The conditions were deplorable: About 100 chihuahuas were found living in a “hoarder” home in Puerto Rico, a misguided and out-of-control effort by the home’s owner — diagnosed with a mental disorder — to protect them from a system that quickly euthanizes strays.
While the dogs seemed to be well taken care of, there were just too many. Without veterinary care, they continued to breed out of control — until two rescue groups, The Sato Project and El Faro de los Animales, stepped in and teamed up to rescue them, taking 50 dogs each.
The Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation last week stepped up to the plate, agreeing to rehabilitate 20 of the homeless pooches, according to Kate McEntee, the director of animal relations for the Hampton Bays shelter, and now is looking to place the dogs in foster homes.
Ms. McEntee noted that while the situation was extreme, the intention of the homeowner was to protect the dogs.
“You know, a lot of times people with mental health problems, especially in a place like Puerto Rico, where there are so many stray dogs, people start collecting dogs, when they think they’re doing something good for the dogs and getting them out of danger and off the street,” she said. “But, you know, these little chihuahuas were, basically … you know, they lived in a house, but not a house that you and I would think is a good, safe house for these dogs.”
According to Ms. McEntee, there are by some estimations 300,000 stray dogs in Puerto Rico, an island about the size of Connecticut. The shelters are so overwhelmed that the euthanization rate is nearly 97 percent.
“They’re starving for food, suffering from abuse and basically dying from health-related issues,” she said. “So a dog that does find itself in a shelter gets euthanized, basically, that same day.
“So they have these horrible hoarding cases, because people think they’re doing a good thing, but they take on too much. The dogs suffer, too, because, you know, living in a hoarder house is not a life for an animal.”
The shelter is looking for foster parents from across the island to take in the little rescues temporarily while the dogs are conditioned to fit into forever homes — although Ms. McEntee admits that it would be tough not to fall in love with their cute little faces and consider a longer-term arrangement.
Of the 20 rescues at the shelter, 10 of them, six males and four females, are currently available to foster, and the remaining 10 will be soon.
While the dogs are perfectly socialized to be around other dogs, Ms. McEntee said, noting that they all grew up with 100 brothers and sisters, they need time to adjust to being around people, since they had no human contact at all.
“They’ve basically been in survival mode while living 100 of them in one little tiny house,” Ms. McEntee said. “They’ve never lived in a comfy, loving home. So, right now, they are scared, they are shy, they don’t know what’s going on. So before we place them in their forever homes, we want to make sure that they’re socialized and they’re good with people — and that’s where the fosters come in.”
The shelter also offers a program where someone can start off as a foster but later agree to adopt the dog if all works out well. “Obviously, if you fall in love with one of them, we want you to keep them,” she said. “How would you not?”
Those interested in fostering one of the chihuahuas, or any other dog at the shelter, can fill out an application on the shelter’s website, southamptonanimalshelter.com/foster-me, or send an email to email@example.com.