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More than 200 doomed dogs saved by airlift to US

Published:Thursday | August 24, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Volunteers load empty dog crates into a truck to airlift dogs to the US in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. The dogs were a wide mix of breeds and sizes and ranged from puppies to seniors.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP):

They were a mix of breeds and sizes, ranging from puppies to seniors. All faced a grim future in Puerto Rico animal shelters, where chronic overcrowding results in many dogs being euthanised.

That changed on Wednesday for 205 abandoned canines that arrived on the US mainland in an airlift organised by animal welfare advocates working to ease the load.

"The shelters in Puerto Rico have no choice," said Kimberly Alboum, director of policy engagement and shelter outreach for the Humane Society of the United States. "They run out of room, and, unfortunately, they have to euthanise for space. It's heartbreaking for the staff, and it's devastating because these animals are all highly adoptable."

The island territory has struggled with dog overpopulation for years due to factors such as poorly funded shelters and low spaying and neutering rates.

It's common to see packs of what locals refer to as "satos" roaming through Puerto Rican communities, and one stretch of coast near the town of Yabucoa became so infamous for abandoned and abused pets that it was dubbed Dead Dog Beach.

Christina Beckles, founder of the Puerto Rico-based Sato Project, said fewer dogs are ending up on Dead Dog Beach thanks in part to a campaign to spay and neuter in Yabucoa.

But there have also been setbacks, including a deep economic crisis that led many islanders to decamp for the mainland and leave their pets behind.

"People are leaving the island in droves because they can't afford to live here," Beckles said. "I would never condone someone abandoning an animal, but I understand."

While various organisations have airlifted dogs out of Puerto Rico in recent years, this latest effort is believed to be the largest number in a single trip.