ARF: Planeload of Dogs from Ravaged Puerto Rico Lands in Westhampton

Puerto Rico dogs cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

Yesterday, around noon, a chartered cargo plane set down at Gabreski Airport bearing 40 refugees from Aguadilla Airport in hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico. They were met by every vehicle owned by employees of the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons (ARF) in East Hampton. The plane came to a halt, the 40 refugees, all in cages, were brought out and, barking, were loaded into the vehicles and driven to the shelter. There they will be cleaned and groomed, cleared by medical teams and put up for adoption.

Such is one of the rescue operations performed for this disaster area in the Caribbean: The bringing out of 40 street dogs from the beach at Rincon to safety in the Hamptons by a group of dedicated animal rescue people largely based here. It’s they who chartered the plane.

About 200 East End families have winter homes in Rincon, Puerto Rico. And many of them live near a particular beach where there is an unspoken agreement about dogs. Puerto Ricans leave their dogs there for the mainlanders who live nearby to pick up and take off to a better life. Mainlanders care for them in their homes, see to it they have had their rabies shots and get vet clearance.

Then, when the dogs are ready, in regular times, they are individually given to Montauk surfers who visit Rincon to transport as luggage to New York City, taken by car to ARF in East Hampton and to two other locations. In the past year, approximately 800 dogs came here for adoption from the beaches at Rincon. You probably know people who have adopted one. My wife and I, for example. We’ve got Bella.

Jane Lapin, a friend of ours who owns a landscape firm in the Hamptons, is one such person with a vacation home on Rincon. She brought us together with Bella, and I asked her how things are in Rincon since the hurricane.

“Rincon did not take a direct hit,” she said. “We got water damage to our house there—there was twenty inches of rain—and a lot of trees were lost, but we came through without major damage. Our house is concrete. Many of the winter homes are concrete.

“And the island is recovering. At the present time—this is now three weeks from the storm—we have running water every day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. There’s no electricity still. There are only occasional wisps of internet. And we have a curfew. Everybody has to be off the streets at 6:30 p.m. It’s still very bad in the mountains. My heart goes out to those people. Many remain cut off from the outside world. I think many Puerto Ricans will soon be migrating to the mainland. They are all Americans, you know. It’s just a matter of getting transportation and showing your passport.”

I was curious about Rincon. I’ve been to Puerto Rico, but never to Rincon.

“In many ways, its like the Hamptons,” she told me. “Rincon’s about 30 miles long, with a lighthouse at the point. There are about seven villages. Ours is Puntas. There’s a big art community, a surfing community, and everybody knows everybody. Some of us live on the beach, others in town or up in the mountains. There are some nice restaurants and there’s a thriving organic farmer’s market. Although that’s going to take some time to recover. And the restaurants are just coming back. Tambu, near here, which is always hit by storms and high tides, survived this one and is still open. We also have a small airport, like East Hampton airport. But to get here you fly from New York to Aguadilla direct. And that’s now back up and running.

“As for our dog rescue operation, it was set back. There will be dogs and cats and even horses to adopt. Meanwhile, in Rincon itself, they now have an animal rescue operation. It’s called the Barks of Hope. You should come down here sometime.”

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