!" Jeana Roth, director of community engagement at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, tells Daily Paws. "The majority have been adopted, with just a few still looking for homes."

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A rescue flight of this scale wouldn't be possible without many dedicated volunteers and organizations. Wings of Rescue pilots, for instance, were the ones who brought these homeless animals to safety, places where they can find forever families. Though they often run into challenges such as delays passing through customs, bad weather, and mechanical issues, it's always worth it.

"Everyone involved in pet rescue gets a special feeling when they know for certain that an animal has been saved and is going to a new home—that part never changes," says Gene Gable, media relations representative for Wings of Rescue. "It is a very rewarding experience working one of our flights and seeing firsthand the respect, kindness, and love that everyone involved brings to the process.

"Every pet we transport is one less sad statistic. Each and every one brings joy and love into someone's life. You can't beat that."