Not only have they rescued and rehabbed more than 350 dogs in just over a year, they have also managed to do an impressive amount of community outreach in the region around Utuado. By knocking on doors, promoting their work on social media and hosting educational seminars at area schools, they are establishing PAPR as a trusted resource for locals concerned about the satos’ welfare. (Area residents often tip off the couple about dogs in need.) They have also launched a pilot spay/neuter-release program, which, once it’s funded, will help ensure that even unadoptable strays won’t continue to reproduce.
The efforts the Carsons are most proud of, however, have been the partnerships PAPR has formed with local veterinarians to offer the community low-cost spay/neuter programs. After months of engaging with locals, they realized that—contrary to popular belief—many Puerto Ricans were perfectly willing to sterilize their dogs (and even neighborhood street dogs) as long as they could do so affordably. With the help of charitable foundations (including Cold Noses and the Humane Society International), they arranged for a veterinary clinic in the nearby coastal town of Arecibo to offer spay/neuter procedures at a greatly reduced cost ($50 rather than the usual $150 to $250).
These efforts culminated with PAPR’s participation last February in World Spay Day, during which volunteer vets working with the organization spayed and neutered more than 150 dogs in a single week. Since then, Joy says, they have continued to arrange sterilization for between five and 10 local dog owners each week.
While the amount of day-in, day-out work to be done at PAPR is daunting, the Carsons have been able to entice a steady stream of volunteers to help out, largely through what may be their most unusual program of all: offering the extra bedrooms in the sanctuary’s cheerful main building—which also happens to be their house—to paying guests who want to take a do-gooding Puerto Rican B&B holiday. Joy says that since last April, about 35 volunteers have done brief stints (usually about a week) at the property, during which they share not just chores, but meals and nightly happy hour with their everwelcoming hosts (Ken makes a mean rum-and-guava cocktail).
The work is undeniably arduous; there is always poop to be scooped, vet trips to be made, and Sisyphean heaps of dirty towels and blankets to launder. Still, several guests have already made repeat visits.
“It’s the puppy breath!” says Ken, using his favorite all-purpose description of the rewards that come from sanctuary work. Relentless though it may be, the work definitely allows plenty of time for petting, snuggling and playing with swarms of wriggling, grateful dogs. (Volunteers who’ve never before bottle-fed a litter find out pretty quickly just how magical puppy breath really is.)
“It may not be the most relaxing holiday you’ll ever take,” Ken quips. For dog lovers, though, it might easily be one of the most gratifying.