Hurricane Maria A Year Later, and the Homeless Animals In It's Wake

I can't believe it's been a year since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.  According to Wikipedia, it was the 10th most intense Atlantic hurricane on record.  Much has been reported about the tragic loss of life and subsequent enormous recovery effort.  Natural disasters like Hurricane Maria have an enormous impact on stray dogs and cats as well as people, and the way of life they had before the disaster.

When the storm hit I worried about my good friend Scott Smith, who had moved to Puerto Rico shortly before Hurricane Maria slammed in.  Today I am sharing Scott's personal story about what he experienced in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and the devastating impacts this catastrophic storm had on both people and homeless animals.

"On September 20, 2017, an enormous hurricane pummeled Puerto Rico and devastated much of the island.
I come from New York and was living there on 9/11—and I was struck by the similarities between that tragedy and Hurricane Maria. In both situations, I went to bed in one life and woke up in another.
But Hurricane Maria also got me thinking about stray dogs and cats and what they go through every day.


Homeless dogs & cats are impacted by Hurricanes and other natural disasters. Hurricane Maria, Hurricane Florence, Disaster preparedness

Let me explain.
When Maria’s winds died down, Puerto Rico was without electricity, internet service, and in many parts of the island, running water. Communications were down. Things I’d taken for granted like food, water, and medical care became luxuries that were hard to come by. Most stores were closed and the ones that weren’t only accepted cash. But the banking system was offline and no one could get cash. It was a situation reminiscent of the Great Depression, when people with money in the bank couldn’t withdraw and spend it and the whole economy ground to a halt.
Streets that were once well lit and safe became dark and dangerous. There was looting. There were random acts of violence. Many people had to sleep with one eye open—if they got any sleep at all. The situation became so dangerous that the governor was compelled to proclaim an island-wide dusk-to-dawn curfew.
Just days after the storm, I was waiting in a long line at a grocery store, hoping that it wouldn’t run out of food and that I’d have enough cash to get what I needed for my family. And I had a revelation: this is how homeless dogs and cats live every day. They lead precarious lives. They go days without adequate food and water. They don’t get medical care. They’re in constant danger and have to be watchful to the point of paranoia.
I was living like that now. So were nearly three million Puerto Ricans. We had become an island of strays.
I’ve always had a special connection to animals. I’ve been personally involved in a number of animal rescues. I’m a human dad to four dogs, all of whom were rescued from the streets. Sad to say, there are about half a million more where mine came from—and more than 1 million stray cats. What I went through for several weeks following Hurricane Maria, they go through every day, with little hope that things will get better.
As if the tragedy of stray dogs and cats was not horrific enough before Maria hit, it became even worse afterward. Approximately 300,000 people moved away from Puerto Rico on account of the storm. Many of them were unable to take their animals with them. As Maria was bearing down on the island, a friend of mine witnesses heartbreaking scenes at the San Juan airport when families had to abandon their beloved pets. To make matters worse, the federal government banned pets who weighed more than 20 pounds from air travel. The policy was intended to free up cargo space for much-needed relief supplies, but it had the unintended effect of causing another 2,000 pets to be abandoned to the streets.
After 9/11, New Yorkers like me figured out ways around the damage and disruption. Yet there was no way around the devastation of Hurricane Maria. It dragged on and on for months—and will likely take years to completely dissipate. Right now, the extraordinary hardships that all of us on the island endured after Hurricane Maria have largely disappeared. But the pain continues for Puerto Rico’s homeless cats and dogs.
I saw a tragic example of that last winter. I got a call about a dog that had been hit by a car and badly injured. When I arrived at the scene, I found a terrified animal who was in tremendous pain and who was unable to move his hind legs. It took three hours, but we finally got him into a crate and to the Veterinaria 24/7 in Pinero.

