SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — 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 euthanized.

That changed Wednesday for 205 abandoned dogs that arrived on the U.S. mainland in an airlift organized 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 euthanize for space. It’s heartbreaking for the staff and it’s devastating because these animals are all highly adoptable,” Alboum said.

The island territory has struggled with dog overpopulation for years because of 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.

Activists in Puerto Rico and on the mainland have been working on the problem and say there are signs of improvement. 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 organizations have airlifted dogs out of Puerto Rico in recent years, this latest effort is believed to be the largest number in a single trip.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.