Visit at the Arecibo Shelter + Fundraiser

A few years back I volunteered for The Sato Project, a NY rescue that is dedicated to helping the dogs of Puerto Rico. Back then, Arecibo was a municipal shelter, which name would send chills down the spine of any rescuer on the island. It was considered ground zero, a place of death and even alleged abuse.

Fortunately, two years ago the shelter was privatized and became the Centro de Control y Albergue Capitan Correa (follow their Facebook page for recent updates). The new staff is set to making changes for the dogs of Arecibo and they are fantastic. They got some medical equipment donated, built their own surgery table and wet table. They have been smart about their resources, but there is just so much they can do. Things are looking better for this place, but they need our help. The place is still mandated by the municipality to collect strays, and therefore facing great challenges, litters upon litters being brought in every day, as well as strays in rough shape and owner surrenders. With little to no funding, the shelter has opened a vet clinic on-site, which allows them to finance the place through vet services offered to the community (spay and neuter, vaccination...). The rest of the funding comes through the few adoptions they have each month (about 10 to 15 a month) and the municipality mandate they have. As you can imagine, they operate on a very, very thin budget, and this is why we have set up a fundraiser for them. Below is what our goal is, and how we would like to use the money raised.

Boom Boom Beckles (RIP), the inspiration behind The Sato Project and this rescue mission.

Boom Boom Beckles (RIP), the inspiration behind The Sato Project and this rescue mission.

Chrissy, the fierce leader of The Sato Project, has a personal connection to the Arecibo shelter. This is where, in 2009, her beloved Boom Boom, the inspiration behind the organization, was rescued: a shivering puppy, trying to find comfort on a damp slab of concrete, and whose siblings all died during their stay at the shelter. Boom Boom passed away unexpectedly a few months ago and Chrissy decided to honor her by pulling dogs from the Arecibo shelter into her rescue program. When she asked me to join, I didn’t hesitate. Boom Boom was like my niece and she will always have a special place in my heart. So we set to visit the Arecibo shelter, and The Sato Project would pull 8 dogs thanks to funds they had raised before the summer. We ended up leaving the place with 11 dogs, many of which would have not made it out alive, despite being great dogs with minor, treatable cosmetic, behavioral or health issues. And the faces we had to leave behind will haunt us.

The things we saw and heard in the course of the 3 days we spent there, were horrifying. I cannot imagine what it is like for the staff and volunteers to work there every day. They work hard, but their task is near impossible. Every day, puppies and dogs are pouring in. The euthanasia rate at the shelter is near 85%, and that does not include the dogs who die of natural causes while staying there. My friend Chrissy provided a detailed account of our journey, and you can read it on The Sato Project's blog. We ended up pulling 3 dogs from the adoption center, and 8 dogs from the intake area.

Bugsy (rescued) trying to find comfort in her uncomfortable cell.

Bugsy (rescued) trying to find comfort in her uncomfortable cell.

One side of the intake area

The shelter is divided in two areas: the intake area, and the adoption area. When dogs come in, they spend about 20 days in the intake area where they are assessed medically and behaviorally. Once deemed adoptable, they move to the adoption area. The adoption center of the shelter is actually relatively nice. What struck us the most was the intake area. You expect intake areas to be sad and difficult to stomach. But on top of that, because of their lack of resources the shelter hasn’t had a chance to really improve that part of the shelter. With your help, we can make huge improvements there.

As one would expect, the intake area is not opened to the public, but we were granted exclusive access and I am grateful for the trust the staff at the Arecibo's shelter has placed in The Sato Project and I. They opened their doors to us because we made a promise: our goal here is not to shame or criticize. Our goal is to bring awareness and educate. My mission is to show the reality of shelters across the world that operate in impoverished areas, with little to nothing, and face insurmountable challenges (I have officially started a project about this, which you can view here).  Because of limited space and resources, the triage at intake is pretty drastic: any dog with an injury, visibly sick, any puppy still nursing but without a mother, any dog who is missing a limb or an eye, any pregnant female, all go straight on the euthanasia list. Imagine puppies pouring in every day, all year around, because people don’t spay and neuter, and because nobody wants to take responsibility for strays. Imagine horribly sick or injured dogs who will die slow and painful deaths, or hopefully quick euthanasia in the arms of someone who cares. This is the daily life at Arecibo’s shelter. They are cleaning up the community’s messes. We all need to take responsibility.

