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The Great Puerto Rico Doglift

It was 4 a.m., and the sound of cacophonous barking filled the parking lot at San Juan’s Jet Aviation terminal as 111 dogs were prepped for their flight from Puerto Rico to New York City. As each dog’s kennel was placed on the conveyor belt and made its way toward the chartered cargo plane, volunteers shed happy tears, saying goodbye and sharing their favorite stories of dogs rescued from the streets and now hopefully headed for a healthier future abroad.

Puerto Rico has had a stray dog problem for so long that the animals have become part of the island’s cultural landscape. But while many of the dogs in the airlift were mixed-breed satos — rescued from the street, the beach, parking lots, or major roads — others had recently lost their homes when their owners fled the island after Hurricane Maria and were forced to leave their pets behind.

“It’s a public health crisis,” says Chrissy Beckles, founder of the Sato Project, a nonprofit dedicated to rescuing abused and abandoned dogs in Puerto Rico. “If nothing is done about it, it will continue to escalate.”

Beckles began her initiative after visiting the island with her husband in 2007 and witnessing firsthand the poor condition of so many street dogs. “It was very overwhelming. I spent a week feeding the dogs and really not knowing what to do,” she says. It was this feeling of helplessness, amid local attitudes that a street dog was “just a sato,” a disposable life, that prompted Beckles to volunteer with two organizations that focused their rescue work on Dead Dog Beach in the municipality of Yabucoa. This beach has been an animal dumping ground for more than thirty years now, which is how it earned its tragic moniker.

Chrissy Beckles from the Sato Project comforts a dog about to get airlifted to the U.S. in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018.

Beckles founded the Sato Project in 2011 with the goal of rescuing one dog per week from Dead Dog Beach. Each animal was examined by veterinarians and flown to New York for adoption, where the nonprofit’s offices are based and where Beckles knew there was a huge demand for adoptable dogs and puppies. The Sato Project shattered that goal, rescuing 365 dogs during its first year. Yet even the 1,400 dogs rescued from the beach and from municipal shelters in the program’s first seven years were a drop in the bucket compared to the estimated stray dog population on the entire island, which stood at between 200,000 and 300,000.

That was before the hurricane. Now it is estimated there may be half a million stray dogs on the island. The storm made landfall with sustained winds of more than 155 miles per hour right on Dead Dog Beach, changing the entire rescue mission of the Sato Project.

“The work that I’ve been doing for the past seven years is gone. We have lost so many years of work due to the hurricane,” says Beckles. All rescue, spay and neuter, and vaccination work had to stop for more than two months, at a time when the stray dog population was growing to unprecedented levels. The beach, which had been largely cleared of satos living there, saw its population increase once again.

“One of the biggest things that we are seeing at this time, and it has been going on since December, it’s puppies,” Beckles says. “There are so many unwanted litters being born at levels that I had never seen before, and when you start to walk back in a timeline, you understand why.”

After the hurricane, the streets were flooded with previously owned dogs, who mixed with the existing street dogs; in both cases, most were not spayed or neutered. At the same time, many veterinary offices were shut down because of the lack of power and supplies after the storm. The suspension of the Sato Project’s spay and neuter program until November led to unchecked breeding, which in December led to an unprecedented number of puppies.

Stray dogs in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018.

At the same time, Puerto Ricans were fleeing the island in droves, taking any of the few available flights out. All cargo space on commercial flights was sequestered by FEMA and the military for aid delivery: Any dogs over twenty pounds that couldn’t fit in a carrier under the plane seat had to be left behind. Their owners surrendered them to veterinary offices, left them with other families, or had to abandon them on the street. It wasn’t until January that airlines once again allowed the transportation of bigger dogs in their planes’ cargo holds.

“I can’t imagine how difficult is the decision to leave a family member behind, and so many had to do so,” says Beckles. She recalls a recent rescue story of an older couple who had lost their home and were sleeping in their car. “They would not leave the island because they had two dogs. Their daughter was in Long Island, where she could pick them up if we sent them there. And for them to give me their dogs, trust me with them, and for me to be able to say, ‘You guys can now leave,’ it was so heartwarming. They left the next day.”

