Carry-on a Sato (Stray Dog) on Your Next Flight to the States
Anyone who visits Puerto Rico can’t help but notice that we have a stray animal problem. These strays, which are usually mixed breeds, are locally called satos (that’s local slang for "street dogs") or gatos (for cats). These scared, lonely, hungry, and sometimes injured animals are everywhere around the island.
The stray problem is due to lack of education and affordable spay/neuter programs, along with inadequate animal control and animal shelters. The huge exodus after Hurricane Maria in September 2017 also left many pets without a home. Oftentimes, these animals are left to fend for themselves along streets and at beaches, where they multiply rapidly. Many get hit by cars, or die of hunger. It is a heart-breaking situation.
But officials in Puerto Rico are finally seeing the light — there are now stronger laws against animal abuse, and new animal control units and shelters are being set up. Education about animal population control and a number of free sterilization programs happened recently and are in the works for the future. Hopefully these measures will help.
The Animals Need Your Help Now!
But the animals need help now. Currently, there are a number of non-profit organizations on the island that help the animals. I made a list of some of them below. Each one is wonderful. They rescue dogs and cats from beaches, streets, or anywhere across the island of Puerto Rico. They give the animals immediate food, veterinary care, shelter, and lots of love. With the help of volunteers, these animals are rehabilitated, sometimes at the facility, sometimes in foster homes. When they are healthy and ready, they are sent to partner shelters in the continental US, where they get adopted into loving homes.
It is a great system, but it has one major obstacle — transporting the animals up to the States. Many new Federal laws, State laws, and airline rules have made getting the animals up to the States more difficult and more expensive than in the past. Especially when being shipped as cargo (versus carry-on). Additionally, in the summertime, when temperatures are HOT, we have very limited windows of opportunity during which we can ship animals as cargo (due to the heat). We do have the option of one airline that has AC in the cargo hold on their planes, but those flights are really expensive (compared to other airlines).
For puppies, smaller dogs, and (sometimes) cats that can fit under the seat in a pet carrier, sending the animal with someone who is flying is inexpensive and easy.
Do you think that, maybe, you can help out and be that someone?
How Can I Be An Escort?
These organizations have made the process of being an animal escort very easy. There is no additional cost to you as the escort, and it requires very little time or effort on your part. If you find an organization that needs a dog transported when you are flying, you will need to call the airline and add the animal to your ticket (since it will be traveling with you). The airline will charge extra for that, but the rescue group will reimburse you for that cost.
The organizations are responsible for the animals — making sure they have all the necessary shots and paperwork, getting them to the airport, making sure they get through the various inspections, and then someone up in the States will pick them up when the flight lands.
The only thing you, as an escort, have to do is meet the representative of the rescue organization at the airport, and take the animal (already in the carry-on). Then you go on your way as usual, going through security, and carry the animal on the plane. Place the carry-on under your seat, and then meet the other rescue representative at the arrival airport. You will be given contact info, and all the arrangements will be made ahead of time.
What Airlines? What Cities?
Each rescue group has their own specific system and destinations. I think they can use any airline, and primarily need people travelling on flights out of the San Juan airport (SJU) that are going mainly to east coast cities, such as Boston, New York, and Newark. They might be able to coordinate with flights departing from the Aguadilla airport (BQN) on the west coast. Non-stop flights work best, but they may be able to work something out with any travel plan. Please contact the rescue organizations and see if you can help.
OK. So What Do I Need To Do?
You need to contact some of the rescue organizations here on the island and let them know your itinerary as soon as you have finalized your travel plans. You’re best off contacting them at least a few weeks prior to your travel dates. The rescue organizations typically have animals “ready to go”, but they do need a few weeks lead time to coordinate with the receiving shelter, getting final vet paperwork, and arranging for volunteers to transport the animal to/from the airport.
The rescue group will contact their shelter partners in the States to see if they can accept animals on the day you’re traveling. Many times, they might not know if one of the partner shelters can accept animals until about one week before the flight date. So be patient after your initial contact — they are working busily to match you with animals in need!
If your itinerary matches an animal’s travel needs, someone will contact you to confirm.
I’m Gonna Do This! Who Do I Contact?
Contact a few of the groups on this list with your travel plans (date, airline, airport) and email address.
- Wags 2 Riches Dog Rescue — This group needs travelers primarily to Boston (BOS). Email your info to info@Wags2RichesDogRescue.org, or contact them through Facebook.
- Paradise Rescue — This group needs travelers primarily to Chicago, Grand Rapids, New York, and Saint Louis. Email your info to ParadiseRescue.PR@gmail.com, or contact them through Facebook.
- Punta Santiago Dogs — This group needs travelers primarily to Newark (EWR), New York (JFK/LGA), Hartford/Springfield (BDL), and Boston (BOS). Email your info to firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact them through Facebook.
- Observatory Cats — They need people going to New York City or the north east coast. You can contact them with a message through Facebook.
- All Sato Rescue — This group needs travelers primarily to Boston, New York, Providence, Hartford, or Portland (Maine). Email your info to email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com.
- Island Dog — They need people headed to Phialdelphia. Email your info to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am not sure if the following rescue groups need travelers, but if you want, you can try contacting them:
- Save a Sato
- Amigos de los Animales
- PAWS- Puerto Rico Animal Welfare Society in Isabela
- Animal Recue Foundation Rincon
- The Sato Project
- Animals In Need
- Second Chance Animal Rescue
- Ciudadanos Pro Albergue de Animales de Aguadilla
These are just a few of the great groups doing work to help these animals. But they need your help! So even if you can’t escort an animal and want to help, any of these organizations would love a donation!
PuertoRicoDayTrips.com assumes no responsibility regarding your safety when participating in the activities described in this article. Please use common sense! If your mother or that little voice in your head tells you that you are about to do something stupid … then don't do it!