Our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico continue to struggle. And, it isn’t only people feeling the impact of Hurricane Maria; pets and horses are hurting, too.
When asked about how the recovery was progressing in Puerto Rico, President Trump noted, “We love those people, and what they’ve gone through. And they’re all healing. And their states and territories are healing and they’re healing rapidly.”
Rapidly? You be the judge:
Nearly a month after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Governor Ricardo Rossello said about 85 percent of the island remains without power (turning this fact around will likely take at least another month), 42 percent of cell phone customers don’t have service, and more than a third of residents still don’t have access to safe drinking water (with “safe” being the operative word).
According to CNN, workers from the Puerto Rican water utility, Autoridad de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, or AAA, have distributed water from a well at the Dorado Groundwater Contamination Site, which was listed in 2016 as part of the federal Superfund program for hazardous waste cleanup. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the area was polluted with industrial chemicals, including tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene, which “can have serious health impacts, including damage to the liver and increasing the risk of cancer,” according to the EPA.
The U.S. government was providing this water and saying it was safe. Since press reports, that’s no longer the case, but some desperate Puerto Ricans are choosing questionable water over no water at all. Many wonder why inexpensive water purification drops remain so hard to come by.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection which can sicken or kill many mammal species, including humans, caused by water tainted with urine of animals (or people) carrying the infection.
Governor Rossello said at least 10 people have been diagnosed with leptospirosis. And, there’s little doubt that many others are suffering in silence, because getting to an open hospital in the countryside may be difficult, and many hospitals and private physicians aren’t accepting patients. The number of people sickened with lepto could multiply tenfold or more in the coming weeks, and leptospirosis can be deadly (especially when appropriate medical care isn’t available). Other water-borne illness in people are also likely to occur.
If people are suffering from lepto, dogs are too—and likely in far greater numbers since dogs aren’t picky about where they drink water. However, many veterinary clinics aren’t open, and, even when the clinics are open, people may not be able to get their pets there or be able to afford care.
From one extreme to another: Recently, there’s been little rain on the island. Horses, who need to drink about five gallons of water per day, are desperate for water. Horses can also be sickened by leptospirosis. And, while there’s now an ample supply of pet food in nearly all places on the island, hay for horses is scarce.
Are you or your pet not feeling well?
Drugs once routinely available, such as basic antibiotics or insulin, may be impossible to come by now. Depending on where you happen to live, pharmacies, medical offices, veterinary clinics, and hospitals remain closed. Also, how can drugs requiring refrigeration be kept chilled if there is no electricity, or there’s no generator or available fuel to power that generator?
James Westfall, vice president of Defensa Animal de Rincon in Rincon, Puerto Rico (on the far west side of the island), told me via text that many residents have had enough and are fleeing Puerto Rico for the mainland. Jet Blue is attempting to accommodate their pets, but they limit the number of animals per flight. Some people are desperate to leave the island, but won’t without their pets. There are organizations attempting to help.
Many individuals can’t find a flight to accommodate their animals, or don’t consider pets as members of the family and worthwhile to relocate with. Pets are being left behind to fend for themselves, a lot of them. “As long as there are more and more people leaving the island, the problem will get worse,” Westfall says.
Before Hurricane Maria struck, there was a serious dog and cat overpopulation problem on the island.
Some the strays perished in the storm, but most survived but are now hungrier than ever. And now there’s the additional issue of homeless animals being left behind.
The good news is that dogs and cats are being delivered to rescue groups on the mainland (mostly to Florida and cities on the east coast). For example, 45 dogs were just relocated from Aguadilla to New Jersey. And this is only one of many recent examples.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other organizations are doing what they can to help animals on the ground in Puerto Rico, assist shelters there (who in many cases suffered significant damage), and help to get animals off the island. However, it’s unlikely mainland shelters can have the capacity to accept all the Puerto Rican animals in need.