Guest Blogger, Ellen Wilson – Animal Advocate
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“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” (William Wilberforce)
Last June I took five students to Puerto Rico to volunteer at Save a Sato (“sato” is Puerto Rican slang for street mutt), an organization whose mission is to rescue abandoned dogs from the streets, provide them with medical care, food, and love, then work to find them loving forever homes. Save a Sato is run by Gloria Martí, who has made rescuing and re-homing these dogs her life.
I came to learn of Save a Sato when my family agreed that the time was right for us to get a dog. I already knew how loyal and loving rescue dogs are and that I could find the perfect dog for our family at a shelter, although it would probably involve going to several shelters before we would find “the one”. As I was reading the newspaper shortly after we made that decision I saw an article about a shelter in Puerto Rico that rescues “satos” from the streets and sends them to partner shelters in the states (only no-kill shelters!) to find them loving homes. There was to be a new group of satos coming to Danbury Animal Welfare Society in Danbury, Connecticut in a few days and we were the first ones there when the shelter opened.
When the satos were let out into a fenced yard they came joyfully running out, chasing each other and running to the visitors for attention. My family was blessed that day; we were “chosen” by a loving nine month-old cocker spaniel named Happy who certainly lived up to her name. The love was mutual and Happy, now Phoebe, is a healthy twelve year-old. When it comes her time to cross the rainbow bridge, I will be comforted in knowing that this sweet dog who was once a hungry, mistreated puppy living on the streets spent the rest of her life basking in the love that all dogs deserve.
As the years passed since we adopted Phoebe, I never forgot about Save a Sato and the thousands of dogs they have rescued. I made monetary donations, but I always wanted to do more. I decided that volunteering at Save a Sato would offer our students a unique life experience while giving back to this wonderful organization that rescued my dog.
When announcing the trip, I told the student body that this was not a trip for them if they were looking for a Puerto Rican beach vacation. I stressed that in order to go they must love dogs, be a hard worker, and not mind getting dirty. I warned that we would spend most of our time there cleaning cages, not playing with cute puppies; we were going to WORK. In fact we did spend most of our time cleaning cages, but the students were up to the task.
Save a Sato has very few volunteers on the weekdays so there are typically about three people (including Gloria) to do all the work. It took the five students and me all afternoon to clean the cages, feed, and water the dogs. Gloria was so appreciative of the time it freed up for her to catch up on other necessary work at the shelter. And although we did spend most of our time cleaning cages, there was time to interact with the dogs each day. Lucy was the only volunteer who could speak English and she wasn’t at the shelter several days so the students who were taking Spanish had the added benefit of using their language skills in a real life situation.
I was very proud of these kids who worked so hard without complaining, knowing that they were making a difference in the lives of the dogs. At the end of our trip, the students asked me to organize a repeat trip for 2014. They didn’t have to twist my arm very hard! This year I will be taking eight students, two fellow faculty members, and a past graduate who will have just finished her first year of vet school. I am even more excited about this trip than I was the first one since I know what a rewarding experience it will be.
The experience of working at Save a Sato gave me one of the biggest “ah-ha” moments in my life and through it I found my true passion, which is to spend the rest of my life working to make the laws in the United States reflect that neglect and cruelty towards animals is something our society will not tolerate. Educating the public is key and this is something all of us can be doing every day. If people learn about the realities of puppy mills and that buying a puppy or kitten from a pet store keeps this inhumane industry in business, I believe most will choose to adopt a rescue or buy from a reputable breeder. I believe that in learning there are significant health benefits to the spayed or neutered pet and that increasing the number of dogs and cats being altered will result in lower rates of euthanization, more people will choose this simple and inexpensive procedure for their pet.
We aren’t all in the position to adopt or foster a pet or volunteer in a shelter, but every one of us can educate others about the ludicracy of supporting an industry that produces puppies as fast as it can while each year 2.7 million adoptable dogs and cats are euthanized (humanesociety.org, 2012-2013 statistic).
- We can all call or email our state and federal representatives to encourage them to vote in favor of bills that protect animals and oppose those that allow cruelty.
- We can all teach our children that getting a pet is a long term commitment and that if you don’t think of it that way, you aren’t someone who should have a pet.
- Every day, we can all contribute to easing the suffering of animals simply by speaking. I hope you will.
– Written by Ellen Wilson, Spanish teacher at Canterbury School, a private high school in Connecticut.
Some great organizations to check out:
Animal Cops Philadelphia 11: Puppy Mills Exposed (43:01) http://youtu.be/oWVkV6mZ3rw
If you are not familiar with puppy mills, this 43-minute video will give you quite an education.
The Sato Project (5:21) http://youtu.be/ZN8zHI70QnY
Five Days of Freedom: Ziva’s Story (6:47)- This short video featuring Theresa Shrader of National Mill Dog Rescue highlights the realities of puppy mills. http://youtu.be/OhxL7tVH5i0
Finding Forever: The Story of the Satos of Puerto Rico and the People Who Save Them (5:41) http://youtu.be/BveLPhPFQ2g
100,000: Saving the Stray Dogs of Puerto Rico (5:04) Interview with the Emmy Award winning director of the documentary 100,000. http://youtu.be/VEUCRXuaWEs
100,000 (full documentary w/English subtitles) (53:53) http://youtu.be/yWkXtxXq84M
Daylight Raid at Ballarat Puppy Factory (4:44) http://youtu.be/H7n6yoQOhO8