A picture of the Bahia de San Juan, Old City Wall, and La Fortaleza in Old San Juan

A Plan for our Puerto Rico Vacation

Recently, my husband and I decided to take a vacation in Puerto Rico.  We had been to Puerto Rico before hurricane Maria and very much wanted to go back.  About the time we thought we’d go, the hurricane hit and our plans had to change.  However, the hurricane made getting back to Puerto Rico an even bigger goal of ours.  We know from our experience running small businesses through 9/11 and the economic hard times of 2008 that supporting businesses by spending money with them is one of the best ways you can help. So as soon as we could swing it, we booked our trip.  

A Picture of Calle Fortaleza Old San Juan with many colored umbrellas suspended across the street
Calle Fortaleza Old San Juan

Before we left for Puerto Rico, we decided to reach out via email to an organization called Save a Sato; an animal rescue in San Juan. Over 4 years ago, our local animal shelter received a small dog from this organization which saves stray dogs (called Sato(s)) in Puerto Rico.  They also save cats. Some of the rescued dogs get flown to the US and this little dog, Shema, found herself in Northern Michigan. We had gone to our local shelter to see a newly received Siberian Husky after the death of ours and came away with not only the husky but the petite Sato, Shema, as well.  We love our Shema so much that we initially made a donation to the organization that saved her life and, now that we were heading to Puerto Rico, we want to see if we could help them again by bringing some supplies.  My email was answered by a volunteer named Lucy who was more than happy to coordinate the supply drop with me. (For more about Shema visit her Instagram page shemathesato

The problem with going to visit an animal shelter, at least for me, is that I want to take them ALL home. But, my husband, Jerry, and I agreed that no matter how much the urge to save one of the animals housed at Save a Sato overtook us, we couldn’t do it at this time.  Our two rescue dogs are wonderful, but our Husky has separation anxiety which we have worked hard to get manageable.  We did not want to add another dog into the mix that might upset her.  After three days in Puerto Rico, we made a trip to Sam’s Club to buy dog and cat food and cleaning supplies to add to our duffle bag of meds and other supplies generously donated by our local vet Dr. Jerry Harrison of Leelanau Veterinary Care. Then we headed over to Save a Sato to meet Lucy and drop off the supplies.   

A picture of One Day Woman comforting a rescue dog at Save a Sato in San Juan Puerto Rico

Visiting the Save a Sato facility was so hard.  They specialize in taking some of the hardest luck cases.  There was pen upon pen of young dogs, old dogs, some hurt dogs and sick some dogs and a couple of pens that housed mom dogs with large litters to boot.  All of them wanting a pet or caress from us.  I could have taken them all home.  When we left I was crying … it was so hard to drive away.  

After leaving Save a Sato, we headed to our rented condo in Loiza, a 30-minute drive.  We had spent 3 days in San Juan, and now we were changing location to have some chill time at the beach.  The condo complex was a fully gated and fenced situation which most are in Puerto Rico.  The setting was beautiful right on the beach with El Yunque National Forest’s mountain range in view from our veranda. It was a little slice of paradise. 

A picture of palm trees with El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico in the background.
View from our veranda … that’s El Yunque National Forest in the background.

Trouble in Paradise

On our second day there, after taking a Sunday drive around Fajardo and Luquillo, we decided to go to the pool at our condo to take a swim and catch some sun.  I was laying out on a lounge chair when a small starving dog appeared out of nowhere. She was a young dog, and despite how skinny she was, she was in relatively good shape; just a few scabs.   I called out to her, and she came to me crawling up on my chair and giving me a big cuddle.  She was skin and bones.  After a few minutes of cuddling, she took off again, no doubt in search of food. 

Back at our condo as evening was coming on, I told Jerry I wouldn’t be able to sleep knowing that the starving dog was out there somewhere. So we put some food together and went out to look for her.  We search for a time and couldn’t find her, so we started to head back toward our place when we heard a commotion.  That’s when we came upon the security guard for the property pulling the little dog across the lawn with a heavy, large and wet rope tied in a slip knot around her neck.  She was nearly spread eagle in the grass.  I screamed “NO! STOP”!  I ran to the little thing scooping her up off the ground.  Jerry immediately started to loosen the rope around her neck, and I told the security guard we would deal with her.  His job is to keep strays off the property, I get that, but he didn’t need to be so cruel to her.  

