EASTERN SHORE, Va. (Delmarva Now) -- The Eastern Shore SPCA recently welcomed some unusual visitors.
In cooperation with other nonprofit groups, the shelter brought in 11 dogs rescued from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit the island nearly three months ago.
Soon, Kala, Jack, Bob, Sol and the rest of the Puerto Rican pups will be up for adoption.
“These guys have been taking care of these dogs with really minimal resources,” said shelter manager Sheila Crockett.
“It’s a huge struggle down there for the people, so while they’re struggling to stay alive and take care of their kids and put food on their table, some of them are also taking care of these homeless dogs and cats.”
Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico with 150 mph winds Sept. 20. Nearly three months later, half of the island remains without power.
More than 100,000 people fled the U.S. territory before the storm or in its aftermath, and many were forced to leave their pets behind, said Sali Gear, co-founder of Island Dog Rescue.
The Virginia Beach group has worked with other nonprofits to relocate more than 1,000 dogs from Puerto Rico and other islands since, Gear said.
“We never expected to be doing this, but when the hurricane hit, we knew we could help,” she said.
Gear grew up in the U.S. Virgin Islands and co-founded Island Dog Rescue with Amy Briller about five years ago, she said.
The group runs spay/neuter clinics on St. Croix, St. John and other U.S. island territories because “like a lot of places, we have a huge over-population problem,” Gear said.
But when hurricanes hit the islands hard this summer, she saw a new need.
In cooperation with other nonprofits like Second Chance Animal Rescue of Puerto Rico, Island Dog Rescue coordinated charter flights to carry animals from the hard-hit island to the U.S. mainland for adoption.
Volunteers coordinated efforts with country singer Kenny Chesney to fly more than 200 animals off of St. John, where he owns a home, after Irma and has flown scores of dogs from other islands into Florida since.
Last week, Gear got the call that more dogs were on the way.
“We reached out to Eastern Shore … I asked them to be a partner,” she said.
Departing from the badly battered western mountains of Puerto Rico, the dogs had a long way to go.
They arrived in Miami by charter plane, where workers loaded their crates into four vans so full that dogs had to ride shotgun in each vehicle during the long haul to Virginia Beach.
“It was an experience that none of us have been through, seeing four vans pull up and all four vans are crammed with dog crates in every nook and cranny,” Crockett said.
From there, Eastern Shore SPCA staff and volunteers jumped into action, relieving weary drivers and toting 11 of the dogs here in their cars and trucks.
“The dogs were getting water and potty and food breaks along the way, but that’s still 30 hours in a crate,” Crockett said.
“But the dogs all got out just as happy as could be,” Shore SPCA volunteer Cynthia Allen said. “They’re incredibly sweet.”
SPCA staff and volunteers have been at work bathing, re-worming and testing the dogs for heartworms before they’re officially up for adoption, Crockett said.
The shelter normally holds dogs for 10 days, allowing them to monitor animals’ health and get to know their personalities, she said.
“We’re really pleased to have these dogs in the shelter. We’re glad we could help in the rescue effort,” said volunteer Helen Putre.
The SPCA has 26 kennels for dogs and normally houses about 10 cats and five or six kittens at any time, Crockett said.
The no-kill shelter is funded entirely by donations, she added.
“A lot of the animals go through quickly, but a few take a year, a year-and-a-half” to be adopted, Putre said.
“It’s not home and it never will be, but we’ve got the ability to keep them until the right home finds them,” Crockett said.
The dogs from Puerto Rico have adjusted well to their new home, all agreed, and even saw their first snow over the weekend.
The only difference between the Puerto Rican dogs and local rescues?
“They speak Spanish,” volunteer Jodi Urban said.
Eastern Shore SPCA kennel staff Heather Hutner helped transport the dogs.