They've been tossed over fences, tied to gates, and even left with money under their collars. Abandoned animals are overwhelming Puerto Rico's shelters, which were already struggling to cope with hundreds of thousands of strays that were roaming the island before Hurricane Maria. Hundreds of dogs, cats, and even pet pigs and fighting cocks have been left at shelters as people flee the US territory or find they can't cope with animals as they try to rebuild their lives after the storm hit three months ago. "The situation is horrible," a rep for the Humane Society of Puerto Rico tells the AP. "There are a lot of animals being abandoned when we tell them ... there's a waiting list." At least 250 people have put their pets on that list for the society's no-kill shelter, with a capacity of 80 animals but currently hosting 120.
The strain on the pets is a side effect of the broader devastation on the island. More than 30,000 people have lost jobs, more than 200,000 homes have been damaged, and more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans have fled for the mainland, some leaving pets tied up in empty homes with a bag of food. Others who remain may find they can no longer afford a pet or have no place to keep one because they're staying with others as they wait for power to return. Some animals are left on the road or in empty homes, to be found by FEMA crews. Right after the storm, various groups flew more than 1,000 animals to no-kill shelters on the US mainland, but an animal activist says overburdened shelters, many of which were badly damaged by Maria, are again running out of space and resources and reporting a drop in adoptions.