In the weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit called Furkid Rescue began getting reports: With so many homes destroyed, thousands of residents were leaving the island and a growing number of dogs were being abandoned.

These suddenly homeless house pets couldn’t survive on their own. A shelter called Barks of Hope was rescuing as many as they could. But their own buildings and property were damaged. They needed help.

Furkid Rescue had already been collaborating with Barks of Hope for eight years, bringing more than 200 dogs from Puerto Rico to Pittsburgh. Last week, a group of Furkid Rescue volunteers flew to Puerto Rico to rescue even more.

Even now, months after the hurricane, “The damage is unbelievable,” says Josh Knauer, a Furkid volunteer who went on the rescue trip. “Power lines down everywhere, trees, debris.”

Furkid Rescue plans to bring between 150 and 200 dogs to Pittsburgh from Puerto Rico this year. That large number is only a fraction of the island’s growing population of homeless pets.

Dogs in Puerto Rico being rescued by Barks of Hope and Furkid Rescue volunteers. Photo courtesy of Furkid Rescue.

Fortunately, the dogs often bounce back from their experience fairly quickly.

When we spoke with Knauer, one pup — recently found emaciated and covered in burrs — was already happily bounding around, playing with other dogs at Barks of Hope.

How does Furkid Rescue work? 

Furkid Rescue is a largely volunteer operation, and doesn’t operate a freestanding shelter of its own.

“When they come to Pittsburgh, we have a large volunteer network of people who will take the dogs into their homes as fosters,” says Knauer. “They’ll host the dogs until we can find permanent homes for them.”

The dogs will almost immediately be listed on the group’s website.

This particular rescue mission seems fitting: Furkid Rescue was born because of another hurricane.

“I was just a volunteer for a Pittsburgh shelter, and a dog walker,” says the group’s founder, Jennifer Bird. “The turning point was Hurricane Katrina. That tugged at my heartstrings.” She continued volunteering and eventually started her own organization.

A new rescue, on the way to Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of Furkid Rescue.

Helping nationwide

Usually, Furkid Rescue finds most of its canines much closer to home.

At some U.S. shelters, overcrowding means pets who aren’t quickly adopted may be are euthanized.

Furkid is focused on rescuing dogs that are facing immediate euthanasia,” Knauer explains. “We have volunteers around the country — in the east and the south, mostly — who are going into shelters and figuring out which dogs are being euthanized for overcrowding reasons, that are highly adoptable.”

Often, these are puppies who need only something as simple as antibiotics. Furkid takes care of that, and brings them to Pittsburgh.

Here, Knauer says, “we have a huge amount of dogs who get adopted. Instead of buying a new dog from a puppy farm, they’re going to shelters and adopting large amounts of dogs every year. People in Pittsburgh are incredibly generous.”

Furkid, as you might imagine, is grateful for monetary donations. Even better is a donation of time, to be a foster family for a dog.

The more fosters they have, Knauer says, the more homeless and endangered dogs can be rescued.