Volunteers from the Suncoast Animal League returned from their rescue trip in Puerto Rico Tuesday night.
Along with them came more than 100 dogs and cats who were unable to be properly cared for due to the limited resources available following Hurricane Maria.
Volunteers from the Palm Harbor organization had previously visited the island on a four-day trip to deliver vaccinations and food for the animals in overwhelmed shelters.
“After a hurricane of that magnitude, people aren’t thinking about adopting pets,” said Annette Dettloff, Director of Development at Suncoast Animal League.
Combined with the mass exodus of humans that is happening in Puerto Rico right now and caretakers' current lack of resources, the animal shelters there are seeing a greater influx of pets than ever.
“The human beings that are at the shelter are being very much overtaxed; they themselves don’t have water, electricity, they’re running out food…yet they are going into those animal shelters every day to take care of those dogs and cats.”
Seeing the people at the shelters in Puerto Rico struggle with the capacity took a toll on the Suncoast volunteers. They promised to come back to relieve them of as many animals as could.
Following their return, the shelter put out word that they were looking for a cargo plane to go back to Puerto Rico to follow through on that promise. Much to their amazement, a woman named Helen Rich heard their plea and rented out two cargo planes, allowing them to make a second trip.
They packed the planes with 15,000 pounds of supplies, including food and medicine, all donated by the public.
“It really all came together in such an amazing way, from Helen Rich helping us…to the community dropping off food and supplies and people saying ‘how can we help?’” said Dettloff. “It’s incredible.”
They flew out Sunday evening and returned Tuesday night. This time around, the team focused on bringing pets back in order to give them the care they needed.
Upon leaving for Puerto Rico, the shelter was still unsure where they’d be housing the animals they brought back. Luckily, someone donated a warehouse to convert into an animal shelter for one month, rent-free.
The animal rescue team is currently getting the animals ready for adoption, and will have events to find them permanent homes soon. In the meantime, they are asking for volunteers and donations of dog and cat food, as well as money.
Dettloff also stressed the importance of helping the people on the island.
“We went with a mission to help the animals, but there are people attached to those animals and you can’t help but feel compassion for them,” said Dettloff. “I’m worried about the animals, but I’m worried about the people too.”