On the island of Puerto Rico, there is a place they call DEAD DOG BEACH. It’s a place where sick or unwanted or old dogs are dumped off to die. It’s also a place where dogs are abandoned and left to fend for themselves. Recently a Facebook organization, THE DEAD DOG BEACH PR PROJECT, ignited the tempers of dog lovers the world over when they posted a photo of a sick animal left on Dead Dog Beach. The dog, which was later named Gaia by the rescuers, was suffering from a myriad of illnesses and had to be put down despite the best efforts of the rescue organization.
Because of this incident, the Facebook page for this group (which I urge many of you to join) put up a photo of the dog when it was found. The photo was accompanied by a very angry open letter of frustration directed at whomever it was that had left the animal there. You can read that here. https://www.facebook.com/TheDeadDogBeachProject — and I you might want to think about “liking this page” mainly because I think that the job of saving dogs in Puerto Rico is a great one, but it shouldn’t be venomous. A lot of animal rescue gets that way for some strange reason.
Personally, I thought the letter was too heavy-handed and accusatory, especially because it ended with the words, “May you rot in hell.”
That didn’t sound like a good public relations move to me. In fact, it sounded counter-productive. I mean, if you’re trying to save animals, do you have to resort to saying vicious things aimed at someone who probably doesn’t even own a TV — let alone a computer? I know that the letter was, in a sense, directed towards the open air, but still…?
I set about sharing this story with an elderly doctor I casually know and with whom I often exchange news events and opinions. This woman is a retired charity physician and an avid dog lover and rescuer. I sent it to her with the thought that she too would be angry and furious and enraged that a dog could be dumped off in such a way, and that someone in her high esteem could help, but I was in for a surprise.
This is the response I got from her. I did not edit this page and all of the under-lining for emphasis was done by the writer of the letter. I did not publish her name because there are a lot of crazy people in this world and she is nearly 90 years old. She doesn’t need that. Damien LeGallienne (editor).
Thank you for the link to the story but I fear that you have struck a nerve deep within me. My opinions might not be popular, but it’s the best I can offer given the circumstances.
After 61 years as a physician in poor communities and having worked for 26 years as a charity physician in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, I can tell you that nearly 50% of people on the island of Puerto Rico live in serious poverty.
I would tend to believe that many (certainly not all) of the animals who end up on this horrid beach are, ironically enough, put there by people who are indeed compassionate…or at least they think they are in a way that most people with a Fisrt World mindset simply do not understand.
It is very possible that Gaia the dog was loved very much and treated very well by whomever it was who had her but then…she got sick.
To many of these island people, sickness means trouble and poverty and fear and forced contact with real society. They abhor it. That is when the frightened mind of the poor and provincial reacts in a way that seems alien and perhaps horribly cruel to the point of implausibility.
I have seen this behaviour all of my life but in my case it was with human beings and not animals who in this case are left to die in the care of god or gods or spirits or whatever else you can conjure up in the minds of the poor and unenlightened.
Seeing people working squalid jobs or walking about with horrible and untreated illness was as common for me as seeing dead or emaciated dogs lying about. It’s a cultural deficiency that has not been able to right itself for two centuries, and when I see that pathetic dog in a crate with a blanket — regardless of how ragged or unkempt, I see, with my years of experience with these people, at least an attempt by someone to either help the dog or set the dog adrift to god or into the hands of godlike people and this is probably how the the Dead Dog Beach organization and the people who work for it are viewed.
I do not see, however, a nameless or faceless person who should be crucified with words from an angry animal rescuer.
Of course you have to raise funds to do the good work you do and sometimes one has simply seen more than one can handle. But, when I used to have these feelings of being overwhelmed, I would step back and think of the good work I was doing and I would seek to learn and understand the mindset of these simple islanders who don’t really know much about anything beyond the mind of a superstitious and uneducated villager.
In a sense, I think that many animals who are put on this beach are put there the way the sick and poor in ancient Europe would put their dying children at the altar of a church. So many on this island live with an 18th century mindset..in a place where people will let a relative lie there and die from manageable disease yet they will surround the dying loved one with love and tears and candles and crosses or Voodoo and Santerian icons.
Many might think that putting their unwanted or sick or old pet on that spot is a form of mercy. I know it’s misplaced mercy and I am certain that many people do it simply because they are mindlessly cruel, but believe me when I tell you that human behaviour there is something I could not understand even after spending half of my life trying to help these people.
The average inland Puerto Rican Islander would simply let the dog die and walk around the rotting corpse until it was consumed by nature. For someone to take the time to find a blanket and a crate to me seems like the act of a more enlightened member of the family or community, and that is about as caring as one can get in places like this.
These impoverished and uneducated people and the officials who lord over them cannot simply bring the animal to a veterinarian because they do not even know enough to bring sick family members to a human doctor.
Put aside as well the easy thought that they do not have the money to care for a sick pet.
Understand instead that they often do not feel that they are ordained by Providence to end a life with an injection or a gas the same way they don’t really know how to preserve a life, be it their own or a loved one or that of an animal.
For many poor island people, the fact that a human hand can choose to end the life seems objectionable and horrific and macabre. I know it is hard to understand that, but please believe me, it is true.
You can only keep doing the work you do, and you have to do it with dignity and pride and diligence. No amount of angry words you can throw around will help the situation. Of course one can raise money and gather support for your cause with this rage, but the ragged dogs will keep coming and coming, and you will keep working and working. Some dogs will die and some will be saved, but until you set about changing the human behaviour of the very poor and uneducated people of the island, you will simply have to bow your head, do your work, count your own animals as lucky and blessed, and then bring that kind of comfort and dignity and strength to the tempest-tossed animals that many islanders fear helping or do not know enough to bring to help.
Fr**** **** MD.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Commenting here is very easy. We do not cross check emails very often and the only drawback is that you have to wait a while for your comment to post. The Damien Zone does not censor comments — unless it’s somthing outrageous. Be patient — your comment will appear. Keep checking back. If your comment annoys or impresses the editor, he will personally address it.