After the hurricane, the Sato Project established a new program, No Dog Left Behind, to reunite Puerto Rican families with their pets. “It’s not something I envisioned, but it is a necessary part of our work after the hurricane,” says Beckles. “It has done as much good for our team as it has done for those people that are being reunited with their animals.”

Since September 20, the Sato Project has rescued and transported more than 1,000 dogs — more than triple its yearly average — in just six months. Of those, 187 have been reunited with their original families on the mainland. The rest have been adopted or gone to a foster network in New York, where the Sato Project team works endlessly to find each dog a home.

In addition, since the hurricane the organization has donated veterinary care and more than 50,000 pounds of dog food to Puerto Ricans who are struggling to take care of their pets. “If they keep that dog with that family in their home, then it’s a win-win situation for the dog, the family, and for us,” says Beckles.

Chrissy Beckles from the Sato Project and Dr. Marielis Feliciano check a dog at a vet clinic in La Piedras, Puerto Rico, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018.

The Sato Project is not the only one leading this massive project. Other local nonprofits like Save a Sato and All Sato Rescue have also worked hard to feed, rehabilitate, and fly out thousands of dogs since the storm — all thanks to private individual donations.

The local government is also starting to address the sato overpopulation on the island before it turns into an even bigger public health crisis. It is bringing teams of experts from the University of Florida to help provide better hygiene, vaccine practices, and vetting protocols, in hopes of improving animal welfare on the island.

The Office of the First Lady of Puerto Rico, the Board of Veterinarians, and the Humane Society of the United States have established a program to provide free sterilization for more than 30,000 dogs across the island. “We are witnessing and are part of a new, sensible generation that knows that to reach some goals, the best recipe is to collaborate,” said First Lady Beatriz Rosselló during the campaign announcement earlier this month. “In a historical joint effort [we] will work to reduce the population of animals suffering in the streets, through sterilization and other initiatives like education and adoption.”

As for the dogs that flew to New York on that 4 a.m. flight: Beckles says they were all adopted in less than two weeks.

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To read the Voice’s complete coverage of Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans six months after Hurricane Maria, click here.

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Rachael Ray Launches Food Truck for Dogs

New York City’s four-legged foodies will have a new place to dine next week as Rachael Ray launches a food truck — for dogs.

The three-day dog-food-truck tour will launch next Thursday, October 18, in Columbus Circle and will serve New York City pooches a menu of dishes from Rachael’s new wet-dog-food line, including “Chicken Muttballs & Pasta,” “Hearty Beef Stew,” and “Chicken Paw Pie.”

The food looks like human food, and Ray will be at Columbus Circle not only to serve up meals to pooches but also to kick off animal adoptions with Best Friends Animal Society. The truck will travel to Union Square on Friday, October 19, and Saturday, October 20.

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NJ Voters Actually Support Bill Requiring Dogs to Wear Seat Belts (Sigh)

A bill proposed in the New Jersey State Legislature that would require animals to wear seat belts in the car has the support of the majority of voters, according to a recent poll conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind.

According to the poll, conducted earlier this month, 45 percent of voters actually support the idea of making dogs and cats wear seat belts, while only 40 percent oppose the bill.

The bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Grace Spencer in July. The proposed law would give law enforcement the authority to issue a $20 ticket to anyone
caught driving around with his or her dog unharnessed. Additionally, the
offender could be hit with animal-cruelty charges.

As we mentioned in prior posts, there is some logic behind forcing animals to wear seat belts (none of which was used by Spencer in explaining her bill).

]

Spencer’s reason for forcing drivers to buckle up their pets stems from a class she visited at a Newark Charter School, where a veterinarian told her about a dog whose leg was broken after its owner made a sudden stop, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.

