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Thursday, 23 August 2012

Saving the Satos: Street Dog Rescue in Puerto Rico

Written by Ralph Quinonez
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Driving a desolate road near Los Machos Beach Puerto Rico, Katie Block spots a small puppy lying in the middle of the road. After a brief search, the puppies’ mother and two siblings are found nesting in the roadside bushes. “These dogs are new to this beach,” she tells me. “They were probably dumped here yesterday.”    


As the founder and director of Island Dog Inc., the largest nonprofit animal welfare organization on the island, the rescue of homeless dogs is a daily routine for Block. On a daily basis, Block and volunteers feed and medicate homeless dogs living on several beaches on the eastern coast of the island. Many of these dogs have suffered horrendous abuse from beatings, scaldings, and starvation. Currently an estimated 150-200,000 stray dogs inhabit Puerto Rico at any given time.

Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, has long harbored a poor reputation for the treatment of animals. A self-governing territory, with only about half a dozen animal shelters, the island has no government sponsored spaying and neutering programs. A well-known dumping ground for abandoned dogs, “Dead Dog Beach,” lies on the island’s southern coast. The Puerto Ricans even have a slang word called “Sato” for street dog. 

“It’s the culture,” explains Block. “The Puerto Ricans think it’s not macho to neuter a male dog.” Block also relates how the government does little to resolve the stray dog problem, despite numerous requests from animal welfare groups, animal advocates and even tourists. She describes witnessing a man breaking out of line at a traffic light, to purposely run over a stray dog. After reporting this incident with the man’s license number to the police, no action was ever taken against the perpetrator. This incident was one of many factors that inspired Block to create Island Dog Inc. in 1996. 

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The success of Island Dog is evidenced in Las Croabas beach, where the organization has reduced the number of homeless dogs from thirty to three. In 2008 Island Dog created the “Red Collar Project,” where dogs fitted with red collars receive food, vaccines, medications and spay/neuter surgery. Locals identify red collared dogs as “Island Dogs” and even assist in their protection and care. 

Island Dog also operates an adoption program sending rescued dogs to several key cities in the United States. Coordinators in each city receive the dogs, place them in foster homes and use Petfinder to find prospective owners.      

Katie Block describes her ultimate goal as the elimination of the homeless dog problem in Puerto Rico by preventing overpopulation. “The bigger picture,” she explains, “is not just rescuing dogs but to drive spay and neuter programs.” 

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Save a Sato, another animal welfare group, operates a shelter in the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan. Known as the “Albergue de los Milagros,” (shelter of miracles), it may hold from 150-200 dogs at any given time. Located in a residential neighborhood, the shelter is often a drop-off spot by locals of unwanted or rescued dogs. “I have found dogs tied to the fence out front,” says Gloria Marti, the shelter manager and president of the organization. Affiliated with Save a Sato for seventeen years, Marti cares for the dogs seven days a week, 365 days a year. She tears up in anger describing the beatings, scaldings, and even machete wounds suffered by some of the dogs.  

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Cuddling a blind poodle named Sasha, Marti relates how the dog was dumped in the street by relatives of her deceased owner.  Another rescued dog, Andrea, was found severely beaten and thrown in a garbage dumpster. Soon after rescue and arriving at the shelter, she gave birth to four puppies. 

Frustrated with the lack of animal welfare programs on the island, Marti directs much of her anger at the governor, Luis G. Fortuno. “The governor does nothing!” she exclaims, because “El perro no vota!” (“The dog does not vote!”). 

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Save a Sato also facilitates adoptions in the mainland U.S. through the Sato escort program. The organization sends rescued dogs to partner shelters in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Florida. The program solicits travelers to accompany the dogs from San Juan to the U.S. on American Airlines flights. This program costs the traveler nothing, and the dogs simply travel on the passenger’s ticket as additional luggage. 

As I continue my ride-along with Island Dog’s Katie Block, we discuss the difficult task of caring for homeless dogs in Puerto Rico. The lack of government support, culture of neglect, and emotional toll are all formidable challenges for any animal welfare advocate. “I can’t cry,” says Block, “I can’t wear my heart on my sleeve. I just want to make a change in Puerto Rico.” 

©Story and photos by Ralph Quinonez

To volunteer, contribute, help homeless dogs get to the United States or adopt a dog, visit:



American Airlines flies non-stop to San Juan from Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Miami, and New York:

(800) 433-7300

To stay in Old San Juan (located in the heart of Old San Juan, about 20 minute drive to Save a Sato shelter):

S.J. Suites Hotel

Calle Fortaleza #253

San Juan, Puerto Rico 00901


This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

To stay in Fajardo Puerto Rico (near Island Dog shelter and beaches), only about an hour’s drive from Old San Juan:

Passion Fruit Bed and Breakfast

Carr #987

Fajardo, Puerto Rico 00738

(800) 670-3196

(787) 801-0106

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Charlie Car Rental offers inexpensive auto rentals and pick-up service at your hotel:

Charlie Car Rental

6050 Isla Verde Ave

Carolina, Puerto Rico 00979

(800) 289-1227

(787) 728-2418 



Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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