2017-10-05 / Front Page

‘Satos’ of Puerto Rico find homes in Maine

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


Jon Hough, or “Sato Jack,” as he is referred to by fellow volunteers, is the director of Sato Realengo Society, a group dedicated to relocating stray dogs from Puerto Rico to shelters in Maine. Hough has several of his own satos from Puerto Rico, including Perito Caliente here, whose name means “Little Hot Dog.” Hough found Perito in a ferry terminal parking lot, covered in ticks. (Grant McPherson photo) Jon Hough, or “Sato Jack,” as he is referred to by fellow volunteers, is the director of Sato Realengo Society, a group dedicated to relocating stray dogs from Puerto Rico to shelters in Maine. Hough has several of his own satos from Puerto Rico, including Perito Caliente here, whose name means “Little Hot Dog.” Hough found Perito in a ferry terminal parking lot, covered in ticks. (Grant McPherson photo) SOUTHERN MAINE – Hurricane Maria left inhabitants of Puerto Rico with little to rebuild with, but one Maine resident is especially concerned with the island’s four-legged friends.

Jon Hough, 65, helps relocate abandoned dogs from Puerto Rico to the United States. Hough first travelled to the U.S. territory in 1968 as part of a church group to volunteer at an orphanage in San Sebastian. Since then, he said he’s returned hundreds of times to address the island’s “sato” situation. “Sato” is Puerto Rican slang for a stray dog and according to Hough, there’s about half a million of them on the 3,515-square-mile island. Hough cares for several satos of his own at his home in Falmouth and an apartment in South Portland, and even named his organization, Sato Realengo Society (Street Wandering Mutt Society), after them.


Volunteers with Sato Realengo Society fly from San Juan to either Boston, Manchester or Portland with puppies in carry-on bags stowed underneath the seat in front of them. Jon Hough said he can bring two dogs at a time for $100 on Southwest Airlines. Freight typically cost between $300 and $400 for one dog, according to Hough. Hough is 65 and works as a financial planner. (Courtesy photo) Volunteers with Sato Realengo Society fly from San Juan to either Boston, Manchester or Portland with puppies in carry-on bags stowed underneath the seat in front of them. Jon Hough said he can bring two dogs at a time for $100 on Southwest Airlines. Freight typically cost between $300 and $400 for one dog, according to Hough. Hough is 65 and works as a financial planner. (Courtesy photo) “Sato means, ‘dirty street dog’ but we are proud to be Sato Realengo Society,” he said.

Hough works with several shelters in Maine that accept satos including Coastal Humane Society in Brunswick, Humane Society – Waterville Area and Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland in Westbrook. Hough coordinates with shelters in Puerto Rico and then volunteers fly with the dogs to Maine, New Hampshire or Boston where Hough or another member of his organization pick them up. The dogs fly one of two ways, either by freight or in an airline approved carry-on bag for pets. Carry-on is the more common option because it is less expensive.

“Think of me as a liaison between rescuers there and shelters here,” Hough said.

Puerto Rican animal shelters have been overwhelmed since the hurricane made landfall early morning Wednesday, Sept. 20 Hough said. Roofs have been blown off shelters and stray dogs have almost nothing to eat. Hough works closely with Gloria Marti who takes in dogs at her home in San Juan.

“She has, at any given time, 200 dogs in her back yard in crates. That’s considered a shelter, just a tin roof. Now the roof is gone and the dogs are exposed to weather every day,” he said. “God knows how they’re going to feed the dogs down there. It’s getting worse by the day.”

Hough hopes to register Sato Realengo Society as a nonprofit, which consists of him and four other people. He estimates about 1,000 dogs have come to the U.S. through his organization. He sees Maine as an ideal resettlement location for satos.

“People tell us, why bring dogs from Puerto Rico when we have plenty in Maine,” Hough said. “There isn’t a stray dog problem in Maine anymore, it’s been solved. Shelter dogs are brought from the south, generally speaking.”

Puerto Rico struggles with a large stray dog population in part because the country doesn’t want anyone spaying and neutering animals on the island who doesn’t have a license to practice in Puerto Rico. This means that veterinarians who travel to Mexico and South American countries to volunteer are unable to help in Puerto Rico.

“We’re trying hard to fix that so American vets can go down for a little bit,” Hough said. “We need a lot more people. It’s very difficult to get that done.”

Hough would like to help cats as well, but has found they often survive better than dogs on their own. Adult pet dogs are especially vulnerable, having never had to fend for themselves before. Volunteers like Hough have to wait for stray dogs to approach them before they can help, which is usually rare.

“Once an adult is on the street they’re beyond help,” Hough said. “They’re terrified of people. People are dangerous to them. They were either ignored or abused by them.”

Hough asked that, aside from donations, people in Maine can call their local shelter and ask them to accept Puerto Rican strays. He said he also needs volunteers willing to fly from San Juan to the U.S. with the dogs in carry-on. While the people of Puerto Rico are in dire need, Hough said the island’s dogs are receiving even less attention.

“The dogs won’t get a free lift out by the army,” he said. “It’s one dog at a time and each dog deserves a chance.”

Donations can be sent to P.O. Box 6065 Falmouth, Maine 04105. For more information on how to help, Hough can be reached at 799-4269, satojacksrs@gmail.com or the Sato Realengo Society Facebook page.

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@

inthecourier.com

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