Puerto Rico Wings of Rescue
Puerto Rico Wings of Rescue

Ric Browde arrived in Puerto Rico on Friday with a couple thousand pounds of water, diapers, food and other supplies packed into his rented cargo plane. He left with a plane full of dogs and cats, bound for New Jersey. This was the first step in their journey to new lives on the U.S. mainland.

Browde is president and CEO of Wings of Rescue, a nonprofit that deploys volunteer pilots to evacuate animals from places where their lives are at risk. He’s been flying basically nonstop since the end of August, when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas — and expects Friday’s mission is just the beginning of the animal airlifts out of this devastated island.

“We just want to do what’s best,” Browde told TODAY. “Make sure that we are doing the right thing.”

Many of these animals had been part of The Sato Project, a Puerto Rican animal rescue group, before Hurricane Maria devastated the island about a week and a half ago.

The Sato Project is a charity dedicated to rescuing Puerto Rico’s stray, abandoned and mistreated dogs — getting them medical care, and then finding them homes, often with families in the States. Much of that effort has been focused on a place known grimly as Dead Dog Beach.

Chrissy Beckles, The Sato Project’s founder and president, was in New York on the day that Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico. She returned to the island a few days later to find the group’s headquarters — like so many of the island’s buildings — had been completely destroyed, along with food, leashes and other supplies.

“The organization has essentially lost everything in this storm,” Beckles said in an email.

Going to Dead Dog Beach, Beckles got more bad news. Thanks to a spay/neuter initiative and other efforts, there were only three dogs still known to be living there just before the storm. But there was no sign of those three, and “we are coming to terms with the fact that they did not survive,” she said.

There’s been plenty more animals needing The Sato Project’s help in the 1 1/2 weeks since — Beckles has taken in a heavily pregnant dog and a badly injured puppy — and she knows there will be so many others, given how many stray dogs are thought to be on the island.

Being able to send so many of the group’s animals to safety on an airplane is literally a lifesaver.

“It is a source of unbelievable relief for our tiny team to be able to evacuate our dogs off the island,” said Beckles.

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