The Satos Who Survived Maria: Strays From Puerto Rico Are Being Rescued And Need Homes

Dead Dog Beach Was Devastated But The Sato Project Is Here To Help

By Patrick Cullen

It was a nasty hurricane season for islands in the Atlantic and states bordering the gulf like Texas and Florida. Hurricane Maria, was one of the strongest Category 5 hurricanes to ever form over the Atlantic. Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico; to date, upwards of 50 people have died and the humanitarian struggle to bring ample food, clean water, and electricity back to the island is ongoing. Overshadowed (unfortunately but rightfully so) by the fight to ensure basic survival needs to the island’s human population is the impact that Maria had on Puerto Rico’s canine population.

The story is equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming.

Photo: The Sato Project

I knew about Puerto Rico’s stray dog population years before Maria ever began to stir. Family friends of mine, a couple from my hometown in Massachusetts, had visited Puerto Rico and learned about the island’s stray dog problem. Their beloved dog, Sadie, a spunky, endearing Beagle-esque mutt was outwardly appreciative each time she sat with us while we enjoyed a stoked fire and a warming glass of whiskey during our bitter, New England winters. It may have been colder for her but her loving family and comfy life certainly outshone the circumstances from which she previously survived. Our friends had met her the day before they returned from their vacation and quickly adopted her, having her flown back to the states where they loved her and spoiled her like an only child until she only recently passed away. Along with all the fond memories, her dad has a tattoo of Sadie’s paw print on his shoulder.

Photo: The Sato Project

The two were well-educated and passionate about the matter, informing me that there were approximately half a million stray dogs on Puerto Rico, which is roughly the size of Connecticut. Before Maria, that number was growing seemingly out of control and while dogs are owned as pets on the island, these strays, called “Satos” by the island’s inhabitants, are looked upon as pests and often abused and severely neglected. Many of these satos gathered on what became known as Dead Dog Beach, the reality of which is in the name.

Photo: The Sato Project

While Sadie was lucky enough to find a loving home here, so many of these satos weren’t, and when it seemed their circumstances couldn’t get any worse, Maria happened. The island was ravaged and left in a state of ruin. As rescue organizations moved in, some moved in to come to the aid of the satos. Tragically, it was said to be extremely difficult to find any dogs still alive on the once overrun Dead Dog Beach. However, when the winds and the debris settled, the silver lining came into focus. Stray dogs were found and scooped up, in whatever numbers they could be found in, and flown to safety to be rescued from the devastated island.

Photo: The Sato Project

The Sato Project is doing the bulk of the legwork. Already extremely active in rescuing Puerto Rico’s strays, their work took on a new urgency, bordering on desperation, post-Maria. The press caught wind of the story, broadcasting the need to find these strays homes, a point I willingly reiterate after meeting Sadie. Dozens of dogs were transported to no-kill shelters in New York City, while smaller outlets from around the country reported satos landing at airports in cities across the southern states, New England, and the Midwest. Most all of these dogs are small (under 30 lbs.) and incredibly smart, with terrier genes and a resourcefulness that ensured their survival through the hurricane and beforehand. If dear Sadie was any indication, any family would be lucky to have an opportunity to make one of these satos a beloved pet. Check out The Sato Project and the work they do right now!

Photo: The Sato Project