Over 200 dogs rescued from overcrowded shelters in Puerto Rico

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Over 200 dogs were saved from shelters in Puerto Rico.

Animal shelters throughout the United States are giving a second chance to dozens of dogs facing a grim future in overcrowded shelters in Puerto Rico.

205 dogs and puppies were loaded on planes in Puerto Rico earlier this week.

The shelters there are so overcrowded that many of the dogs face being euthanized.

Instead, volunteers flew them to the mainland, where some then traveled on to New York City.

They were taken to Animal Haven in Lower Manhattan, waiting to find their forever families.

"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."

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.

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.

Many of the animals came from two shelters: One in the hills above Mayaguez that has a hard time finding people to adopt its animals because it is so remote, and another in a condemned building with no power or water near Cabo Rojo that had to clear its entire population for a badly needed renovation.

Dellymar Bernal Martinez, president of the Saint Francis of Assis Animal Sanctuary in Cabo Rojo, cried as she hugged a departing beige, medium-sized dog that had been born at the shelter three years earlier. "It's bittersweet. I'm sad she is leaving but she is going to a better place."

The dogs were checked by veterinarians, taken to the San Juan airport and then flown in two planes provided by a group called Wings of Rescue.

They landed in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, dogs peeking nervously out of their carriers as volunteers unloaded them and transferred them to waiting vans.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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pets-animalsdogspetsanimalspuerto rico
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