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On an ordinary day, the main plaza in Vieques’ Isabel Segunda neighborhood comes alive with town hall meetings or morning yoga classes. But on Oct. 1, 11 days after Hurricane Maria struck the small island off the coast of Puerto Rico, the plaza was filled for a very different reason.
Despite having no electricity or running water, and with many of their homes destroyed, more than 50 Viequenses and their pets made their way to the plaza for a free animal clinic, hosted by The HSUS and partner Our Big Fat Cat Caribbean Rescue. Some walked miles in the hot sun to get there. Dogs of all breeds, shapes and sizes—and even a cat on a skateboard—came to receive medical attention. And a few kids with very big hearts were in the crowd, too.
Twelve-year-old Kareliz stood in line for two hours so her dogs, Gorda and Pelusa, could receive medical attention.
Dickie Vest, a veterinarian with The HSUS at the time, and Dave Pauli, HSUS senior adviser for wildlife response and policy, helped at the clinic and talked with Kareliz about her dogs.
“She wants to understand how we’re treating her dogs and why,” says Pauli. “It’s so nice to see the young people of Vieques caring so much for their pets.”
Ten-year-old Jayshwua was one of those kids. Worried his dog Pen might have parasites, he biked to the plaza after hearing that people were helping animals there. Pen received medication and was sent home with a bag of dog food and treats.
Victor Morales and Vianca Smith sat next to Jayshwua as they waited for help. They were worried about 8-year-old Little Man, a previously calm and social Chihuahua.
“I don’t know if PTSD in dogs exists, but he hasn’t been the same since Maria,” Smith told the vets. “During the storm, he cried nonstop and was wheezing.”
Vest examined Little Man. His lungs were clear, but Vest explained that trauma can manifest after a stressful event. “Animals are displaying signs consistent with extreme stress and anxiety,” he says.
The HSUS has helped to provide basic health care, food and other critical items to more than 600 animals like Little Man on Vieques and on the main island of Puerto Rico. There is still more to do before a sense of normalcy returns to Puerto Rico, but the islands, their people and their animals are off to a better start.
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