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Oct 10, 2017 2:22 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East End Shelters Step Up To Rescue Animals From Puerto Rico

The Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation took in several dogs (and a few cats) from El Faro de los Animales, a shelter in Humacao, Puerto Rico, that was leveled by Hurricane Maria. The animals arrived on a chartered flight to Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach on Sunday. CAILIN RILEY
Oct 10, 2017 2:22 PM

The barks and yips were barely audible over the jet engine’s roar at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton on Sunday afternoon.It was a moment that Katie McEntee, Jerry Rosenthal, and other employees and volunteers with the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation had been anticipating for days.

After more than an hour of waiting on the runway, chatting excitedly while clutching cups of coffee, they let out small cheers as an airport worker pointed out the blinking lights of the jet making its way toward them through the overcast sky.

The plane was carrying precious cargo: 34 dogs and two cats that the foundation agreed to take in after their former home, the El Faro de los Animales shelter in Humacao, Puerto Rico, was destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

Sunday’s flight was just the latest example of efforts made by local animal shelters to take in pets displaced by hurricanes targeting Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas. Both the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation, with its home base in Hampton Bays, and the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, located in East Hampton, have been part of the effort.

Volunteers with ARF were preparing earlier this week to bring a group of dogs from another Puerto Rico shelter—Barks of Hope, located in Rincon—on a flight that was scheduled to arrive at Gabreski on Wednesday, October 11.

As the plane arrived on Sunday, the group of foundation employees sprang into action. Ms. McEntee walked up the steps leading into the plane and immediately began lowering crates out of the larger open doorway on the other side to Mr. Rosenthal, executive director of the Hampton Bays shelter, and others. The recipients carefully placed the crates on the ground, while others worked on loading them into the foundation’s large truck. Once that truck was filled to capacity, volunteers put the few remaining crates in the backs of their own vehicles.

They peeked at the dogs, greeting them with the cadence of puppy dog chatter that’s a familiar second-language to dog-lovers. The dogs’ reactions ranged from petrified—some cowered, shaking, in the backs of their crates—to excited, with many poking their noses out between the black metal grates, taking in their new surroundings.

A crate with four identical-looking black puppies grabbed the most attention, and when one was removed for a photo-op, it eagerly licked Ms. McEntee’s face.

Mr. Rosenthal said the call to help animals in need has been heeded by his organization and many others.

“Shelters in the Northeast have really stepped up,” he said. “Most of the island of Puerto Rico has no power, and the people there are still trying to put their own lives back together.”

The chartered flight that brought the dogs from Puerto Rico to Gabreski on Sunday was made possible by an anonymous donor, who Mr. Rosenthal said has been a key supporter of the foundation. He added that many people have been supportive as well, reaching out to ask how they can help and in some instances offering to sponsor pets—covering their food and medical care costs—even if they cannot adopt an animal.

“There’s been an incredible outpouring of support,” he said. “When we work collectively, we can really magnify the impact.”

The foundation has had a connection with El Faro for many years, and several employees, including Ms. McEntee, have traveled to the shelter and brought dogs from there in the past. One of her dogs came from El Faro and was in poor health when she first brought it home.

While waiting for the plane to arrive on Sunday, Ms. McEntee eagerly showed off cellphone pictures of Blanca, looking happy and healthy, alongside her three other dogs.

While Ms. McEntee, the foundation’s director of adoptions, and her colleagues were busy settling the dogs into their new home at the foundation’s shelter in Hampton Bays on Monday, ARF Director of Operations Michele Forrester and her husband, Jamie, were boarding a commercial flight to Aguadilla. They were carrying empty dog crates, ready to take in dogs from Barks of Hope and bring them back to ARF on a chartered flight two days later.

Located on the eastern side of Puerto Rico, Barks of Hope did not sustain the kind of structural damage experienced at El Faro, which was directly in Maria’s path, though those overseeing the facility are still having serious issues. The lack of access to fresh water and electricity have made it difficult for volunteers to tend to the animals.

ARF was originally scheduled to receive a shipment of dogs on Saturday from El Faro, but when it heard that Barks of Hope needed some relief, plans were changed, and the additional dogs from El Faro were sent to a shelter in New Jersey. With the help of David Brownstein, an ARF board member who has extensive relationships with both the El Faro shelter and Barks of Hope, the plans were altered.

ARF Executive Director and CEO Scott Howe credits ARF’s donors for stepping up at a crucial time, helping to raise $68,000 in less than 24 hours for the chartered return flight.

ARF has been providing relief to shelters affected by hurricanes since Harvey struck Texas on August 25. Mr. Howe said that ARF would certainly be at capacity when the latest animals arrive, but he added that some of the rescued dogs will go to the Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton.

Mr. Howe expressed some of the same sentiments as Mr. Rosenthal when he spoke about the response from the community.

“They’ve supported us incredibly since we started with our efforts in Texas,” he said, pointing out that ARF took in 105 animals from Texas and Florida, and was expecting to receive 60 animals from Barks of Hope.

Mr. Howe said that the situation for both animals and people on the island is “grave,” saying he’s been receiving reports from Mr. Brownstein, who has been on the ground in Puerto Rico for two weeks coordinating rescue efforts. “He said he doesn’t have words to describe what’s happening,” Mr. Howe said.

Ms. Forrester said she was glad to help Barks of Hope and its founder, Leo Rouiban; she explained that ARF has had a relationship with Ms. Rouiban and his shelter for more than a decade.

“We’re glad she’s safe and the animals are safe,” Ms. Forrester said while speaking on Monday during a layover in Florida on her way to Puerto Rico. “We just want to lighten her load a bit so she can begin to rebuild.”

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So very thankful and proud of everyone who worked so hard to rescue these poor animals! Please remember THIS every time you see one of those false ads claiming that local airports don’t benefit anyone or anything. The truth is animal rescue flights and other humanitarian flights are very common at our airport and are done by local pilots who volunteer their aircraft and their time entirely free of charge (we even pay for the fuel) to help others and better our community.
By localEH (317), East Hampton on Oct 11, 17 8:36 AM
1 member liked this comment
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