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Chrissy is the Founder & President of The Sato Project

The correlation between boxing and rescuing stray dogs isn’t one that’s clear at first glance. But for Chrissy Beckles, founder of the Sato Project, the connection is one she makes each and every day.

Since 2011, The Sato Project has rescued more than 8,000 dogs in Puerto Rico. With nearly half a million stray dogs roaming the island, there’s no one knockout solution.

Listen to the latest episode of All About Change as Chrissy discusses her long journey, from gaining feral dogs’ trust, to finding funding and weathering a category 5 hurricane.

To learn more about the Sato Project, click here.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Jay Ruderman:

Hey, this is Jay. I’m so excited to share that we’ve recently doubled our audience. This is an incredible milestone and I’m so grateful to all of you for listening and sharing the show. We’re a growing community of people who are passionate about activism, and this growth has us trending at the top of the Apple Podcast charts. I feel incredibly proud of this achievement, especially considering we’re a small independent production. If you’re one of the many listeners to our show, first of all, welcome. I encourage you to check out our back catalog. Here are a few of my favorite episodes. Episode 24, filmmaker Olivier Bernier fights for his son’s enrollment in the regular school system and shows us how everyone, especially the quote on quote, regular students, stands to gain from such inclusion. Episode 20. Lise Deguirre, a psychologist and burn survivor shares her inspiring resilience journey and commitment to helping others to find their own strength.


Episode 27, Evon Benson-Idahosa, a leading expert on modern day slavery, discusses her efforts to heal survivors and advocate for change. And lastly, episode 19. Jason Docton is a gamer who’s on a mission to increase awareness and provide aid to a mental health pandemic that’s hitting the gaming community especially hard. I love hearing from listeners and I’m always looking for new ideas and topics to cover on the show. I’m curious to hear about what activism you’re involved in. Are you working on any projects or campaigns that you’re passionate about? Please feel free to reach out to me with your thoughts and suggestions by filling out our listener feedback form linked in our show notes. Lastly, as the old podcasting trope goes, if you’re enjoying the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It’s one of the most effective ways to help new people find our show and learn about activism. Thank you for being part of the All About Change community. Your support means the world to us. May we all grow together from strength to strength and now onto our show.

Chrissy Beckles:

I will never forget the first day I walked on that beach. It was a life-changing moment for me because I walked onto there and there were just dogs everywhere, like hundreds of them running in packs. We put them there, but we’re the ones that can help them because we’ve taken away a lot of their original instincts to hunt and to fend for themselves, to feed themselves.

Jay Ruderman:

Hi, I’m Jay Ruderman and welcome to All About Change, a podcast showcasing individuals who leverage the hardships that have been thrown at them to better other people’s lives.

Montage:

This is all wrong. I shouldn’t…

I say put mental health first because if you don’t…

This generation of Americans has already had enough.

I stand before you, not as an expert, but as a concerned citizen.

Yes, we can. Yes, we can.

Louder.

Yes, we can.

Louder.

Yes, we can. Yes, we can.

Jay Ruderman:

Chrissy Beckles never expected to be where she’s today, but after a fateful trip to Puerto Rico, she felt she had no choice.

Chrissy Beckles:

I flew back to New York and I just spent the entire plane ride thinking, “What am I going to do? I don’t know what I’m going to do, what it’s going to look like, but I know I need to do something. I can’t get back to Brooklyn and forget what I’ve seen.”

Jay Ruderman:

What she’d seen were packs of starving stray dogs, hundreds of them, roaming the beaches and streets in Puerto Rico. In the weeks following her visit, she was inspired to start The Sato Project.

Chrissy Beckles:

There are currently estimated to be in excess of half a million here on island, and to give you a metric and a visual, Puerto Rico is roughly the size of the state of Connecticut.

Jay Ruderman:

In the years since then, in the face of underfunding, a pandemic, and a category-five hurricane, Chrissy and The Sato Project have rescued more than 8,000 dogs.

Chrissy Beckles, thank you so much for being my guest on All About Change. I really look forward to this discussion, as I am a dog lover, as many of us are, and I know you are. Maybe you could take a step back and talk about why there’s such a strong connection between humans and canines?