Impacts of Hurricane Maria on stray dogs and cats in Puerto Rico.  Pets,  Homeless animals, Hurricanes, Storms, Natural disasters.
Photo Credit: Seary Figueroa

As it turned out, this poor dog’s back legs were paralyzed. He will never walk again. Fortunately, he was adopted by a loving family in Wisconsin that is giving him the best life possible. But other dogs and cats aren’t so lucky. It’s depressingly common to see the remains of dogs and cats who’ve been hit by cars in Puerto Rico. To try to combat this problem, I began a video campaign I called Drive With Compassion. It’s something—but it’s not enough.
Having lived through a catastrophic storm like Hurricane Maria has given me new insight into the lives of stray animals. I now have some firsthand knowledge of what their lives are like. And having welcomed stray dogs off the Puerto Rican streets and into my heart, I can attest to how just one person can save a life.
I encourage everyone to become the person who makes that kind of difference in a stray dog or cat’s life. There are some terrific organizations here that support those of us who become that difference. I urge you all to help and support them: All Sato Rescue, Alianza Pro Rescate Animales, Yes We Can-ine, Samas Boarding for Dogs, Rabito Kontento, The Humane Society of Puerto Rico, PrAnimals.org, Animalitos de Dios PR and Brownie Blondie Foundation by Marjorie Andino.
Remember what I learned: hurricanes like Maria are (I hope!) a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. But what the strays of Puerto Rico experience goes on day after day after day without end. Only people who are able and willing to step up can stop it."


Scott Smith, editor at Consumersadvocate




Thank You Scott for sharing your personal Hurricane Maria story, shedding light on how disasters like hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes impact animals as well as people.  Thanks also for reminding us that the impact to homeless dogs and cats can last much longer than the impact to people.  It's an ongoing struggle and they need our help on a continual basis.

Visit the Drive With Compassion web site.  Scott describes it this way: “Driving With Compassion is a movement created to help stray animals all over the world living on the street. People need to think about animals when they’re driving their cars. It’s not just about people in this life. Animals are important too."



25 comments:

  1. Interesting comparisons between the hurricane and 9/11. My fiance was in NY during 9/11 so I heard similar stories from him. I didn't move to the area until after that, but was here when hurricane Sandy hit which was an interesting experience for sure. Our area was hit really hard and we went quite awhile without power. Ever since I've found myself keeping my fingers crossed that we don't get hit by a storm that big again, and I for sure feel for others who do.

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    1. I was also living here in NY the day of 9/11. Horrific doesn't even begin to explain it. Hurricane Sandy was a doosy, I don't recall a storm like that in my lifetime living in NY most of my life. I hope we never get a storm like that again. Thanks for visiting the blog Michelle.

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  2. An incredible story and so moving. I love the campaign he started, let's hope it gets people thinking. I was in Spain for 4 months and the number of dogs I saw darting in and out of traffic stopped my heart every single time I got in that car, not to mention homeless cats roaming the streets A lot of it is the different attitude about animals so they let them wander, but so many are those who have been tossed aside. Utterly heartbreaking no matter what circumstances led to their homelessness, but of course when people were forced to leave them behind it's even more tragic. I hope you highlighting this story will lead to change.

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    1. It really is moving, I'm glad Scott shared it with me. I love his Drive With Compassion campaign as well, you wouldn't believe how people drive around here - they're horrible. They must think themselves super important to always be in a rush to get everywhere. It is so awful when people feel they have to leave their pets behind in a disaster. I would never leave my dogs, I don't care what happens.

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  3. Scott is doing amazing work and I also followed the storm thru his social media. Thank you for shining the light on this awesome man!

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    1. He is amazing, I admire him so much. He has a heart bigger than Texas! I'm grateful he shared it with me so I can help share it through my blog and social media. Thanks Melissa.

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  4. I have been following what has happened in Puerto Rico and it is heartbreaking - I pray that his campaign will help many. Thank you for this post

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    1. Me too, it is the worst storm I can recall. And to be trapped on that island must have been so scary. I worry so much about the animals, they so often get ignored with so many people needing help.

