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Saving pets from Puerto Rico disasters

Caribbean island getting helping hand with strays

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Bideawee animal rescue in Wantagh, which serves communities across the South Shore, including Seaford, took in 14 dogs from hurricane- and earthquake-ravaged Puerto Rico last week, continuing its partnership with three animal shelters near P.R.’s “Dead Dog Beach,” a sobering nickname for Sato Beach, in the municipality of Yabucoa.

Bideawee has aided animal shelters in Puerto Rico since 2013, and last year alone, rescued 211 dogs from the Caribbean island commonwealth.

“We became aware of Dead Dog Beach quite some time ago, and since 2013 we’ve been working with rescue groups in Puerto Rico,” Bideawee President Leslie Granger said. “The need became dire . . . We’re getting transports from Puerto Rico every week or biweekly.”

Sato Beach got its nickname because of the high number of stray and abandoned dogs in the area. On any given day, tens of thousands of dogs can be seen roaming the shoreline, as is the case in many parts of Puerto Rico. Granger said the number of strays in P.R. has increased significantly since Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in 2017, and several earthquakes struck between September and January.   

“The beach is known as a dumping ground for dogs that people don’t want or can’t take care of,” Granger said. 

According to a recent release by Cornell University, previous figures that put the number of stray dogs at 300,000 and the number of cats at 1 million could be low. More recent estimates by the shelters put the stray dog population at closer to a half-million. 

“There is such a need and demand for shelters to rescue dogs that the rescue shelters there started reaching out to us,” Granger said.

Bideawee has developed working relationships with All Sato Rescue, the Sato Rescue Project and Stray from the Heart, which have been in constant contact with Bideawee about the growing stray issue. Sato is a Puerto Rican slang term for a mixed-breed dog, usually weighing less than 40 pounds.

“People in Puerto Rico have to care for themselves. They’re not thinking of going to a shelter,” Granger said. “We’re trying to help keep those very adoptable and loving dogs alive.”

Ben LiGon, Bidawee’s senior manager of transport and mobile events, acts as the intermediary between Bideawee and Puerto Rican rescue shelters. After dogs arrive in the United States, they are medically evaluated at Bidawee’s Wantagh facility. All animals are spayed or neutered, and microchipped. Some receive prescription medications. Then they are sent to adoption centers in Westhampton or Manhattan. Bideawee’s rescue dogs usually stay 18 days before being adopted, according to Granger.

In addition to its adoption centers, the rescue group also has mobile adoption vans that are sent into the community. “Yes, we have people [adopt dogs] from Seaford, as well as Massapequa and beyond,” Granger said. “We set up mobile adoption vans on our Wantagh campus, or they could be at places like the Riverhead outlets, festivals or fairs — places like that.”

“It’s absolutely the best feeling when you see them go into a home,” she said, “and you know they’ll have a better quality of life.”

Bideawee will continue to work with animal shelters in Puerto Rico to reduce the population of stray dogs there as much as possible. “We are here,” Granger said, “and we are ready to do everything that we can.”