Chrissy Beckles:

From my personal perspective, I grew up with animals. So, I’ve always had an affinity and a connection. I think if I take a step back and look at the larger picture, it’s something that we, as a species, have started, and I think in some cases we’ve taken it a little bit too far, our reliance on other species and try to mold them to what we believe they should be, and I see that a lot with dogs. The canine and human connection started when dogs were trying to get warmth around a campfire. Then, hundreds of millions of years later, we’ve essentially positioned those animals to be reliant on us, and that’s something that I see in our day-to-day work that the stray and the abandoned dogs we’re dealing with are in that scenario because of us, because of humans. It’s a conflicting position to be in. We’ve put them there, but we’re the ones that can help them, because we’ve taken away a lot of their original instincts to hunt and to fend for themselves, to feed themselves.

Jay Ruderman:

Right. I happen to have been in South Africa on safari once and encountered some wild dogs, and they are a completely different species than our domesticated dogs.

Chrissy Beckles:

Yeah, absolutely. It’s not just we’ve made them reliant on us. It’s what we’ve done to them with differing breeds. If you look at what bulldogs look like even 100 years ago, they looked very different to what they look like. Now we have them to look cuter and to be more appealing to us as a species at a detriment to them and how they can survive.

Jay Ruderman:

What did you do professionally before you started this endeavor?

Chrissy Beckles:

My background was advertising and marketing, so I had my own consulting business, but I was also a champion amateur boxer that was competing in New York. I didn’t get paid for what I did, but I had a couple of titles. I boxed in Madison Square Garden three times. Won New York Golden Gloves, a couple of other titles. And crazily enough, there is a huge correlation in boxing and rescue, believe it or not. There’s a lot of things that I take from my training. My coaches would always instill in me that the fight should be the easiest part of what you do. The training has to be the hardest, and that’s what we do every day in rescue. It’s like we’re training for the big moments, and that’s where all of your effort has to go. You can’t be afraid to take a knee.

It’s not a bad thing if in the ring you get hit and you’re seeing the birds playing around your head or whatever, stars, disco lights, whatever you want to call it, taking that knee is not a sign of weakness. It’s actually a sign of strength to give you a beat, to give you a moment, to gather yourself, to listen to your corner and then get up and continue with either a better plan or stronger. And then, the other thing is that boxing, you enter the ring on your own, but you have a team in your corner and you should always listen to your corner, because they can win a fight for you. And they can see things that you might not be able to see in that moment. And so, by listening to them, it can change the entire nature of a fight and the result of a fight.

So, a lot of my boxing training has had a huge impact on what we do in rescue. And one of our taglines is that we fight for the dogs of Puerto Rico and we do. If I get in a ring now and I fight, it’s to raise money and to raise awareness of what’s going on on the island.

Jay Ruderman:

So, paint us a picture of your first visit to Puerto Rico. I understand you visited with your husband, who was a stunt man at the time.

Chrissy Beckles:

Correct. Yeah. So, he quickly transitioned from boxing into stunt work. He’s smart, and he soon realized that he could get a lot more money for pretending to get hit than actually being hit. So, yeah, he’s been working in the stunt industry for almost 25 years now, and he’s very successful. He does a tremendous job. And he was filming in Puerto Rico, it was 2007. He was filming a movie called Che with Benicio del Toro. And him and a group of other stunt guys were living in Puerto Rico. They were down here for a couple of months. He had never been to the island before. I had never visited before, and I was coming to spend a week with him. And he said to me before I arrived like, “You’re going to freak out when you see the dogs here.” And I was like, “Oh, that doesn’t sound good.”

We had one dog at the time, a little Jack Russell named Basher. And so, I arrived on island and was completely immediately overwhelmed with what I saw. There were dogs everywhere. It’s something that in day-to-day life, depending on where you are in the US, you don’t ordinarily see. I know this is a situation that is not unique to Puerto Rico, and I’ve traveled Europe and I’ve seen stray situations in Greece and other areas, but it was different here. There was definitely kind another level to… There was a lot of indifference to the animals, to the dogs that we were seeing. And if I picked one up, I could literally see the looks of horror on people’s faces that are like, “Ugh, why are you touching that dog? It looks like a rat or it’s got a skin disease, and you’re going to get it.” There was a definitive lack of empathy.

