Shelter from the storm

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An UWS dog-care center takes in 32 animals rescued from Puerto Rico in hopes of finding them homes


  • Lucy, a Puerto Rico rescue dog, is under the care of Camp Canine while she nurses her puppies. The Upper West Side center recently rescued dogs from a shelter they often partner with, El Faro de los Animales. Photo: Sophie Herbut

  • Lucy's puppies are about a month old. They will need to stay in Camp Canine's care for about a month before being put up for adoptioin. Photo: Sophie Herbut

  • Huey is one of the dogs sent by a private donor from Humacao, Puerto Rico. Photo: Sophie Herbut

  • Raquel Johnson rewards Dokey with a treat. Johnson takes care of the dogs that stay in the center. Other dogs from Puerto Rico are in foster homes. Photo: Sophie Herbut

  • Noella is one of the quieter dogs in the group. The animals of El Faro were unharmed by the storm but El Faro was left in ruins. Camp Canine is planning fundraisers to help them rebuilt. Photoo: Sophie Herbut

After the devastation that Hurricane Maria left in Puerto Rico, Camp Canine, a dog-care center located on 73rd Street and Columbus Avenue, recently took in about 32 dogs from the island to care for them and find them homes.

Tania Isenstein, the owner of Camp Canine, went to Puerto Rico to survey the damage at one of the shelters her center often partners with, El Faro de los Animales, in Humacao on the eastern coast of the island.

“I packed my suitcase with things people needed,” she said. “It was 85 pounds. Surprisingly, it wasn’t any dog stuff.”

Isenstein moved up a previously planned trip to Puerto Rico to help as soon as she could. She went for three days at the end of September and made it a point to bring back one small dog on her flight. The dog’s name is Nina and she’s already found a forever home.

Isenstein stayed with people she knew from El Faro, since the hotels were closed. Isenstein said the people she was staying with asked her for basic supplies like toilet paper and batteries. While her trip was short, she was able to view and document the damage to the shelter and other parts of Humacao. She snapped pictures of trees that had fallen on the dog course as well as the shelter, which lost its roof. She said she did not see one government employee tending to the damage. “The shelter doesn’t exist anymore,” she said. “But thankfully, the animals are all safe.” (The dogs were fostered during the storm in people’s homes.)

Thanks to a private donor, Camp Canine arranged to have about 21 dogs come from Puerto Rico on Saturday, October 7th. Most of those dogs are staying in foster homes associated with Camp Canine, though some are at the center. They also received 11 more dogs on Monday, October 9th, and most of them are at Camp Canine.

Isenstein said that Puerto Rico already had a problem with stray dogs before the hurricane. She estimated there were about 200,000 strays on the island, and El Faro has only seen this increase after Maria.

The dogs from Puerto Rico range from one month to four years old. They were chosen to come to Camp Canine based on size, health, and behavior around people. Not all have been put up for adoption yet because they have to be checked for health issues and vaccinated. Some are puppies that are still nursing and have to wait another month before they can be adopted. The ones that reside in the camp are being taken care of by Raquel Johnson, an employee at Camp Canine.

“They’re very well-behaved,” Johnwson said. “But they were really nervous and quiet when they came in.”

Johnson teaches the dogs basic commands such as sitting and staying still. She’s also acclimating the dogs to such a populated city.

Camp Canine had planned fundraisers to renovate El Faro before the hurricane. But with the damage, their goal has increased and they’ve already scheduled three events this month.

“My heart is with Puerto Rico,” said Isenstein. “My dog is from there and I’ve done a lot of work there.”

Camp Canine has a history of helping animals after hurricanes leave them stranded or owners have to abandon their pets because they can’t care for them. After Harvey, Isenstein’s group helped out in Texas. After Hurricane Sandy five years ago, Camp Canine provided assistance to other boroughs in the city.

“The people who are there can’t [help],” Isenstein said of Puerto Rico. “As a member of the bigger dog-rescue community, you should help as much as you can.”

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