One dog’s broken leg is hardly a reason for a taxpayer funded argument over seat belts for pets — which Spencer’s bill already has become (Republicans oppose the bill and have proposed their own bill to counter it).

However, dogs can act as a “backseat bullet” if not buckled up during a car wreck.

See an example of a “backseat bullet” — which was part of a British PSA campaign — below:

The problem, however, is that anything — a bag of groceries, a heavy purse, for example — can be a “backseat bullet,” so until Spencer wants to start buckling up inanimate objects, a seat belt law for dogs will do nothing to solve what could be perceived as an actual problem.

Again, though, Spencer’s reason for the law is one dog who broke his leg, not the possibility of people getting crushed to death by a canine projectile. And even the ASPCA doesn’t recognize animals not being buckled up as a serious problem worthy of legislation.

From the Star-Ledger:

But Tim Martin, a spokesman for the New Jersey SPCA, called the
remark an “unscripted moment” and said the group, which is allowed to
enforce animal protection laws, does not target drivers who leave their
pets unbuckled. “The point we were trying to make is having Spot on your
lap while you’re driving is dangerous to both you and the animal,” he
said.

Martin said over the last six years his group investigated 21 cases
of animals allegedly being transported in an unsafe way, about a quarter
of which resulted in fines. But he noted these were for extreme cases,
such as a dog riding on a motorcycle’s gas tank. He wouldn’t comment on
Spencer’s bill but said the group does not view unbelted dogs and cats
as animal cruelty.

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Dogs Drinking Beer

What could be cuter than a dog drinking a beer? Inspired by Eric Sundermann’s 10 Best Draft Beer Bars in New York, Fork in the Road offers 10 pictures of dogs with their noses deep in suds. But isn’t beer bad for dogs? Apparently not, according to Wikianswers. But only if imbibed in extreme moderation. Remember that in most cases dogs are much smaller than you, and it takes a lot less for them to get tipsy. And like humans, they can become alcoholics, so nix on the brews for Rex, except on special occasions.

And turn the page for possible consequences…

 

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New Jersey’s Proposed Seat Belt Law For Dogs Isn’t As Dumb As It Sounds (Just Kidding)

If a New Jersey legislator gets her way, the Garden State will have the toughest seat belt laws in the country…for dogs.

Democratic New Jersey Assemblywoman Grace Spencer has proposed a bill that would give law enforcement the authority to issue a a $20 ticket to anyone caught driving around with their dog unharnessed. Additionally, the offender could be hit with animal cruelty charges.

Cats also are included in Spencer’s bill.

Requiring animals to wear seat belts may make about as much sense as “kitten mittons” (see video below), but there is some logic behind it (none of which was used by Spencer in explaining her bill).

Spencer’s reason for forcing drivers to buckle up their pets stems from a class she visited at a Newark Charter School, where a veterinarian told her about a dog whose leg was broken after its owner made a sudden stop, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.

One dog’s broken leg is hardly a reason for a taxpayer funded argument over seat belts for pets — which Spencer’s bill already has become (Republicans oppose the bill and have proposed their own bill to counter it).

However, dogs can act as a “backseat bullet” if not buckled up during a car wreck.

See an example of a “backseat bullet” — which was part of a British PSA campaign — below:

The problem, however, is that anything — a bag of groceries, a heavy purse, for example — can be a “backseat bullet,” so until Spencer wants to start buckling up inanimate objects, a seat belt law for dogs will do nothing to solve what could be perceived as an actual problem.

Again, though, Spencer’s reason for the law is one dog who broke his leg, not the possibility of people getting crushed to death by a canine projectile. And even the ASPCA doesn’t recognize animals not being buckled up as a serious problem worthy of legislation.

From the Star-Ledger:

But Tim Martin, a spokesman for the New Jersey SPCA, called the
remark an “unscripted moment” and said the group, which is allowed to
enforce animal protection laws, does not target drivers who leave their
pets unbuckled. “The point we were trying to make is having Spot on your
lap while you’re driving is dangerous to both you and the animal,” he
said.