And again, not from everybody. It’s a certain amount of people. And if that happens often enough, it becomes the norm. If you’ve grown up and you’re used to seeing animals on the street, then it’s not shocking to you. If it goes from generation to generation, then it’s nothing new and it’s something that is the norm. To me, it was incredibly overwhelming and I spent a week wondering, “What the heck do I do here?” I flew back to New York and I just spent the entire plane ride thinking, “What am I going to do? I don’t know what I’m going to do, what it’s going to look like, but I know I need to do something. I can’t get back to Brooklyn and forget what I’ve seen.”

And so, I did some research. I reached out to every organization I could find that had a website. And I think 100% of them, it was literally a static page with a general email address, some photographs, and that was it. And I wrote to everybody and two organizations got back to me and I started volunteering for them. I mean, it’s kind of the complete 360 is those are the emails, I get hundreds of them now every day. It’s like came, I saw, what can I do? I was in a position where I have my own consulting organization. I earn a very good amount of money, so I could donate a lot of money to these organizations. I got what I like to call my Harvard education in rescue over like an 18-month period of coming to Puerto Rico, volunteering, learning what went into rescuing dogs, transporting, vetting, et cetera.

And about a year into that, we adopted our first Sato, who we named Boom-Boom, which is my ring name, my boxing name. She was a puppy that came from one of the five municipal shelters on island, and she was the only member of her family that survived. So, we gave her a fighter’s name, which was mine. And the minute she arrived in Brooklyn, it was like game over. I said to Bobby, “I can’t half-ass this anymore. I need to do more.” And I am incredibly lucky that I have a wonderfully supportive and understanding husband that I turned around to him and said, “I want to do this full time.” And he said to me, “Well… The Beckles’ family motto is, “If you’re going to do something, you don’t (beep) it up.”

Jay Ruderman:

So, I want to ask you about stray dogs. These are dogs that are just either abandoned or have been born as strays and are just scavenging. How do they live? How do these dogs survive? And the other thing that I would ask you is this problem more exacerbated in Puerto Rico as opposed to other countries in the Caribbean or other places around the world?

Chrissy Beckles:

I can’t think of another area that small that has a concentration of stray and abandoned animals this large. So, I would say, I think it’s really bad here. Satos, that’s the colloquial term for stray dog or street dog, as they’re known in Puerto Rico. There are currently estimated to be in excess of half a million here on island. And to give you a metric and a visual, Puerto Rico is roughly the size of the state of Connecticut. So if you think of it in those terms that if Connecticut had half-a-million stray dogs running around, it would be front page news in every newspaper. It would be the ticker on every news channel, but it’s not. It’s something that is widely ignored here in PR. Obviously, my organization is working incredibly hard to change the situation down here, as are many others, but it’s overwhelming. I always say with the island that can’t get a breakdown here, I started rescuing in 2007, so 10 years later, Hurricane Maria hits, it hits the island as a Category 5 hurricane. It makes landfall at Dead Dog Beach where we have always concentrated our work, so it was very, very personal to us. In that moment, I lost not only the 10 years of work that we had done as an organization, I lost my home. I lost everything I owned. We were set back over a decade in one day, and we had to pick ourselves up and keep moving forward.

It’s that adage that this wasn’t a need. This was almost like a KO to us if you look at it in boxing terms. So when that happened, a lot of people, like 5% of the island’s population left and not everybody took their animals with them. So you have a large number of dogs and cats entering an already huge stray and abandoned population. Sadly, there is not a culture of spaying and neutering here in Puerto Rico. It’s something that, again, we as an organization are working very, very hard to change. So you’ve got all this new population entering into an already large population and there’s an explosion. I could see it from day one. I said, “In six weeks we’re going to be inundated with puppies and it’s going to be the same thing six weeks after that,” and that’s what happened. But it’s really hard to get ahead of it when it’s a very few amount of people that are fighting to make these changes, and we can’t get the government to get on board.

Jay Ruderman:

Let’s talk about that a little bit about the government because Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. What is the position of the government in terms of this issue?