We took her to the beach where we assumed she had come from. Sadly, the beach is the place where Puerto Rican’s who, for whatever reason, no longer want their dogs and cats, tend to drop them. Of course, there was another stray out there too.  A very pretty boy dog who was friendly and clearly knew how to work a crowd for food.  He was confident but also pretty skinny.  We gave them both food.  The little girl was pretty scared of him even though he was not aggressive towards her. He was just very interested in her.  When she was occupied eating, we left.  We felt sick and heartbroken to leave her out there but being on vacation, what could we do. 

A while later, back at the condo, I heard several dogs barking somewhat wildly.  I thought that the little dog had perhaps gotten involved in a scrape with other dogs.  Again, I ran out to find the little dog.  As it turns out, she wasn’t one of the barking dogs.  That commotion was coming from the neighborhood adjacent to our condo complex.  But once I arrived at the pool, there she was again.  She had someway that she was getting through the fencing of the property and it was just a matter of time before the security guys would get her again.  So, Jerry and I tried to place her back on the beach.  Now it was dark out.  We set her in the sand, and she collapsed in a shivering heap.  I couldn’t take it.  I looked at Jerry with an unspoken question, and he nodded an implied, “yes.”  I picked her up, and we took her up to our “no dogs allowed” rental condo.  

A picture of a small Sato dog sleeping from Puerto Rico.
Little dog with no energy for play … only sleep.

The Big Decision

What do we do now?  The next morning we discussed our options.  The dog was extremely docile and loving but so shy and timid that life on the beach or streets would do her in, in no time flat.  Plus she wasn’t fixed and already close to starving to death. Our first thought was to ask Save a Sato to take her, but we just couldn’t bring them one more mouth to feed and more work to do especially after we had just made an effort to help them.  I went online and found The Sato Project, about an hour’s drive away, and sent them an email.  I told them we would drive to the south of the island if they would take her.  Online, I also found Amigos de los Animales.  This rescue was not too far from our condo, so I emailed them too.  We realized that it could be days before anyone would get back to us, so we decided to drive over to Los Amigos since it was about 20 mins away.  

We were met at the gate by Adrienne “Adry.”  She said, without hesitation, that she couldn’t take the dog.  She had had an outbreak of parvo and had her hands full.  We had a discussion with her about our options for the dog, and it pretty much came down to two …. keep her or put her back on the beach. We would come to find out that there just isn’t any room at the shelters in Puerto Rico.

Meet Lucy

So that started a four-day odyssey of driving around greater San Juan to do everything that we needed to do to get her home.  The first thing we did was give her a name.  In my mind, I knew exactly what she should be called … Lucy … after the amazing volunteer at Save a Sato.  She was going to need strength and fortitude to get through the next week of her life, something I felt Lucy must have to work with the animals at Save A Sato. 

We took Lucy to a vet in Isla Verde named Dr. Pagan. Audry had told us about a different vet, but we got confused and ended up at Dr. Pagan’s.  As it turned out, we got lucky with that mistake.  Dr. Pagan and her staff were helpful beyond seeing to the medical needs of Lucy.  They understood that we were a long way from home with little resources and island connections.  They helped us with things like printing off the forms that Delta Airlines required us to fill out and put up with our constant calls asking for other information.  

A picture of a small Sato dog at a veterinary clinic in Isla Verde, Puerto Rico
Lucy at Dr. Pagan’s

Once Lucy was clear of any life-threatening diseases, like heartworms, we found ourselves at Pet Smart buying her a harness, leash, and food; the very items we had donated to Save a Sato two days earlier.  The irony of which was not lost on us.

It became clear very quickly that getting Lucy home wasn’t going to be easy.  A call to Delta Airlines confirmed that she was too tall to go under the seat in front of us on the plane, despite her mere 16 pounds.  And she was too nervous, skinny and lacking in a nice thick coat to be shipped as “cargo” to our frigid home state, Michigan.  Also, we were due to fly San Juan to Atlanta, Atlanta to Detroit, Detroit to Traverse City a total of 12 hours of travel time.   It would be too long, too hot, then too cold, and just too much for this poor creature to go as cargo.  The only option left was to get her registered as my “emotional support dog.”  An idea presented to us by Dr. Pagan. 

