HANCOCK COUNTY — As soon as the pilot pushed open the door to the small jet, the night air filled with anxious barks and howls.
More than 80 dogs from shelters in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico were coaxed into crates and flown from the island to Florida, and then on to Indianapolis Regional Airport, where about 50 volunteers waited. They hailed from the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society of Indianapolis and a handful of other animal rescue organizations who came to load the dogs onto vans and trucks and take them home. The volunteers cooed as they helped unload the crates of various sizes onto the airport tarmac, with some pups’ howls and complaints causing sympathetic “awws” to come from the group.
The Puerto Rican canines spent more than 12 hours in crates on the plane, a long trip made longer by delays in getting to Fort Lauderdale and in refueling there before landing in Indiana around 9:30 p.m. Monday, said Greenfield-Hancock Animal Management director Amanda Dehoney. Five of the dogs, including three pups from the same litter, ended up in Hancock County at animal management, where they will receive flea and worm treatments and vaccines and be microchipped, spayed or neutered, Dehoney said.
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She and animal control officer Heather Hamilton helped to unload and organize the crates bearing dogs of all different sizes and breeds, the headlights of their truck illuminating the faces of the hounds and terriers.
The Humane Society worked with animal shelters on the island to relieve them of some of the animals relinquished by residents forced to evacuate after Hurricane Maria struck the American territory, said Anne Sterling, midwest regional director of the Humane Society of the United States. Much of the island remained without power a month after the storm’s 150-mile-per hour winds hit, and nearly a third of residents still don’t have running water, according to The Associated Press reports.
Relieving the Puerto Rican shelters of the animals will give them an opportunity to repair their facilities before more dogs and cats can be accepted, Sterling said. Indianapolis’ Humane Society committed to accepting about 120 dogs, but 82 made the flight Monday night, said Kirsten Vantwood, COO of the Humane Society of Indianapolis. They were split among the Indianapolis organization and several other rescues, including the SPCA of Cincinnati, she said.
The Humane Society has worked for about three years to help establish animal shelters and rescues and to bolster the efforts of existing shelters, said Erin Huang, HSUS Indiana director. Impoverished areas on the island have issues with dogs being abandoned, inspiring The Sato Project, an organization established in 2011 to care for stray dogs and educate residents about humane and responsible pet ownership, according to the organization’s website.
Indiana is the fourth state to receive a shipment of dogs from the island, with previous trips bringing pups in need to North Carolina, New Jersey and Virginia, Sterling said.
It’s hard to believe the damage done to Puerto Rico’s infrastructure and the magnitude of the need for humans and animals alike, she said.
“With everything the island is dealing with, hopefully, this is alleviating some of their needs,” she said. “Hopefully, this is helping folks on the ground there.”
The canines relaxing and acclimating to their new surroundings in Hancock County are Jaimito, a 2-year-old Schnauzer mix, Brunilda, an 8-year-old beagle mix, and three 17-week-old puppies, Arena, Trigo and Zafiro, which are satos, or mixed breed dogs with big, floppy ears, common to Puerto Rico. The dogs will be up for adoption by Saturday, Dehoney said.
The two adult dogs are relaxed and cheerful, she said. The pups are still a bit nervous after their long trip but can be encouraged with squeaky toys and treats, she said. The Puerto Rican dogs may be adopted by potential owners who go through the normal application process, Dehoney said.
“These poor guys have been through enough,” she said. “We want to make sure they have a really good forever home.”
While Indy Humane often takes on dogs or cats when the Hancock County shelter is running out of space, this is the first time the Greenfield facility has been able to return the favor, Dehoney said.
Staff members of the county facility were thrilled to lend a hand to the effort.
“I feel so good about being able to help, especially with someone who really needs help, like Puerto Rico,” Hamilton said.