Chrissy Beckles:

I’ve met with four governors. I’ve been yessed death by each of them. I’m this girl that came from England that has arrived in Puerto Rico and is trying to help the stray dogs, and so I guess I’m a bit of an anomaly to them. They yes me to death while I’m sat in front of them and then nothing gets done. So at this point I’m like, I’m not going to waste my time anymore. I have to put in that fighter’s mentality that I’m going to throw the first punch, and I’m going to get out there ahead of it. So if I wait for them, I’d still be waiting.

Jay Ruderman:

So Chrissy, tell us what is Dead Dog Beach, and what did it look like to you the first time you arrived there?

Chrissy Beckles:

Dead Dog Beach is a name that was, this is not a name that me or my organization has given to that beach, its official name is Playa Lucia. It’s in the municipality of Yabucoa, which is on the southeast coast of Puerto Rico. It was given that name by the locals. I had heard about this beach and one of the organizations that I was volunteering for in the beginning, a group called Manos por Patas was working to try and help the dogs there. There was a local school teacher, Sandra Cintron, that was helping to feed these dogs and she’d given as many of them as she could names.

She identified them by their different packs, and each pack had a different pack leader. But it’s like, where do you start? I said to her, “Who do you choose who gets rescued?” And it came down to money. So that was a huge motivating moment to me that for the first couple of years of doing this, I had to stand in front of these dogs and decide which one was going to live and the rest of them, I was essentially leaving them to a death sentence. It happened on one too many occasions where I would go and feed them and then I would go back a few days later and some of them would be missing and you would never know what happened to them.

Sound Bite:

The first pictures now coming in from Puerto Rico after taking a direct hit. Hurricane Maria slamming into the island, and as you heard one official saying, the island is destroyed. Maria is the first Category 4 to hit there in nearly a century. 150 mile an hour winds ripping buildings apart, knocking out power everywhere. All of the electricity is out tonight.

Chrissy Beckles:

It was horrific, it truly was. I decided that if I was going to set up my own organization, there were certain ways I wanted to do it. One thing that was very important to me was I needed to be able to see I was making a difference. So by concentrating our rescue efforts in one area, specifically on this beach, then we could visibly and tangibly see the impact that we were having. If you walk on that beach today, you won’t see a single dog. There are a feral pack of eight dogs that are living there that we are working really hard to gain their trust to spay, neuter, vaccinate them and then release them again ’cause sadly, they are feral and they’re not candidates for our rescue program.

But I get emails from people that will say, or messages on social media, people saying, “Well, I went to Dead Dog Beach, and I didn’t see any dogs.” I’m like, “Well, that’s a good thing. That’s because we’ve rescued over 8,000 dogs from there.” In 2016 we started a community spay, neuter, vaccine and microchip program that originally started as a subsidized program where we would charge people $35. They could get their dog or their cat spayed, neutered, vaccinated and microchipped, and The Sato Project covered the balance of the bill for the surgeries, but we soon realized that we had to change that model to a completely free of charge one. It was a difficult transition to make because anybody that… I did a lot of research when we were setting up that program.

I spoke to the people at Soi Dog out in Thailand who were doing incredible work, and that essentially is their model. It’s like CNVR, it’s like capture, neuter, vaccinate, release. I spoke to other organizations that were doing this work to see what the best model was. At the time, the overwhelming answer was that you need to put a little bit of value on the services that you’re giving, and so that’s why we did the co-pay. But when I had people that were coming that literally had a jar like this big that was loaded with coins and they were tipping it out and saying like, “Here’s my $35,” it soon became apparent that we needed to change that model to a completely free of charge one, and that’s what we operate to this day.

Jay Ruderman:

So I just want to understand, on this beach, are these dogs who have been living there for a while? Do people abandon their dogs there? Is it a combination of both?

Chrissy Beckles:

So when I first started visiting that beach, it was definitely a dumping ground. There’s only two entrances to the beach, and it’s not like there’s a residential community nearby. So dogs are not making their own way there. There is not a food source on that beach. So it’s not like there’s fast food stands or anything like that that they’re going to gravitate towards. Some of the conditions that we found dogs in where they’re not able to walk. We unequivocally know somebody drove them there and dumped them. In the beginning, I think it was a dumping ground and then as word got out that we were working there, I think now it’s a scenario where people will drive dogs there and dump them there because they know that my organization works there. In the beginning when you’ve got such a large population, then there were huge amounts of litters of puppies being born and extraordinarily large litters, and not all of them are going to survive because they just can’t in that kind of environment.

