DEAD DOG BEACH (2011-2013)

There are an estimated of 250,000 stray dogs in Puerto Rico, a US Commonwealth about the size of Connecticut. For the longest time, the stray population kept growing exponentially. In 2018, the Humane Society, working with local rescues, launched a vast spay and neuter campaign to sterilize as many owned pets as possible.

“Satos” is Puerto Rican slang for stray dogs. Although people own dogs as pets, they see Satos as vermin and these dogs often live short lives of neglect and abuse on an island stricken by poverty.

Dead Dog Beach is located on the South-East coast of the island. It used to be a local infamous dumping ground for unwanted dogs. Its nickname is reminiscent of the many myths surrounding stray dogs. I visited the beach on many occasions in 2011-2013, and photographed the dogs who were abandoned there and in the surroundings, as well as the feral dogs who claimed this area as their home.

Some of the dogs I met knew how to sit and give paw. Some were very frightened, others completely feral. Some dogs seeked the companionship of humans, a kind hand, scraps of food - those were an easy rescue. Others kept their distance, and, reconnecting with their deep wild nature, organized themselves into packs in their battle for survival.

As I photographed these dogs and witnessed local rescuers pulling these dogs to safety, sometimes extremely forcefully, I wondered if a line should be drawn when it comes to dog rescue. Between our desire to provide a better life for stray dogs, and an unhealthy hero complex that pushes some of us to make decisions that are detrimental to the dogs’ true nature, the line can sometimes appear blurred.

Has our relationship with dogs become so codependent that it makes them unfit for life in the wild, and does it compel us to rescue them at all cost? Could some of these dogs survive without our help? And more importantly, should dogs that seem to want nothing to do with humans, be forced back into families, as pets?