These puppies came in the day prior. No lactating mother was found, so they were humanely euthanized shortly after this picture.

With your help, we can make the life in the intake area of the shelter a little better. In particular, a few things should be easy to fix, and provide huge improvements: the kennels are all made of porous concrete, which is a terrible idea when you are battling diseases like parvo or distemper… The solution would be to tile the whole area. Some bottom cages don’t have access to natural light or fresh air and the shelter would like to open those up. The top cages – which are dedicated to puppies - have bars so far apart, we have seen puppies squeeze trough and fall off. Last but not least, in the larger kennels, the top part is made of fencing material, which is continuously destroyed by the dogs, allowing them to jump from kennel to kennel. This leads to fights, females in heat fending off males, dogs risking hurting themselves when they jump from an area to the other, not to mention the risk of diseases spreading.

One side of the intake area: concrete cages. The bottom cages don't have access to natural light or fresh air. The top ones are used for puppies and litters.

A broken fence has been temporarily fixed a few times.

A busy intake kennel.

A puppy is trying to get to us as we do our rounds.

Puppies squeezing through the gate of their cage.

A dog jumps through a hole in the fence. his leg got stuck briefly in the wire.

A dog sits between two kennels, through the hole in the fence that separates them.

Those are easy to fix, with a bit of resources for material and manpower. Chrissy and I debated at length on ways to best help the place. And we decided to focus on 2 small, achievable goals: first, we want to help the shelter repair and improve their intake area by fixing the things mentioned above. Secondly, we want to acquire a dental machine for them, which will help them increase their income by offering dental work to their clients. The total estimate cost for these things would be $10,000. A generous donor has offered to match that amount, so if we reach it, The Sato Project will get an additional $10,000 which will be used for their community spay and neuter program. Please, consider donating to our efforts. Follow this link to the fundraiser page. Any amount will help. Arecibo's shelter has come a long way, but there is so much more we can do to alleviate the suffering of these dogs and the difficult conditions the staff and volunteers have to face every day.

Puppies being transferred into a bucket.

Here are some of the doggies we were able to pull. They are currently undergoing treatment at The Sato Project's vet's, and will soon be ready to travel to New York where they will be available for adoption! Visit the Sato Project's website to apply for fostering or adoption! I carried Elliott outside the shelter, into our car, that day. I remember feeling his heart beating so hard in his chest. His frail little body stiffening in my arms as we walked through the loud, smelly, scary kennels. Did he think I was leading him to his death? I remember hanging onto him with all my might, because that little life was all I could save from this place. I kept whispering to him "It's ok, we are leaving, you will never come back here". But the tears running down my face were both for him and for all the others I was leaving behind. They wagged their tails, they barked, trying to get my attention, "take me! take me too!". I couldn't even look at them.

No matter how many we save, there will always be more, unless people take responsibility and start being serious about pet ownership. Do no purchase animals when so many perfect ones are dying in shelters. Spay and neuter your pets, because accidental litters are the plague of our shelter system. It's not about being a crazy animal advocate. It's about being a decent human being.

With much love,


MacLovin in his intake cage.

Bugsy in her kennel. She was housed with 3 other puppies and seemed shut down.

MacLovin safe! He is a cutie!

Bugsy safe! She turned out to be a happy-go-lucky girl, and is now learning to trust humans.

Bambi, safe with The Sato Project! She was scheduled for euthanasia for being too shy and returned twice by adopters.

We named these two Thelma and Louise because they were stuck together like glue, although they didn't arrive together.

This beauty made it safe into The Sato Project's rescue program as well.

Chantal had been waiting 2 years in the adoption center. Her time was up so The Sato Project took her. She is a sweetheart!

Elliot was brought it by Animal Control. He was on the euthanasia list because of a cherry eye.