So you would maybe get two or three out of a litter of 12 surviving, but nature knows that if this dog’s only going to have two, they’re not going to survive, and so you have an explosion of dogs. We have a visual that I can share with you. It’s basically a chart. One unsterilized dog or pair of dogs can be responsible for over 67,000 puppies in a five-year period. That’s them having puppies and then dogs at six months old can become pregnant. So you’ve essentially got puppies having puppies and those numbers, people say, “No, that’s not right, that’s not believable.” It is because we’re seeing it. How do you think we got to over half-a-million stray dogs on this island? It absolutely can happen and is happening. By rescuing there and concentrating there and not running over the entirety of Puerto Rico, we were able to clear the beaches. That in a combination of working with the local community and educating about spay, neuter, vaccines hand-in-hand, they have definitively proved that change can be made and it’s been made on that beach.

Jay Ruderman:

So Chrissy, let me ask you a little bit about how your team works, ’cause I understand the dogs are in really tough shape. They’re afraid of humans. I read one story about dogs were starving and chewing on rocks because there was no food. How do you go about approaching the dogs, earning their trust, being able to spay and neuter the dogs and eventually capture them to be able to get them to a better place?

Chrissy Beckles:

That is a whole situation that is evolving. In the beginning, I wanted every dog on that beach to be able to have a home. There was a mother and daughter on that beach that took me eight years to capture them, to rescue them. You couldn’t touch them. That was a combination of them having a familiar face every day. We have incredible team members and volunteers that work with our organization. So for Dead Dog Beach, for example, Natalia and Samuel who work with me, they go there pretty much every day to give food and fresh water to the dogs there. So dogs are creatures of habit. So if they’re seeing the same person every day and you are the food source for them, they soon begin to understand that you are not the enemy, you’re not going to hit them, you’re not going to throw things at them. You’re the good people. So it’s a combination of maybe hand feeding. We do use humane traps. It’s getting them to trust you. And the easiest way to do that, if a dog is dumped, we need to get them within 24 or 48 hours of them being dumped on that beach. Because if we don’t, they’re going to start to fall in with one of the packs and then they’re going to start to revert to feral behaviors. So we try and get them as soon as they appear there. The ones that have been there for any kind of length of time, certainly the ones that are there now are, they’re not candidates for rescue. And that’s been a difficult realization for me to have because I started this organization from the place where I wanted every dog to be in a home and every dog to experience being part of a family.

And it goes back to the first question you asked me about the relationship between people and their dogs. Not all of these dogs want to be around humans. They have had no positive experiences. And to put them in that scenario is almost as cruel as doing nothing about it. It’s something I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with, but I have come to see from experience and just know with the sheer number of dogs that need help on this island, that we can’t rescue them all. We can’t rescue our way out of what is a crisis here now. And so you have to make a decision. And there’s two ways to solve situations like this, and that’s what it comes down to. There’s mass euthanasia or there’s mass spay and neuter. And when I say spay and neuter, it’s like CNVR. It’s capture or collect, spay, neuter, vaccinate return, because there’s not the space, there’s not the outlet for all of these dogs.

And a certain percentage of them are not candidates to go into homes. And so you have to do the next most humane thing, which is ensure that they’re not having litters every few weeks, vaccinate them so they can’t keep spreading contagious and infectious disease and give them a food and a water source every day. The ones that are candidates we’ll gladly take them. And there is no greater day than Rescue Day when we pick up a puppy or a dog and they are frightened. And you see that moment where… And I say the same thing to every single one, please trust me because your life is going to change. And sometimes it happens in an instant and sometimes it can take months, but it happens.

Jay Ruderman:

So how do you decide which dogs are candidates for rescue?

