For Many Adopted Dogs, The Journey Home Takes A Thousand Miles In Puerto Rico, poverty and lax rules have stranded about 300,000 dogs as strays. So rescue groups are sending many of those dogs to the mainland — and trying to change attitudes on the island.

For Many Adopted Dogs, The Journey Home Takes A Thousand Miles

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Summer's peak pet adoption season in the United States, and a growing number of the dogs on offer come from Puerto Rico. Marisa Peñaloza visited the island and an adoption clinic near Washington, D.C.

MARISA PEÑALOZA, BYLINE: It's a hot, muggy Sunday in the parking lot of a pet store in Rockville, Md. A couple hundred people walk around looking for a dog to take home. Ten-year-old Dinaz Campbell says she's finally found her match.

DINAZ CAMPBELL: I've been looking since last year. And I was kind of, at the start, looking for a puppy until I realized how much work it was going to be.

PEÑALOZA: Puppies need to be walked about seven times a day. She says no thanks. She tenderly holds 2-year-old Sherry. The small, caramel-colored dog stares at Dinaz with big eyes. The crowd is making the dog a little bit nervous.


DINAZ: Come here.

PEÑALOZA: The rising fifth-grader has done her homework and has her dog's schedule all figured out.

DINAZ: I really want to be the one who feeds her because if you feed the dog, then you're the god.

PEÑALOZA: Wow, says Campbell, when she learns her new dog came all the way from Puerto Rico. The adoption fee is $300 and includes canine airfare from San Juan. There are about 300,000 stray dogs on the island, according to the Humane Society. The event organizer, Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, brings in dogs from the Carolinas, Virginia and Puerto Rico, where founder Mirah Horowitz says the spay-and-neuter laws are especially lax.

MIRAH HOROWITZ: And they don't have a culture of adoption the way that we have a culture of adoption, so we're able to find many of their dogs homes very quickly.

MICHELLE CINTRON: My name is Michelle Cintron, and I work for Puerto Rico Alliance for Companion Animals. This is what we call La Finca, The Farm. There's about 45 animals here right now. All of them have been rescued. This is Feva (ph). She's a really happy dog, and she's wagging her tail.

PEÑALOZA: The Farm is an animal shelter into Guaynabo, just north of the capital city of San Juan. It's a paradise of sorts for satos, local slang for stray dogs. Here, they get medical care and lots of love before they're found a permanent home.

CINTRON: (Speaking Spanish).

PEÑALOZA: Suddenly, Cintron's arms erupt into a thick red rash.

CINTRON: I'm allergic to dogs, and I know it's a very hard thing to be allergic to when you're a dog rescuer.

PEÑALOZA: No big deal, she says, while furiously scratching her arms. Michelle Cintron and others are working hard to change rooted attitudes about the treatment and adoption of dogs on the island. Poverty plays a role in those attitudes. Many people here have trouble covering their own needs, let alone paying for a pet's medical care and food. Cintron quickly gets emotional talking about what she describes as a promise that she makes to rescue dogs.

CINTRON: And that promise is you're going to be safe. You're going to be happy - sorry - and you're going to find a home.

PEÑALOZA: Even if that new home is more than 1,500 miles away. Marisa Peñaloza, NPR News, Puerto Rico.

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