Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Saving the Satos - BtC4A

Today we're participating in "Blog the Change for Animals", a quarterly event where bloggers are asked to write about an animal welfare issue near and dear to their heart.

Rather than focus on a specific rescue group, I want to talk to you about the Satos of Puerto Rico.

It is estimated that 100,000 stray dogs, called Satos, roam the tiny island of Puerto Rico. These dogs face unrelenting hardship: starvation, disease, neglect and abuse. They die on the beaches, along roadways and in shelters every day. They are poisoned by business owners and tortured by bored and apathetic youth.

Bella is a Sato.

In writing Bella's story, I worry that I am doing a disservice to these wonderful dogs and their terrible plight. It's very important to me that people understand, while Bella is a Sato, not all Satos are Bella.

When Jan and I were first considering adopting Bella, we met another young dog, let's call him Henry. Henry was also a scared-y dog and when we met him at his foster family's home that first time, neither Jan nor I were able to touch him. Henry was an adorable dog but, while Jan and I knew we wanted a special needs dog, we opted for Bella instead of Henry.

A couple of years later, we met Henry again at our trainer's studio where his owners (now failed fosters) were also getting help. In fact, our trainer said we were lucky to have Bella because Henry was "a mess".

Ha! Has she met Bella? Oh wait, actually, yeah, that's right: she had.

My point is that Henry was not a Sato. He was just another fearful dog who needed special people to take care of him.

Bella's not crazy because she's a Sato. Bella's crazy because she's Bella. Just like Henry's not crazy because he was a Boxer-mix from the south. He was just Henry - a damaged dog.

Satos are good dogs

Satos in general are known to make wonderful household companions. They are often described as tough and resilient but so very sweet and loving. They are always described as incredibly smart and quick to learn.

"Living with a Sato often means an element of surprise, but they are almost always loving, affectionate dogs who are good with all family members." -- Dogster.com

I want to write today about the many lovely Satos I've met and of their owners who love them to pieces. I want to talk about their amazing ability to love even though they've lived with and seen the worst in us. I want to just post pictures of rescued Satos and their adoring families.

Why should you care about Satos?

I know there's controversy in some parts of the animal welfare community about saving dogs from areas that are not your own.

Some of the things that have been said to my face about Bella would make your hair turn grey. Some of the things I've read online about saving the Satos has reduced me to tears. And some of the lies being told about them and the efforts to rescue them have made me so angry I can barely speak.

But I don't understand how anyone can dismiss the value of a life based simply on where that life happened to begin.

Some facts about Puerto Rico:


Of course, saving the dogs of Puerto Rico requires more than just moving them from there to here.

It requires humane education that begins with school children who will grow up to change their world. It requires access to low-cost spay/neuter programs as well as sterilization of the dogs on the streets. It requires continued improvement in the laws as well as strict enforcement of them. And it requires many hands and many hearts working together to improve the lives of these wonderful little dogs.

Jan and I have pledged to help Satos in many small and various ways. We hope the people who learn about them through us will be inspired to do something, however small, to help as well.

Share their story. Buy a t-shirt. Write the Puerto Rican government or better yet, the board of tourism and urge them to enforce their animal protection laws.

But most of all, if you ever get the chance to adopt a Sato, please don't hesitate to do so.

All we really want is a warm bed and someone to snuggle with...

Rescuing Bella did little to help the Satos of Puerto Rico. But telling her story shouldn't hurt them either.


  1. Leslie, Thank you for sharing a post about Satos that's so beautifully written from the heart. Your sincerity is palpable and your argument so logical. I find your facts about Puerto Rico a compelling piece of the equation. I don't think people are always aware of connections we have on this planet, national connections, spiritual connections, responsibility connections. All unhomed dogs need rescuing. I can't think of any other way to put it. I hope people open their eyes enough to see that these dogs, too, are worthy. 

    Thanks so much for Blogging the Change. 
    Kim Clune

  2. Powerful and beautifully written Leslie. I learned a lot about Satos from Debbie Jacobs from Fearfuldogs.com. Before meeting her, I knew nothing of Satos or the horrible life so many of them live. She does a lot to help educate the people of Puerto Rico. She brings many home to be adopted. 

    Reading your post made me realize that perhaps there is something I can do to help support you and Debbie in your work to save them. I certainly think this post goes a long way towards educating people about their fate. 

    And to think that puppy mills on the mainland feed this insanity. Ugh!
    Thank you for writing this post for Blog the Change. I am sharing it on my own page. 

    Team BTC

  3. It's amazing that such a tiny island can have such a huge problem ;( I just can't believe that they have a beach called "Dead Dog Beach". Ugh. Sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed by the enormity of the animal population problem. 