Chrissy Beckles:

They will usually tell you. The dogs that we’re working with on Dead Dog Beach right now, we’ve been working with them for some of them for a year and a half. And at that point in a year and a half, if you start still cannot put a hand on one of these dogs, then you kind of know your answer. They don’t want to be near you. They see you coming and they’ll come out for their food, but they’re not coming to you to seek affection or anything else. They are coming to you as a food source and a water source. That is it. And believe you, me, I wish it was different. And like I say, it’s been a difficult thing for me to reconcile with myself. And I know my team find it very, very hard as well because we’re the organization that has taken more than 8,000 dogs from a life of hell and trying to survive and we see them now in homes. We fly all of our dogs up to New York for adoption and we see them in homes and they are, I want some of our adopters to adopt me because the lives that some of our dogs are having are unbelievable. It’s everything that you could wish for a little dog that was dumped on a place called Dead Dog Beach or born on a place called Dead Dog Beach.

But there are some, and we’ve learned it the hard way, where we impressed on a dog that, yeah, your life’s going to change and this is going to be great. And it’s not turned out well. It’s been a dog that can’t be in the city. And then you’re having to move them and try and get them in a scenario where they do feel more comfortable and they never are. And so that’s where it comes down to, you’ve got to take your feelings out of the scenario and say, what can I do to help this dog live the best life they can live with? Taking all emotion out of the scenario.

Jay Ruderman:

So how do you decide who gets to adopt a dog? And I understand that you’re flying the dogs, once they’re rehabilitated, the ones that you can from Puerto Rico to New York. How do you decide who has the opportunity to adopt a dog?

Chrissy Beckles:

So we have kind of a unique model in the fact that we quarantine and we do all of our vetting on island, and that takes time. And we have an unprecedented vetting protocol. And that was one thing that I was really adamant about when I started this organization. I did the reverse psychology on myself and my CPA was holding his head in his hands like, Chrissy, this is not how you’re supposed to do this. Because I was like, if money was no object, and that was when he put his head in his hands and he’s like, you’re a nonprofit, money’s always an object. But I was like, if money is no object, how do we vet these dogs to the highest standards to ensure that when we put them on a plane, they’re not going to be transporting any communicable or disease and they can go straight into a home with other animals and live with a family.

And it’s been an evolving process. It’s incredibly expensive. It’s time-consuming. And so some people immediately take themselves out of being candidates to be adopters because they’ll see that we’re rescuing dogs and they’re immediately like, I want to adopt that dog. And you say, well, we just rescued the dog. They’ve got to be quarantined. We’ve got to do diagnostic testing. There’s some tests that we might not get results on or that we have to repeat in a month’s time that then give us a result that might in turn, take six months to treat. Are you willing to wait six months for this dog? And not everybody is. We have a very strict adoption application. My team, my adoption coordinator, Melissa, is incredible. She has a wonderful team of volunteers that work with her, the process applications. We’re back to doing home visits now after not doing them during COVID.

And I think the rescue world is in a very unique place right now. The entire world of rescue has changed. It’s done like a complete 180 degree turn over the past few years. So if you think back to during COVID, which seems oh so long ago, but it’s actually not, it’s like two years, three years ago, during COVID, everyone wanted a dock. Shelters were reporting that they were emptied people were fostering dogs.

Sound Bite:

That’s the staff at the Friends of Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control. They usually house about 50 dogs, but now they’ve gotten none, Carson Daly, according to the Humane Society, the rates of fostering have increased by 90%. 90% in someplaces.

Sound Bite:

I wonder if the Dalys are going to add one more to the family…

Chrissy Beckles:

I think it was the cover of Time Magazine that the winner of the pandemic was dogs because they all got adopted. I was watching this happen, and I was in New York at the time, I’d actually flown to New York for what was supposed to be a five day trip to meet with donors and then got stuck there because Puerto Rico closed down. And we had over 100 dogs in Puerto Rico that were supposed to fly and couldn’t fly, and the majority of them had adopters. And so we were getting inundated with people saying, I want a dog, I want a dog and I didn’t have dogs to give them because all mine were in Puerto Rico. I mean, the great thing was we got a new group of fosters in Puerto Rico, which we had never really had before. And we’ve managed to keep that wonderful group of people and cultivate them.

