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Dogs, cats rescued from Puerto Rico land in Westhampton Beach

Pepa, a stray rescued in Puerto Rico who

Pepa, a stray rescued in Puerto Rico who arrived Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, at Francis S. Gabreski Airport, is greeted by staff from the Southampton Animal Shelter. From left are Jonathan McCann, president, Kate McEntee, director of marketing, and Laura Andrews, mobile clinic administrator. Credit: Steve Pfost

Forty dogs plucked from the streets of Puerto Rico were greeted with a blast of frigid air and the first blankets some had ever touched as they landed at a Westhampton Beach airport Saturday morning.

Representatives of two Long Island organizations flew with the former strays on a cargo plane to Francis S. Gabreski Airport in a mission to relieve an overcapacity Puerto Rican shelter.

Employees of the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation and the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, or ARF, each packed about 20 dogs into vehicles waiting on the tarmac. In Puerto Rico, temperatures had been in the 80s; on Long Island, the windchill was below zero.

ARF, based in Wainscott, also accepted eight cats. The animals are expected to be available for adoption in one to two weeks.

Dogs with names like Papito and Estrella, who lived off scraps and were treated as pests on the Caribbean island, laid calmly in their handlers’ arms as they were carried off the plane and loaded into crates.

Though packed close to other dogs and the bustle of humans, the animals hardly emitted a bark or a whimper. Mellowness is common among “satos,” as street dogs are known in Puerto Rico, said Southampton Animal Shelter marketing director Kate McEntee.

“On the streets, they have to survive on the generosity of people, the few people that will throw them scraps of food,” she said.

“Their typical personality is mellow, super sweet or scared, but never aggressive,” said Teri Meekins, clinical director of the Southampton shelter.

Poor spaying and neutering practices have created a crisis in Puerto Rico, where strays are common and few are adopted, said McEntee, who sat alongside the animals on the 3-hour, 40-minute flight.

Two New Jersey organizations are accepting an additional 40 or so animals arriving on a separate flight Sunday.

El Faro de los Animales, the Puerto Rican no-kill organization that rescued the animals from the streets, had about 120 in a sanctuary that is chronically full, rescuers from Long Island said.

“They already have 100 dogs waiting to come in,” said Michele Forrester, senior director for operations at ARF. “The cycle hasn’t stopped.”

Though safe and fed, the former strays lived in kennels with virtually no hope for adoption, rescuers said. Animals typically live out their lives in the facility unless they’re swept up by an organization from the mainland United States.

Animals that arrived Saturday included a litter of five mewling, rust-colored puppies and their mother, Colua, and Chocolate, a 7-year-old Labrador mix who has lived his whole life in the shelter and has a mass in his abdomen that appears cancerous.

El Faro de los Animales, or “Animal Lighthouse,” aims to educate Puerto Ricans about spaying and neutering. The euthanasia rate for stray dogs in Puerto Rico is about 95 percent, the organization said on its website.

The Southampton Animal Shelter accepted 15 dogs from the Puerto Rican sanctuary in an initial trip in November. All but one have been adopted.

“Our first responsibility is to our Long Island strays,” McEntee said. “But whenever there are empty kennels, we’re happy to help out, especially knowing how hard it is in Puerto Rico.”

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