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Puerto Rican campaign known as: Violet for Them

A Day to Raise Awareness About Homeless Pets in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico faces a significant challenge related to the overpopulation of homeless pets, an issue that, while global, finds unique particularities here on our island. It is estimated that our island has around 300,000 dogs and nearly a million homeless cats, figures that, although not officially confirmed, reflect the magnitude of a problem that impacts us socially and poses a public health challenge. Each homeless pet represents an urgent social emergency that should require immediate attention, not only for the animals' welfare but also due to the impact on the community.

Hurricanes like Irma, María, and Fiona, along with devastating earthquakes, have not only transformed Puerto Rico's landscape but also left an indelible mark on the lives of thousands of innocent beings: our homeless pets and stray animals (horses and pigs). These catastrophic events, combined with the social, economic, and political challenges we face, have dramatically exacerbated the issue within our communities. Survival on the streets becomes a daily struggle for them, as many, once belonging to a home, suddenly find themselves alone, vulnerable, and fighting for their lives in unfamiliar and extreme conditions. Those who manage to survive abandonment face a life marked by constant danger, illness, hunger, and often, tragic ends.

At the beginning of 2023, a meeting organized by the Association of Mayors of Puerto Rico took place, discussing potential solutions to the country's homeless pet overpopulation. Proposals for potential solutions included: regional shelters, an adoption program within and outside of Puerto Rico, and a national free sterilization plan. Currently, the follow-up to these proposals is unknown. However, we remain hopeful that, despite the lack of a structured plan at the state and municipal levels, these are the first steps towards addressing the issue from a macro perspective, including the government as responsible for contributing to the solution of this problem.

The situation of homeless pets will not be solved with a single solution but, like all complex social problems, demands a multidimensional approach involving all sectors of society: individuals, communities, municipalities, and the government. This approach must be comprehensive, tackling the problem from our homes, neighborhoods, towns, and city halls. While free sterilization of all animals today can help, if other areas such as the regulation of animal sales, abandonment, and mistreatment, compassionate education are not addressed, we will face the same problem in ten years. Empathy, compassion, and responsibility from each of us are crucial to prevent the mistreatment and abandonment of pets in our communities. The animal welfare community faces injustice towards all animals on the island every day. The overpopulation of homeless pets represents not only a challenge for animal welfare but also a reflection of broader and deeper social problems in Puerto Rico, signaling a lack of collective well-being. Against this backdrop, promoting adoption, access to affordable veterinary services, compassionate education, and sterilization/neutering emerge as some of the most effective strategies to tackle the overpopulation of homeless pets, both locally and globally. Addressing this challenge requires a collective effort (yes, it's up to all of us to contribute!) and collaboration between citizens, non-profit organizations, and the government, each assuming their role and responsibility in creating a more compassionate country for all living beings.

In this context, the campaign "Violet for Them" gains special relevance, standing out as a vital effort to raise awareness about the importance of rejecting animal mistreatment and promoting the welfare of homeless pets. This initiative seeks to sensitize the population to the problems faced by homeless pets and animals, urging the adoption of attitudes of care, respect, and responsibility towards all living beings. "Violet for Them" emphasizes educating the public on topics such as the prevention of mistreatment but we hope it expands to responsible adoption, sterilization, and pet wellbeing, in addition to promoting legislative changes that ensure animal protection and welfare. Through awareness and education, this campaign has the potential to forge a more educated, sensitive, and committed society to the prevention of animal mistreatment, addressing this issue from its roots and promoting long-term solutions. Proactive community participation, along with effective government policies, is essential to generate sustainable changes in the situation of homeless pets and combat animal mistreatment in our society.

Úrsula Aragunde Kohl, Clinical Psychologist, Professor e Researcher UAGM, Gurabo

Nicole Class, Doctoral Student in Clinical Psychology, Ponce Health Sciences University

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