Thursday, March 3, 2016

Puerto Rico’s Pooches Jet Off to the Hamptons: Stray dogs are flown to new homes on mainland on private planes

The Wall Street Journal
By Aaron Kuriloff
March 2, 2016 1:25 p.m. ET

PUERTO RICO— Citigroup banker David Brownstein, one of the executives charged with helping this U.S. commonwealth through its fiscal emergency, launched his latest rescue effort at dawn on a San Juan airstrip.

Once airborne for the mainland, Mr. Brownstein, Citi’s head of public finance, got up from his seat to reassure a nervous flier, a black, 20-pound stray dog named Dulce Maria.

Dulce Maria gazed wide-eyed around the private jet, which was littered with comforts, including overstuffed chairs and trays of pastry—a far cry from scrounging for scraps in the dumpsters of beach bars. Mr. Brownstein and his team coaxed the shivering canine out of her pet carrier, fed her a turkey sandwich from the plane’s catering, swaddled her in a blanket and set her in the lap of one of the dog rescuers, a model.

Dulce Maria was one of almost 100 pooch passengers on this trip from the back roads of Puerto Rico to shelters in the Hamptons and Jersey Shore.

“They need help and I can help,” said Mr. Brownstein. “At some point, it became everything.”

Mr. Brownstein, 57 years old, is one of Citi’s bankers representing Puerto Rico in its effort to restructure about $70 billion of debt. He previously handled debt exchanges in the bankruptcies of Detroit and Jefferson County, Ala.

He is also throwing a bone to Puerto Rico’s “satos,” or street mutts, and has helped fly about 1,000 animals to the mainland over six years. The costs, which are privately funded, can reach up to $1,000 a dog.

Along with a collapsing health-care system and 10 years of economic stagnation, Puerto Rico has a population of at least 300,000 stray dogs. Typical satos are small-to-medium in size, with short fur, big ears and short legs. Advocates say the dogs make great pets. They are also a nuisance on an island overrun with strays.

“I guess there are some people who would see this and say ‘There are much bigger problems in Puerto Rico to deal with than this,’ ” said Miguel Soto-Class, president of the Center for a New Economy, a San Juan think tank that supports debt restructuring. He is OK with it, though, on the grounds that the stray-dog problem hurts tourism, one of the few sectors of the island’s economy that has held on.

Mr. Brownstein, a lifelong animal lover, adopted three satos in 2010 from Julie Sinaw, the model turned dog rescuer. She introduced him to El Faro de Los Animales, a no-kill sanctuary on the island. Ms. Sinaw eventually became president of the group, known on the mainland as Animal Lighthouse Rescue, which operates through donations, adoption fees and Mr. Brownstein’s own spending.

Georgina Bloomberg, Olympic equestrian hopeful and daughter of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has twice flown dogs home on her own jet from Puerto Rico as part of her work with the Humane Society of the United States, which is making a big push on the island. Mr. Brownstein’s prints are all over it.

“Our pilots went over to his plane and looked at how he was stacking crates,” Ms. Bloomberg said. “When we went back, we modeled our plane on his.”

Mr. Brownstein’s team arranges airlifts every two months or so, bringing dogs, and some cats, to shelters.

Representatives of the Southampton Animal Shelter have gone on recent trips and are helping the jet-setting satos start over.

“These dogs literally go from living on the street to taking a private jet home to the Hamptons,” said Katie McEntee, the shelter’s marketing director.

On a February trip, “Operation Puppy Love,” Mr. Brownstein greeted much of the 16-person team at the airport in San Juan, including workers from four shelters and veterinarians, plus volunteering stockbrokers and artists. There he distributed keys to vans and condos in a beachfront development he rented and paid for in advance, along with two jets.

After three days examining and documenting dogs, the team embarked on their first four-hour run to the mainland at 4 a.m. The dogs were given a tranquilizer and an anti-diarrheal, thanks to one learning experience.

“Otherwise, in 10 flights we’ve had no accidents on these fancy jets,” Mr. Brownstein said.

Converted to carry cargo, with just a few seats, this Gulfstream has transported special passengers before. Phoenix Air Group, the Georgia-based company that owns the jet, said it has also carried dolphins and penguins for breeding programs.

When the dog-rescuers used standard private planes, they would “stack 8-10 crates on the benches, 10 in the back and fill the bathroom, so when the pilot goes to the bathroom, there are dogs staring at him,” Mr. Brownstein said.

Melba Acosta, president of the island’s Government Development Bank, said Mr. Brownstein’s dog-airlift efforts have helped push the commonwealth to boost spay and neuter efforts, a more long-term solution.

As the volunteers watched, the plane took off, headed for the Hamptons. The next morning it returned for the Jersey-bound crowd, along with a second plane, to carry any dogs they wanted to keep an eye on because they were skittish or had medical issues.

Dulce Maria, too shy for immediate adoption, was to foster with Ms. Sinaw in Manhattan. On the plane, she sat on Ms. Sinaw’s lap, looking out the window. In Atlantic City, volunteers raced to unload the Jersey-bound dogs in the subzero weather. Then the plane took off for its next stop.

Dulce Maria’s jet flew past the Statue of Liberty and into Teterboro, a small New Jersey airport just west of Manhattan. Mr. Brownstein carried Dulce Maria across the tarmac and through the terminal. Outside, he took her to the bushes to mark her new territory.

Original article can be found here:

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