Martin said over the last six years his group investigated 21 cases
of animals allegedly being transported in an unsafe way, about a quarter
of which resulted in fines. But he noted these were for extreme cases,
such as a dog riding on a motorcycle’s gas tank. He wouldn’t comment on
Spencer’s bill but said the group does not view unbelted dogs and cats
as animal cruelty.

And now, without further ado, “Kitten Mittons”:

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3 Good Things: The Universal Tea Machine, Sneaky Pugs

1 The Universal Tea Machine is a tea-making device, a primitive computer, and a pinball machine. And if you can perform binary addition, it will make you a (free!) cup of tea with milk and sugar. [Edible Geography]

2 This sneaky little pug knows how to grab food from a much larger dog (it sort of rolls over submissively, as close to the food as possible, then gets at it upside down). [YouTube via MetaFilter]

3 The novelist Colson Whitehead counts Bill Buford’s Heat as one of the best books he’s read lately. [Rumpus]

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Leave It to Palin to Brighten Up Your Saturday with Dogs and Cocaine

It’s been almost four years since Sarah Palin made her way onto the national stage at the Republican National Convention. But, since the defeat of her and McCain in the election, we have been gifted with the constant recurrences of the Alaskan personality. Yes, we DVR’ed Game Change, too.

At first, Palin’s comedy would result in an eventual wince, knowing the chances that this woman could be sitting in the White House as we speak.
But, at this point, we can kumbaya in the fact that she never will – even if she mentions over and over again how there is still the chance that she will… at some point… in the near future. (Send in Bristol!)
So, her comedy is now a light at the end of a dark, dark tunnel in this grim political reality. And, at the RightOnline conference yesterday – targeting the “lamestream media” and praising conservative bloggers for finding the truth – she added another tally onto her list.
So, lay back and enjoy your Saturday with a mimosa and a solid tan while we spin you another tale in the Palin Chronicles.

Taking a page from Obama’s memoir “Dreams From My Father,” which fellow Voice writer Roy Edroso has pointed out as a trend amongst the right-wing blogosphere, Palin went after young Barry’s past. But not as a Kenyan-born Muslim; better yet, she had enough blow and dog-eating jokes to go around:

“That cocaine snorting, and what he ate – Fido? Rufus? I think it’s funny that the cocktail circuit gives me a hard time for eating elk and moose. Anybody here have a pet moose? There’s a difference.”
After hearing that, as we usually do with Sarah Barracuda, we have a few questions that must be attended to. And we’d like a few answers.
First, since when did journalists become associated with cocktails? That seems unfair, given the state of the economy; we prefer hard whiskey and gin drinks and PBRs, if anything.
Second, when did the media beat up Sarah over eating elk and moose? We remember the helicopter-caribou incident (or, as Slate called it, “Aerial Wolf Gunning 101“) but the media didn’t obsess over it that much.
Third, this guy has a pet moose. What’s wrong with that?
After she made the drug/dog comments, she went on to attack the ridiculous media attention her family has received: “I’ve got to have been divorced how many times? And moved to Montana, or was it the Hamptons?”
At some point during all of this, our attention moved on so we changed the channel to the re-runs of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.”
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Would You Ever Spend $60k On Legal Fees To Win Custody Of A Dog?

We wrote a blog post yesterday about a man who’s spent more than $60,000 on legal fees in his effort to win custody of a dog from his ex-girlfriend. As we noted yesterday, dropping that much coin on a canine-custody case is insane because, well, it’s a fucking dog.

The media’s eaten the story up, though — gushing over how adorable it is that 34-year-old Craig Dershowitz cares so much about about his pooch that he’s blown his life savings trying to get him back. Unlike other media outlets, however, we’re not fawning over a grown man who’s this obsessed with his dog (or using his dog as an excuse to keep in contact with his ex-girlfriend).

Because of our take on the fight for “Knuckles” the puggle, Voice readers have called us “heartless” because we think it’s nuts to blow $60,000 on a custody battle over a dog. We’re not heartless, we’re just not crazy enough to think dropping that much money on a dog is a good idea.