But I was cognizant that the pandemic wasn’t going to go on forever. And we had people coming to us saying, well, I’m working from home now, so now I can have a dog. And my immediate response was, but what happens when you go back to work? What’s your plan then? And now, anybody that came to us and said that they kind of instantly negated themselves from having the chance to adopt because you are making a commitment that might be 15 to 20 years long. I need you to be able to tell me or to have a plan in place for what happens when you are called back to the office. And a lot of people didn’t have that. And I think what is happening now, it’s a culmination of not only people going back to work and getting called back to in office hours, but now we’re in a scenario where inflation is out of control and housing is difficult to come by.

And so, what the rescue world and the shelter system is now seeing is dogs coming back in unprecedented numbers. It’s for reasons that, one, those people that didn’t make a plan for when they had to go back to the office, there is a huge group of dogs that were adopted during the pandemic that were never really socialized. And so, once kind of things started to open up and people could go places again, they had dogs that were fearful or had anxiety issues, separation anxiety, and not everybody’s willing to put the work in for those dogs. Then you’ve got people losing their homes. They can’t afford to keep their animals, they can’t afford to feed them. There’s a whole list of why shelters are filling up.

Jay Ruderman:

You’ve rescued so many dogs. Are there a couple cases that really stuck with you that you can talk about?

Chrissy Beckles:

Yeah, I mean, I’m not supposed to have favorites, right? But I do. Couple. One, a dog named Sugar who was rescued from Dead Dog Beach and she was hit by a car on the beach and she was dragged under the car. She was brought to us by our volunteer at the time [inaudible 00:35:24] about 6:00 at night and came to our vet’s office. And this dog had three shredded legs. Her front legs were completely destroyed, and one of her back legs too. This was like a 50 pound dog. And my vet took one look and was like, this dog, you need to euthanize this dog. Sugar, we picked her up to put her on the examination table and she wagged her tail. And I was like, she must be in so much pain. And she didn’t growl, she didn’t snap, she didn’t do any. She just wagged her tail and I was like we got to try. We got to something here.” So my vet cleaned out her wounds, she bandaged her up, she put her on an IV of pain meds, and she’s like, “Chrissy, this dog’s not going to survive the night.” At first, we didn’t even look to see whether this dog was a boy or a girl. I called her Rocky because I thought it was a boy. I get a phone call the next morning, “Rocky’s still alive, and Rocky’s actually a girl.”

So then we changed her name to Adrian. She was with us, in our care for over a year. She had five major surgeries on her legs, and this dog, throughout it all, was the happiest, happiest dog. She truly was, through surgeries, she had a titanium plate put in her leg, eight titanium screws, she had other multiple surgeries, we had to take the plate out because it became infected. She really put us all through the mill, and like I say, this dog got her chance because she was so happy and so joyful.

And she walked me into the rink at one of my fights, and there was a lady there that had been brought by some friends of mine that met then Adrian, and she said, “I want to adopt her.” Marissa is the lady’s name and we have become incredibly good friends. She changed Adrian’s name to Sugar because she’s Swedish Sugar, but it’s also like Sugar’s a boxing name, as well. So I was like, “Okay, I can give you that.” And Sugar is still with us, and to this day, if she hears my voice, if Marissa is online and I am talking on a video, this dog goes crazy. If I don’t see her from one month to the next and walk in the door, she still knows me to this day, and I am one of her favorite people in the world, and I love that. She knows that I was with her. I would drive her to vet appointments, I would sing to her in the car, and I’ve got the most godawful singing voice, but she loved it. So she’s a huge success story.

Jay Ruderman:

Such a moving story.

Chrissy Beckles:

Yeah, there’s many like that.

Jay Ruderman:

You’ve really done God’s work in helping so many dogs in such terrible situation. Let me ask you, for any listeners who want to get involved in the Sato Project, tell us how they can get involved.

Chrissy Beckles:

I always say, I wish we could do this work on love alone because, if we could, every dog would have help. Unfortunately, it comes down to cold hard cash to be able to do what we do. So donations are always gratefully received. We’re 100% transparent with all of our financials are available on our website. We independently audit every year, so everybody can see where their hard-earned money is going. It’s going to help these incredible dogs.