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  5. It's so important to never forget the animals. The impact on them can be so devastating.

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    1. I agree. I would never leave my dogs, I don't care what it happening. Where I go, they go. Period. They so often get lost in the chaos and panic, and can be separated from their owners forever.

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  6. My boyfriend has family in P.R. and we heard many stories first hand. Many local rescues took animals from there. I worrued so much about the feral cats who lived in the rocks in Old San Juan. I'm sure they all met their demise.

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    1. Oh my goodness, he must have been so worried about them for so long. I pray they are doing ok now? The impact to stray cats and dogs much have been horrific. How can they protect themselves?? It's just a heartbreak.

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  7. What a story, people are never prepared and, that man is amazing. Sorry, but I would not have left without my cats. I would have died first. If everyone had stood their ground then the airlines might have been forced to reconsider.

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    1. Yes, Scott is a special person for sure. He could have easily left PR and come back to NY right before or right after the storm but he chose not to. He still stays there and helps pets and their people. I'm with you, I'd never leave my pets. Not ever.

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  8. This was a really moving read. It really gets the point across as to what the life is like for stray animals. I imagine we'll hear similar stories from Florence, but at least there's more government support here I think.

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    1. It was really moving for me to read it and share with everyone on my blog. I'm glad Scott shared his story with me, I think it's important for people to know what it was really like, not just for people but for pets and strays too.

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  9. What an interesting and sad read. I can't imagine what it must be like for those poor stray cats and dogs. It's so sad to think what they've had to go through. The Drive with Compassion campaign sounds like it's needed there - and all over.

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    1. It's incredible what those poor animals must have been put through and how scared they must have been. Where could they go for protection?? I love his Drive With Compassion campaign, it's about time.

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  10. Thanks to Scott for sharing his story. Yes, I know what it's like to have no power or electric for weeks. I survived Hurricane Sandy while living in NYC. No heat, no perishable food, sleeping in the cold, only having limited cash. Our town looked like a warzone. Despite everything I was so thankful our plumbing was functional and our gas worked so we could boil water for bathing. Yes, survining a hurricane makes you improvise and be humble and grateful for all the little things. It does make you realize like wow" There are animals and people living in these streets like this everyday." You definitely have more humility and compassion as a survivor. I feel so bad for those in Puerto Rico, and especially for those forced to leave their pets at the airport. I can't even imagine.

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    1. Wow, that must have been awful for you during Sandy! I was living in Phoenix at the time, but still had my house. My sister rented part of it. My mom had to evacuate from the South shore and she came to my house. They didn't lose power for too long thankfully. My immediate area was hit pretty badly but not nearly as much as many of the surrounding areas. We were lucky here. Yes, it does give you humility and gratitude - or it should anyway! My heart has been breaking for the people of Puerto Rico, and their pets too. Storms are the worst if you can't protect your pets and yourself. The strays have no one to turn to in these situations.

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  11. My heart always goes out to the people and animals affected by disaster. It is incredible to me that Puerto Rico didn't get more help from the government after the hurricane. My sister was driving on the highway (65 mph) when she made eye contact with a small animal on the side of the road. She pulled over, looked in her mirror and realized it was a kitten. I wasn't too surprised when she decided after a few days that he was going to live with her indefinitely.

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    1. It is so heartbreaking. I can't believe help didn't get there sooner either, but the island was so completely devastated, including vital infrastructure. That is the thing that shocks me - the entire island was effected in a huge way. It's so scary. Bless your sister for pulling over to save that kitten!

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  12. Wow! I don't know what else to say! This comparison of the hurricane and the everyday lives of animals on the streets really touched me. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thanks Paula. It really touches me as well. My heart breaks for all the helpless animals still in need a year later.

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  13. I love what he wrote comparing the lives of hurricane survivors with stray animals everyday. Scott is truly a wonderful person and so compassionate.

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