We, as dog owners, already know that there is a great need for dog rescue. Here at Team Unruly, we’ve already done posts about picking shelter dogs, helping dogs with special needs, and rescue transports. There is awareness about shelters, over population, spay/neuter, responsible breeding, the evil of puppy mills, and the struggles of rescue organizations to get it all under control; but there is another area where there are dogs in need, where there is a lack of resources, and where dogs can get an upgrade with relative ease.
Last year, I was introduced to sato dogs and the need to help them.
What is a sato?
Sato is a slang term referring to the stray dogs of Puerto Rico. While they are feral and therefore a mixed breed, they do tend to have some uniformity from dog to dog. They tend to be medium sized, short haired dogs. Many have easy-to-spot trademark sato ears. Because of their tough background, they are usually hardy and live to be between ten and fifteen years old. Despite the fact that they’re viewed as a nuisance and put through all sorts of abuse from burning/drowning to starvation and stoning, they maintain a friendly demeanor and are known to be extremely loyal pets.
The sato population is out of control in Puerto Rico. There are an estimated quarter million dogs on an island roughly the size of Connecticut. Because of their over population, sato are considered a pest and a health risk. Residents alternately ignore and abuse them, and most tourists can’t bear to look at them. As a result, there are very few resources to help these dogs. Life on the streets and beaches is hard for these dogs. Most are emaciated and suffer from skin conditions including mange and ringworm. A majority of the sato don’t live to see their second birthday.
While there are some organizations (All Sato Rescue, Save a Sato, The Sato Project) set up to help these dogs, there just isn’t enough man power to put a dent in the problem. The government has bigger concerns and despite a few individual efforts to help control the population, a much-needed spay/neuter program has not been established. Often times, the few mostly volunteer-based organizations that do exist are the only source of food and water that these dogs see. It’s no wonder they’re an eye sore and health hazard.
Why rescue a sato?
When I start talking about rescuing the satos, I frequently run into the same set of questions. The top two are always:
-Why save a dog from Puerto Rico? Don’t we have enough dogs that need help locally?
-Why fly the dog to the States? Can’t we just place them on the island?
The bottom line, for me, is that a dog is a dog is a dog. They all deserve a good home. There aren’t enough resources in the world for that, and it’s not realistic, but it’s a good thing to aim for.
Shelters and rescues are great, but they also come with adoption fees and a ton of red tape. For many of the same reasons that it’s often easier to adopt an Asian baby than an American-born one, it’s often easier to fly a dog home from Puerto Rico than it is to get a dog in need out of a local shelter. Even dogs on death row locally are often impossible to spring from their current situations. For the cost and effort of saving one dog from my local shelter, I could fly home three or four sato pups and have them vetted, spayed/neutered, and re-homed.
As for adopting them on the island… I’ve already mentioned that they’re considered a pest animal. The locals have very little interest in the dogs to begin with, but even if they did, there aren’t physically enough people on the island to home them all… and that’s without taking the ongoing breeding into consideration.
As for me personally… it’s all about the ears.
My sato experience…
So how did I get involved with satos? It’s very simple my friend/barn owner/vet/boss had one for a long time. My friend found her on the beach as a starving, scared pup, tucked her away with her luggage, flew her home, and named her Chiquita. Chiquita was the best dog… smart, loyal, and friendly. She was a great babysitter, lap dog, and farm helper. She lived to be 15 years old, and even in her old age she continued to be a bright spot on the farm.
Last year, the same friend went on vacation to Puerto Rico again. While she was down there, she networked with local animal lovers and vets to bring home six more pups. I happily photographed them, shared their stories, and helped foster, socialize, and advertise them. All six found carefully screened, loving homes.
Just last week, my friend returned once more, this time with only two pups in tow. Once again, I am helping network to find them homes. Meanwhile, my friend is working tirelessly to arrange transport for even more satos in need.
The more time I spend with these personable, hilarious, adorable dogs, the more I think owning one is in my future.