A family vacation to Puerto Rico five years ago inspired an Albion woman's mission to help homeless animals.
Jennifer Stilwell, a dog lover and owner of a boarding kennel, noticed stray dogs roaming the streets of the island, and found it quite disturbing.
"We would be out on the beach and there were dogs everywhere,” she said. “There were dogs running through towns, obviously abandoned, and it just made me crazy."
Stilwell says last year's hurricane didn't cause the problem, but it did add to the number of homeless animals.
Economic conditions in Puerto Rico make it difficult for some families to care for their pets. The harsh realities people face in their struggle to survive mean they don’t view animals as family members as many do in other parts of the U.S. Stilwell says shelters on the island are filled to capacity and any animal left there would probably be euthanized within 24 hours.
"The only option they have left is to just leave the dog in the front yard,” she explained, “and that's literally what they do. You see these animals who have their collars on, and they've obviously been somebody's pet; they've been loved, they know commands, they know all that...and they're just left on the streets to fend for themselves.
In the last five years, Stilwell has found homes for 425 Puerto Rican dogs in the Rochester region and beyond.
She established the nonprofit Make a Difference Dog Rescue to move the animals to the mainland. It’s located at 13869 Ridge Road West, Albion NY 14411.
While it's often difficult to catch the dogs on the street, Stilwell said their gratitude is evident once they know they're in safe hands. "They just curl up into your lap."