Delta Airlines requirements for registering an emotional support dog are daunting even in the best of circumstances. Delta wanted a full veterinary workup on Lucy and a signed document from a licensed doctor or psychiatrist stating that I need the dog for this purpose.  We also had to sign a document stating we would take legal and financial responsibility for the behavior of the dog during the trip.  At first Dr. Pagan offered to help us find a doctor but then didn’t come through.  Audry didn’t seem to know where to send us either.  Not knowing who else to turn to, I searched online and called around but was unsuccessful finding a doctor who spoke English let alone one that could help.  We had hit a big roadblock.  

The Doctor

On the third day with Lucy, we got up determined to find a doctor to help us.  I took Lucy for a walk at the condos in the morning to let her do her “business,” and a Canadian woman, Pauline, who owns a condo in the complex came out to talk to me.  Various people who live at the condos had seen Lucy on the property the Sunday before and had learned about our decision to try to help her.  She wanted to tell me how happy she was about it.  I told her we were trying to save Lucy but had this big hurdle with finding a doctor.  She said her next door neighbor was a Puerto Rican lawyer and that she knew a lot of professional people.  She said she might know someone and that she could email her to ask for help.  I gave her my cell number and asked her to call me as soon as she could.  We were running out of time to get all the paperwork done for Delta (the paperwork has to be in 48 hours before the flight).  Within 45 mins this kind woman called me with the name of a doctor, a psychiatrist no less, who had agreed to help.

As it turned out, something wasn’t quite right with that situation.  When I called over to the office, no one seemed to know about us.  They put me on the line with a woman named Yuderka because she spoke the best English of anyone in the office.  She didn’t know anything about us either, so I had to tell her the whole story.  Luckily, she had been involved in helping to rescue cats after the hurricane and was sympathetic to our cause. She said to come on over to the office, and she would see if she could get the doctor to agree to help us.  We were, after all, asking a lot of the doctor to sign and stamp an official document.  We knew this and could only hope that the doctor would see the bigger picture. 

I spent the whole day at that office, and the entire time various persons who work there told me that the doctor knew nothing about the situation and wasn’t keen on signing the papers.  My only ally in the office, Yuderka, had left at lunchtime to go to her other job, so I just crossed my figures, paid my $80 fee, and hoped for the best.  The whole time I was in the office, Jerry was outside parked under a tree sitting patiently with Lucy.  

A picture of a small Sato dog sitting in a car in Puerto Rico
Lucy waiting in the rental car while I got grilled by the doc.

5 hours later the doctor finally saw me.  In Puerto Rico, you take a number to see a doctor like you’re at the DMV or the deli here in the states.  Makes sense for the doctor but not so much for the patient.  The doctor turned out to be one tough customer.  She asked me all sorts of mental health questions despite the fact that she was briefed on the situation and knew that I didn’t really need an emotional support dog.  I thought to myself, “fine, lady, if you need to play this game, I can play it.”  I laid out my reasons for needing an emotional support dog, and she continued to grill me about my mental health.

When she’d finished with me, she thoroughly and slowly examined the Delta Airlines form which needed to sign.  I honestly think she dragged it out as long as she possibly could just to see me squirm.  I was tired and nearly at the end of my rope after the long day in her office and the days before worrying about the fate of Lucy. Finally, she signed the papers. On parting, she told me to come to see her next time I was in Puerto Rico, and she would give me some drugs.  I’d take a natural remedy like an emotional support dog any day over prescription drugs and another visit with that doctor.

Delta Airlines

Delta Airlines requires persons who need to register their emotional support dog to upload all documents to their website 48 hours prior to flying and wait for approval.  Since we were staying at a condo and not a hotel that might have a business center, we didn’t have access to a printer to scan the documents.  We also didn’t have our computers only our phones.  So I called Delta and explained that we didn’t have the electronic equipment to follow the directions.  They said, no problem, just go to the airport and hand deliver the papers to an agent.  And so we did with Lucy in tow.  It would be a good test to see how she reacted to the airport, and she passed with flying colors. 