    I had no idea that Bella is a Sato! I don't think there is any breed that has "fearful" as one of their listed personality traits so Bella is definitely not a bad representative of the breed! She's so cute - thanks for sharing this, the more that we educate people about what is going on, the more people we can get involved!

  4. Wonderfully written post!  I had to Google the term Sato as I didn't see the definition in your post, but by doing so I spent probably 30 min jumping from site to site reading about the type of life Sato's have to endure.

  5. There's a similar argument about saving the Galgos in Spain.  Their fate is horrific.  I go back and forth about thinking about adding a Galgo the next time there's room at the inn.  I love the Greyhounds and I'll always have one or two in my life, but it's hard to say which dog to pick and which dog not to.  You've written a great post about the Satos and really made a great point about why somebody should adopt one!

  6. I will admit to not knowing anything about Satos until reading about your beautiful Bella.  I can only imagine how the people on the front line feel as helping our local animals is overwhelming & the statistics are nowhere near what they are facing. Please do not feel as though you are doing the Satos a disservice by writing about your experiences with Bella. Many people have been made aware of the situation from what you have written & I think we all know (or should) that dogs are individuals :) Not to mention all of the people you are helping out that have shy/fearful dogs.

  7. I have never heard of these dogs before and really learned a lot from reading that. It's very sad that there are so many strays in Puerto Rico and that the kill rate is so high. I agree that educating others is very important in the welfare of not only the satos, but for animals everywhere. I think it's wonderful you decided to help Bella! Great story! 

  8. Woof! Woof! This is our first time to hear about Sato dogs. Golden Thanks for sharing ... we learned something new today.  Bella is truly a special dog. In general Bella means beautiful. You've given her such a beautiful gift, gift of a new life. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

  9. Great story! Isn't it wonderful to learn about all the different dogs that can use our help? I interviewed Debbie Jacobs of fearfuldogs.com for Animal Cafe - when I first met her on twitter three or four years ago, I found out about her work with Satos and had not heard of their plight before. Thanks for writing for Be The Change day =)

    Mary E Haight

  10. Bella may have her issues, but she's a credit to you and a great ambassador for Satos. If just one person reads your article and ends up adopting a Sato, now wouldn't that be wonderful?! Deccy x

  11. That was a beautifully written post Leslie, thank you for sharing the plight of the Satos. 

    You are so right, education of the children is key, children is where real change can be made.  That and stronger animal protection laws and enforcement.

    Good for you for tackling the subject and addressing the issues logically, as long as an animal is rescued, does it really matter where it came from?

  12. Bella's story is such a touching one and I always tear up a little when I read about her beginnings. She has come a long way, and not just because she was a Sato. You've made some very important points that can be applied to ALL dogs, not just Satos or even rescues. Shiva's isn't a wackadoodle because she came from a shelter. She was probably in the shelter because she was a wackadoodle but that doesn't mean all dogs in shelters are the same. Every dog is an individual, no matter his start in life.

    It also doesn't matter to me where a dog was born, he or she is worth saving, worth caring for, worth the time and stress and money, if he was born in Canada or in Mexico. We all live in one world and we all need help. Arguments around helping at home first are fine if that is a person's preference. I am so glad you looked beyond your community, however, and found Bella. You are very lucky to have one another.

    Thanks for participating in Blog the Change with such an important piece!


  13. Thank you so much for this heartfelt, informative post.  This is all new for me and you have given me quite an education.  How wonderful that Bella has you for a family!  Will read more about the Satos and their sad plight.  This reminds me a bit of Italy, where stray dogs roam all over and most people are afraid of them.  Education is the key, always.

  14. Love this post! It was touching, honest, and sinceer. 

    But I will say that I disagree with some of the basic ideas. My dad is Puerto Rican, and when we visit the center of the island I see the stray dogs running around from time to time. Some on the island 'own' dogs in the sense that they come by the house for food and water, rest and affection, but wander the streets and the rivers. It is a semi domesticated state, but not one bred from cruelty. In a way it's symbiotic. The people and the animals enjoy their time together and their freedom. In the cities, some people have traditional house pets as we would understand them. More often than not, dogs run around in relative peace.

    I would argue that line about torture is a grossly unfair statement. I have found cruelty to dogs is as socially repugnant there as it is here, and the culture doesn't condone dog fighting lightly as it is found state side. 

    Dogs do die on the roads, but no more so than deer do up north. It's the normal plight of animals that maneuver across roadways. 