Stepping away from the royal “we” for a minute, I own a dog — and am the furthest thing from a “heartless” dog-hater. Like me, my dog’s name is James (yes, I named my dog after myself — while listening to Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”). I got him six years ago — when he was a puppy — as a tip when I was working as a pizza delivery man when I was in college. James has been with me though thick and thin, including two moves across the country. We go to the park twice a day, he sleeps in my bed, licks my face, and finishes off whatever is left of my dinner. In other words, I love dogs — James in particular. However, would I drop $60,000 to win custody of him from an ex-girlfriend? Not a chance. If he was sick and needed an operation, then I’d start writing checks. But Dershowitz’s dog isn’t sick — he’s just living somewhere else.

How could you not love this guy?
How could you not love this guy?

We want to know what you think: would you drop $60,000 to win custody of a dog?

 

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Bronx Woman Arrested for Starving Her Pups

No one likes a canine abuser so here’s a story that most likely will not cheer up your Saturday.

At the end of February, the Humane Law Enforcement responded to a complaint in the north borough by neighbors who had spotted two frail pups hanging around an apartment building on Webster Avenue. The dogs belonged to Gillian Irving, a 27-year-old woman who reportedly ignored her two seven-month-old pit bulls for weeks on end.

Yesterday, the American Society for the Prevention for Cruelty to Animal (ASPCA) – a group that conducts large-scale SWAT-esque raids of places involved in animal abuse – concluded that the woman was not only neglecting her pups but starving them to boot. Yes, people like this exist in the world.

When the dogs entered the care of the ASPCA, they respectively weighed 16.4 and 15.2 pounds. After being looked over by veterinarians, the dogs now weigh 27.1 and 26.9 pounds (Gothamist has heart-wrenching before and after shots of these poor pups here).

Thankfully, sweet justice ensued: charges have been placed against the woman for two misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty and she could face two years in prison.

Unfortunately, according to CBS, this is the third time of the year that a person like Gillian Irving has been reported in the Bronx and the sixteenth time in all of New York City. These are disturbing statistics, especially after that whole “accident” with Michael Vick. Oh, and also the fact that it’s only April.
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DooD: Dogs and Humans Do a Taste Test

Fraternity brothers, truth-or-dare players, crazy hoarders with weird eating habits: These are all people whom we’d expect to dabble in dog-food munching. So, it came as a surprise recently when we found a dog food that was tempting to try.

DooD is a delivery food that’s so much more than your typical Alpo or Eukanuba — and at $2.50 per day and up, depending on the size of your dog, it’s also a lot more expensive. But with New York foodies’ obsession with all things local, organic, and CSA, and the plethora of pampered urban pooches (do you know that doggy day care costs as much as sending your child to preschool?), it was only a matter of time before a service like this reared its fluffy head.

A combination of the words “dog” and “food,” DooD is a newish company that has already had a sold-out Gilt City sale (one of today’s modern economic indicators?) and a slew of articles written about it. But have any humans tried to eat the veterinarian-approved fare? In the name of fun food stunts, we set about tasting the beef flavor.

Delivered in a vacuum-sealed pouch, the initial opening is extremely off-putting as it lets off a huge puff of, well, dog-food smell. The mashed mix is studded with discernible veggies (carrots, green peas) plus flecks of parsley and some flax seeds. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get over the mushy texture. Yes, it’s dog food. No, it doesn’t taste like dog food per se (more like a mushy burger). But it’s not human food, either.

The dog testers on the other hand, a Havanese and Lhaso apso-poodle mix, loved it. They practically snorted this stuff, not removing their heads from their bowls until every last rice bit was licked clean. Like they hadn’t been fed for years.

So is DooD worth the investment? Well, it’s cheaper than a day’s worth of groceries from your local Whole Foods, but it won’t satisfy in the way a hunk of meat loaf does. This one should probably be left to the dogs.