A picture from behind of a dog looking out into the Delta terminal in Puerto Rico.
Lucy at the airport.

Just as a side note … we had to take Lucy everywhere we went because we didn’t know what she would do in the condo left alone.  This meant when we need to grocery shop or get supplies for Lucy, one of us had to sit with her in the car. She was having a hard time with car sickness throwing up each time we started out in the car.  This added to the overall stress of the situation. We were trying to fatten her up, and she kept blowing it out. We changed her food from dog food to boiled chicken and rice which seemed to help.  She was extremely nervous in the car which may have contributed to the sickness as well, but we had no choice but to take her along.  

At the airport, we ran into an agent who insisted that we follow procedure and upload the documentation to Delta.  When we told him repeatedly that it wasn’t possible, he said we’d have to call Delta.  We exclaimed, “we DID, and they told us to come to the airport.”  Once again we thought we had hit a solid brick wall.  All of a sudden another agent came over to the counter.  I think he saw our dismay from a distance.  He kind of nudged the other guy aside and asked us the problem.  We explained again that we had no way of uploading the documents to register the dog.  He said, “give me the papers, I’ll be right back.”  He took them in the back, and we waited about 15 minutes wondering what he was doing.  When he came back, he handed them over and said, “you are all set.  When you come on Monday to check in just come right to this desk, and everything will be in the computer for flying the dog.”  

A picture of One Day Woman holding a small Sato dog at the Delta counter in Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in Puerto Rico.
Lucy checking in!


And so Lucy traveled the whole way home with us sitting on our laps.  Dr. Pagan gave her an anti-nausea medicine so she wouldn’t barf.  Lucy nearly came unglued from nerves when we first got on the plane, and randomly at other times, her nerves got the best of her.  Through it all, she didn’t make a sound and was a very good girl.   Lucy refused to use the doggy relief area in Atlanta but finally used the facility for dogs at the Detroit airport after holding it for many hours.  Once we landed in frigid Traverse City (it was 4 degrees out) she had a 40 min car ride home and was met at the door at 1:00 am by our big Siberian Husky, Marley, and our little Sato, Shema.  After some initial posturing, sniffing, a little growling … they all accepted the situation.  Shema is particularly good with Lucy.  Perhaps given they are both dogs from the streets of Puerto Rico gives them a special bond.  

A small Sato dog from Puerto Rico in a Delta Airlines seat.
Lucy on the plane


I want to note that, though I am not a terribly religious woman, I feel that there was a bit of divine intervention in this matter and that some angels were sent our way to help get Lucy home.  The whole team at Dr. Pagan’s office including Carla who was quite sick and still managed to call us with needed information. Adrienne at Amigos de los Animales who held our hand through the process. Pauline from Canada who’s help finding the doctor may have been the final thing that saved Lucy. And the next door neighbor lawyer, whom we never met, who gave the name of the doctor. Yoderka, at the doctor’s office, whose kindness and compassion for us was unsurpassed. Of course, thanks goes to the doctor herself for signing the papers … despite her bedside manner. The helpful agent (sadly I did not get his name) at Delta Airlines who saw that we needed help and who did just that.  And, to our condominium owner who in the end discovered that we had a dog in the unit and still gave me a 5-star VRBO rating.  Her understanding of the situation meant a lot to us.  

All during our 13-day stay in Puerto Rico, we met so many genuinely warm and kind folks.  Before finding Lucy, in Old San Juan, the people at our hotel, in restaurants and around town all were friendly and welcoming.  They were patient with my sketchy Spanish, eager to show off their skills in English and have a little chat.  After Lucy, anyone we met who got wind of our story actually thanked us for helping out the dog and some apologized that the problem with stray animals on the island had become a personal one for us.  I would joke that I was looking for a coconut shell bra as a souvenir  but got Lucy instead.  

