One tumultuous month after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico and the majority of the island is still without power, leaving thousands looking for a way out instead of getting ready to rebuild.
For pet lovers looking to flee the island, the decision to move elsewhere is made even harder: Due to federal restrictions and airline regulations, many Puerto Ricans leaving the country are not allowed to bring their pets with them, forcing these residents to leave their beloved dogs behind or not leave at all.
According to The Daily Beast, many of the airlines flying out of Puerto Rico are prohibiting passengers from bringing their pets on board because federal authorities are using the limited cargo space of planes to transport supplies. On top that, federal restrictions say that pets weighing more than 20 lbs. are not allowed to travel in the cabin, leaving all but small animals out of luck.
Pet Friendly Puerto Rico president Sylvia Bedrosian told The Daily Beast that these restrictions have led to the abandonment of 2,000 animals. Bedrosian also commented on how these current blocks on pets violate the No Pet Left Behind FEMA Act, put in place following Hurricane Katrina, which is supposed to ensure that pets are figured in to all federal emergency plans.
Right now residents with pets are depending on airlines to be flexible with their policies. Both JetBlue and Southwest have adjusted their pet policies to allow more animals on board, but the airlines still have to adhere to the 20-lb. in-cabin pet limit. United PetSafe, a pet transport business that flies animals from San Juan to the mainland, is limited by the same embargo. A United Airlines employee said the embargo was recently waived for them until Oct. 31, but gave no reason why it wasn’t lifted for other airlines.
“I understand that most planes coming from the U.S. to Puerto Rico are filled with goods, but what bothers me most is that planes leaving the island are mostly empty. Why take custody of an empty cargo?” Bedrosian told The Daily Beast.
Amid this frustrating confusion, animal rescue groups across North America are doing their best to save as many pets as possible, chartering private planes to retrieve animals from Puerto Rico and bring them to the contiguous United States to reunite with their owners or find a forever home.