    Of course it is a wonderful thing that you adopted. Loving that the pup is island born (though I tend to agree that there is just as much need closer to home). I will say that the wording in the post tends to paint a very dystopic picture of the 'Enchanted Island', but that could just be my Puerto Rican half being a bit sensative. Thanks for posting! I'll be sure to post a link on my blog, poochieproject.com

  15. 99%! Oh my...those poor pups. Sometimes these problems seem so terribly big, it is hard to remember that every little bit still makes some difference.

  16. Thank you for taking the time to reply.  I understand the sensitivity this post probably raises for you.  

    I do not doubt that many, if not most, people in Puerto Rico abhor mistreatment of animals and congratulate them on the incredible rise of animal protection laws - 91% improvement doesn't happen without broad support.

    I've been learning about and involved with Satos since 2000.  Some of our shelters here in the Northeast, in coordination with Save a Sato, began rescuing them as far back as 1997.  

    Regarding perception, my understanding is that it is along the coasts where the greatest number of reports of abuse and poisoning generally stem.  Have you heard of "Dead Dog Beach"? 

    I do, however, think that there is a real need in all parts of the island, city and coast equally, to spay and neuter the animals.  Not everyone is an animal lover here or there and when dogs occur unrestricted in such large numbers, they are often viewed as pests and vermin by those who don't want to live with them.

    I'll leave you with a few of the links on which I based my assertions but the various links within the post can direct you to more information as well:  

    And one of my own posts with more links and information - http://www.bringingupbella.com/2011/08/sato-101.html

    I encourage you to check out those links to learn more about what happens elsewhere on the island.  Additionally, please let me say I have the utmost respect for the islanders who toil thanklessly trying to save these dogs, change the laws and educate the people.  Change would not be possible without their tireless efforts to lead it.  

  17. Thank you for reminding us that Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. - we tend to think of it as "foreign" land. Your explanation here of the plight of Satos should be copied and spread everywhere! Leslie, you've written the most moving account here, and your personal experience only enhances your vast knowledge of the issue. If I could, I'd be going out right now to adopt a Sato!

    May the time come very soon that dogs no longer are in harm's way or neglected in Puerto Rico. Until then, keep the faith -

    Thank you for blogging the change for animals!
    Kim T

  18. Thanks, Mel.  You know, I knew Debbie from fearfuldogs for almost 2 years before I realized she did anything with Satos.  She was actually helping me with Bella and neither one of us made the Sato connection.  Small world though.

    Thanks for sharing the post.  You've probably noticed it won't get much tread on Facebook but I still think it's important to try and get people to recognize the situation.

    Oh, and don't even get me started about the puppy mill connection.  I'm sure you know they supply dogs to the pet shops in Puerto Rico while the strays continue to die in shelters and on the streets.

    I am very encouraged by the new laws and truly hope that we can get some movement on the pet store front there in the future.  For now though, I'm afraid the spay/neuter situation has to be considered the highest priority.

  19. Thanks for the feedback.  I modified my opening paragraphs to give at least a cursory explanation as well as a link to an original post I made about them that explains in more detail who/what they are.  Sorry, I usually try to be pretty conscientious about that type of thing.

    I'm not sure Googling Satos would have made for a pleasant evening (I try to carefully pick the links I share in my posts because there is some really graphic stuff out there) but thank you for caring enough to do it.

  20. Hi and thanks.  I've read about (and now follow) the Galgos as well.  I was struck by the similarities between their situation and the Satos.  I think we have to be open to whatever dog presents itself to us at the time we are looking to add one to our life.  There are so many in need and every one deserves the love of a good home, how do you pick?  I'm glad Bella picked us - that made it easier.  :)

  21. Vicki Stringfellow CookJanuary 17, 2013 at 1:06 PM

    Thank you for participating in Blog the Change Day and for sharing the plight of the Satos. I will say that I was not familiar with this situation, but I will follow the links you provided to learn more. It's so sad that some people think we shouldn't help dogs outside of our own immediate area. All dogs (in fact, all animals) deserve to live without being subjected to cruelty and neglect.

    Vicki Cook
    Team BTC4A

  22. 99%?! That is a scary number! There is some serious need for education. It's not like the numbers are so high that there is a public health concern, as there would be a huge story on the news. Education of youth is a powerful thing though, as I can attest to from my experience in the therapy world! The power on a family a child's point of view has is shocking! Maybe its because at that age our passions are all we care about. But as we grow older some of us start to lose that. I'm glad there's people like you that still feel that passion, as it shows in this post.

  23. 99%... I had no idea. Wow. 

    I am sorry to hear that people have said such negative things to you about adopting Bella. Saving a life is saving a life... no matter what geography is involved.

    Really beautiful and touching post - it's straight from the heart, and I hope that it helps raise awareness about these pups in need.

    Team BtC4A