A picture of a small Sato dog from Puerto Rico sitting on a carpet.
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  • Jamie

    Cynthia, your story is so beautiful and truly warms my heart. I came across your blog after searching for pictures of Sato dogs on google and noticed your Lucy immediately! She looks almost identical to my own pup, Ori, who is also a rescue from Puerto Rico! I appreciated reading your story so much. Your kindness is so inspiring. Wishing you and Lucy lots of happiness from me and Ori 🙂

  • Drea Besch

    Wonderful story and huge thanks from all of us and try to save dogs whenever we can. Thank you so much for sharing this very moving saga. While I have you: I ordered two pieces from Beth Peterson thanks to your recommendation! Spectacular linen dress went with me to Paris this past summer. Can’t tell you how much I miss your site. Love, Drea

  • Madelline

    His story touched me immensely. After Maria passed through the island the problem of homeless animals increased because many pets were lost during the hurricane and many people had to leave the island and left their pets. I have 2 rescued dogs and I care for 6 cats on the street. I greatly regret that so much work and emotional suffering have happened on your holidays. If you wish to return some day, I would like to invite you to a place you are interested in visiting. If you send me your address to my email: I will be very happy to send you a souvenir, one that did not give you time to acquire. I will feel very happy if I can somehow repay such kindness. A big hug, Madelline

    • Cynthia

      You are so kind Madelline. I will send you a private email but in the meantime, thank you for commenting here. I have seen in person and now through this exchange on my blog, just how wonderful the Puerto Rican people are!

  • Eileen

    I want to thank you as a Puerto Rican who has seen this problem of stray dogs for as long as I can remember. We need stricter laws and need to enforce them. I also have rescued two stray dogs and I love them very much. They are very grateful and loving. So thank you again and I hope that you return to Puerto Rico to enjoy a well deserved vacation.

    • Cynthia

      Dear Eileen … Many thanks for your comments and good words. Lucy makes two Satos and three rescues total for us. They do show their love and gratitude. I’m glad to know you have a couple of rescue dogs too.

  • Elena Gonzalez

    Lucy is only one of all Loiza’s street dogs. I lived in Loiza 11 years and saw so many dogs like Lucy. I moved back to San Juan two years ago; Loiza is beautiful but not a place to live or vacatiioning. You need to be a very strong person to survive there. Loiza has a very old and sad history. Maybe some day I will tell you. Just thank you for saving Lucy. But please vacations are just that vacations. You left the Island and probably used all your energy to save Lucy. Next time do not stay in Loiza. Elena

    • Cynthia

      Thank you for your comments Elena. Although Loiza is clearly a depressed area for both people and dogs, we liked its location and we were in a condo complex that was secure and very well kept. To be honest, we will think long and hard before visiting Puerto Rico again. We encountered the island’s stray animal problem everywhere. There is a huge cat problem in the Old City. I personally absolutely love Old San Juan but it was hard to walk around enjoying the architecture, colors, history and the people when, at every turn, there were homeless and starving cats. We also encountered strays at every beach including a very beautiful one at Luquillo and there was even a stray cat and one dog to be found up in Yunque National Forest. For animal lovers like my husband and I, it made for a vacation where our hearts were tugged at and heavy most days when they should have been light and carefree.

  • Mariluz Sánchez

    Leí esta historia y me conmoví grandemente. Que suerte tuvo Lucy de encontrarlos, aunque pienso que Dios tiene un propósito para todo y en este caso era el que ustedes salvaran a Lucy de morir en las calles. Como puertorriqueña les doy las gracias por ese gesto tan hermoso. Muchas bendiciones para ustedes y Lucy. Ella tendrá una oportunidad gracias a ustedes y al enorme esfuerzo que realizaron. Ojalá y muchas personas tuvieran esa misma tenacidad así se podrían salvar más animalitos. Un fuerte abrazo desde P.R.!!

    • Cynthia

      Mariluz! Gracias por sus amables palabras. Lamento que mi español no sea el mejor, pero quería que supieras que tu comentario significa mucho para mí. Lucy se está adaptando muy bien a su vida aquí en Michigan. Incluso parece que le gusta la nieve y no hace demasiado frío. Nuestros otros 2 perros se divierten jugando con ella y ya la queremos mucho. Gracias otra vez por tu comentario.