One thing I do want to mention is we talked about the overpopulation and how overwhelming it is. That’s been a huge realization for us as an organization this year, and that combined with the situation we talked about after COVID with how shelters are being overwhelmed, and there’s just not enough space and enough adopters for the amount of dogs that we have. We are pivoting a big amount of our resources into spay and neuter and CNVR because we feel that is a good thing to do, certainly for the next couple of years.

Jay Ruderman:

Right, because you’ve rescued 8,000 dogs, but there’s a half a million dogs on the island. So the challenge is immense. So tell me, what’s the website? How do people reach out to you?

Chrissy Beckles:

The Sato Project, T-H-E-S-A-T-O-P-R-O-J-E-C-T.org, thesatoproject.org is where you can donate. Everybody will receive a receipt for use for tax purposes with their donation. We welcome volunteers. We fly our dogs into New York, so we’re always looking for volunteers to help drive dogs to their families, get crates back to the airport. We’re always looking for foster families. Our dogs, if they go into foster, they average about a week to two weeks in foster, that’s all, before they’re adopted.

And then as we’re starting these big spay/neuter initiatives, we’re about to start one on November 1st, it’s called Operation Sato, we’re partnering with Cathy Bissell and the Bissell Foundation. Cathy Bissell has been incredibly generous and has purchased all of the surgical equipment that we’re going to need to put on a six-day, high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter event, and we’re targeting 1,500 dogs over six days, and then the equipment is staying on island so we can keep doing those events and keep helping as many dogs as we can because, as I said to you, I wish we could, but we can’t rescue our way out of this crisis.

Jay Ruderman:

Finally, Chrissy, I just wanted to ask you, a lot of people get their dogs from breeders, what’s your advice to them, seeing as the overpopulation of shelters, and do you have a message to impart to our listeners?

Chrissy Beckles:

Yeah. Any dog that you think you can only get from a breeder, I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. There are many pure-bred dogs, specific breeds, there are specific breed rescues, these dogs are available at your local shelters. You might not just be able to walk in the nearest one to you, you might have to do a little bit of research, but you can find them. I have rescued Great Danes, I have rescued French bulldogs, I’ve rescued an English bulldog from here in Puerto Rico. I have rescued Shih Tzus, Weimaraner, Vizslas, all of these fancy breeds.

One of my rescues, one of my dogs, he looks like some fancy doodle. Everybody thinks he … They’re like, “What kind of doodle is?” He looks like an old English sheep dog. He is a rescue from the streets of Ponce. You can get any dog you want from a shelter or a breed-specific rescue. Not every breeder is a bad breeder, but we know, during times like a pandemic and when there’s a lot of people that are wanting a specific thing, when there’s a need for something, then unscrupulous people start to get involved. You just have to put a little bit of work in, not a huge amount, a little bit of work, and maybe you might have to travel to get your dog, but you know what? That dog is then going to be with you for 15 to 20 years. So if you have to take a day or half a day to find your new family member, I think it’s worth it.

Jay Ruderman:

Well, Chrissy Beckles, thank you so much for being my guest on All About Change. You’re doing God’s work and there’s so much need.

Chrissy Beckles:

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Jay Ruderman:

Thank you, and I hope people reach out to you and support your important work. Thank you so much.

Chrissy Beckles:

Thank you. I really appreciate you, Jay.

Jay Ruderman:

Dogs are near and dear to my own heart, so it was a true inspiration to hear about the work Chrissy’s been able to do in Puerto Rico. I look forward to seeing what the Sato Project does next. That’s it for today’s episode.

Join us two weeks from today for one of my favorite episodes from the vault. Today’s episode was produced by Rebecca Chassen with story editing by Yochai Maital and Mijon Zulu. To check out more episodes, to learn more about the show, you can visit our website, allaboutchangepodcast.com. If you like our show, spread the word, tell a friend or family member, or leave us a review on your favorite podcasting app. We would really appreciate it. All About Change is produced by the Ruderman Family Foundation. Special thanks to our production team at Pod People, Lindsey Ploussard, Grace Pina, Morgan Foose, Bryan Rivers, and Aimee Machado. That’s all for now. I’m Jay Ruderman, and we’ll see you next time on All About Change.

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