  • Lynn Kartun

    What an amazing story. Lucy is so lucky to have found you and Jerry, but I believe in some way, it was meant to be. Not many people on vacation would have gone to such great lengths as you and your husband did, truly a “godsend” for Lucy. Having raised my Gracie and Lilly a, Lilly being the rescue, I know how one human being can make a difference in a dog’s life, as well as the connection both physically and mentally that is established. I still think about my 2 pups, miss them both, but am honored that I could be a part of their short lives. I know that Lucy feels honored and safe as well.
    My best,

    • Cynthia

      Hi Lynn, So wonderful to hear from you! Thank you for the sweet note. Honestly, sometimes you find yourself in a situation where you just gotta do what needs to be done … vacation or not! Lucy is doing really well. She has a little separation anxiety but we are working through that and who can blame her. She’s been through so much. She loves to play with our other 2 dogs and it has been fun to watch her blossom as she gains strength from being fed regularly. We love her to pieces already!

  • Iovanna

    There is a special place in heaven for people like you, and your husband, thank you. Thank you so much for not giving up! May Lucy be happy and healthy for ever!

    • Cynthia

      You are very sweet Iovanna! Thank you for your thoughts and comments.

  • Evelyn Vega

    Thank you for rescuing Lucy! We are truly grateful that you took her in. Thank you for all the sacrifices and effort made along the way. As a local, I feel sorry that we have this tremendous problem of stray dogs. I have a couple of rescues and try to help out some groups every now and then, but this is never ending- until we don’t change (educate) ppl to have respect and compassion towards animals we won’t see an end to it. I wish you and your family happiness.

    • Cynthia

      Thank you Evelyn for your good wishes and your comments. Education and action is the key to this problem. If people could understand it isn’t just an animal rights issue but that it is tied to the success of an entire industry, tourism. As much as we love Puerto Rico, we will consider long and hard whether we will vacation there again. It is very hard to have a fun and relaxing time when all around you there are animals in dire conditions. Lucy was just one of several encounters we had with both cats and dogs on this vacation.

  • Ithe was so nice to meet you and I am very happy that I could help. Lucy is a very lucky little puppy. Pauline Carruthers from Canada

    It was so nice to meet you. I am so happy for Lucy. She is one lucky little puppy. You and your husband are wonderful and kind people.

    • Cynthia

      It was great to meet you too Pauline and your sister. Perhaps we’ll meet again in Puerto Rico.

  • Laura Rivera

    Thank you so much for saving Lucy. She will make you very happy. I have 6 rescued dogs who fill my life with much joy. Sadly, Puerto Rico needs all the help it can get regarding these creatures.

    • Cynthia

      Thanks for the comment. I know how much work 3 dogs are and you have 6! You are a saint! Of course, you have double the love. ❤️

  • Anel Cruz

    Knew about this amazing story through Dr Pagan’s page, she is our vet also. I have to tell you thank you. Thanks for helping SAS, thanks you for visiting our island and help us rise again. But of everything you have done thanks for all you did to get Lucy. You did what we Boricuas are supposed to do with our stray dogs, starting for not leave them behind, and all you did to take her you are a hero. May God bless your family. And again thanks!

    • Cynthia

      Hola Anel! Thank you for your kind words. We did for Lucy the only thing our consciences would allow. As I wrote at the end of my post, the people we encountered in Puerto Rico were so wonderful. Whether they were helping us with Lucy or just someone we met out and about, the attitude was warm and positive despite all they have been through over the last year and a half. The Satos and Gatos of the island definitely have many good folks working to help them and grow awareness of their plight. I hope that attitudes toward these animals and the work to control their populations continue to grow and ultimately change. I feel that it may be necessary not only for the animals but to help the tourist industry of the island. Bendice a Puerto Rico.

  • Rachel

    I loved reading this story! I’m so glad you guys were able to get her home – it sounds like it was meant to be. 🙂 That’s one lucky pup!

    • Cynthia

      Thanks my dear! Come get your bunny hat and meet her! The coffee is on!

  • Kristin Sterkenburg

    So wonderful! She’s so sweet! Good for you both!

    • Cynthia

      Can’t wait for you to meet her!

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