The Puppies from Puerto Rico: Checking in with
The Sato Project

Today we’re checking in with Chrissy Beckles, Founder of The Sato Project and one of our partners for our INSPIRED BY WOMEN™ platform. Read on to find out what she’s been up to and how you can help.

Tell us about the inspiration behind The Sato Project. What’s your mission as an organization?

The mission of The Sato Project is to rescue abused and abandoned dogs from Puerto Rico. We rehabilitate them, vet them to our unprecedented protocols—which are unmatched in Puerto Rico and the majority of the mainland United States—transport to New York and then find them incredible homes.

Chrissy Beckles, Founder of The Sato Project, pets dogs in Puerto Rico.

The inspiration for The Sato Project started when we adopted our first sato, Boom Boom, from Puerto Rico in 2008. I had first visited the island the year before and was determined to do something about the stray dogs I had seen. I was volunteering for two rescues in Puerto Rico, but as soon as Boom Boom arrived a fire was lit within me. Boom Boom survived a horrific beginning at one of the island’s five shelters. Her mother died, and Boom Boom and her siblings were trying to survive on a cold concrete floor that was hosed down and left wet twice daily. Her two brothers died in the shelter, and when Boom Boom and her remaining sister were finally rescued, her sister died in the car on the way to the vet’s office. Boom Boom was obviously a fighter, which is why she was given my “boxing ring name.” Boom Boom flew to New York in July of 2008 and my life changed. Her eyes told stories and held nightmares. I knew that I had to do more for her Puerto Rican ‘brothers and sisters’ who still needed help. The Sato Project officially started on November 29, 2011, although our work began long before….

Boom Boom is the dog in our logo and was the best foster sister to many satos that came to the Beckles family for some extra TLC. Tragically, Boom Boom died suddenly on May 5, 2016, and I truly questioned whether I could continue rescuing. Bobby [my husband] created the Boom Boom Beckles Legacy fund in her honor, and we went back to the shelter where her life began and rescued over 150 dogs. We also did capital improvements—including creating a proper drainage system and adding windows and a quarantine area—and provided much-needed equipment. Boom Boom lives daily in every single rescue we do. They are happening because of her, and it makes me so proud.

How has The Sato Project changed since you participated in the Moroccanoil Inspired by Women campaign?

Bryce Dallas Howard truly got inside my head to direct and create what is still one of my favorite pieces (ever) produced about the organization. So many people have reached out to us after seeing it and offered to help. It truly resonated with them.

Bryce, when you stop chasing dinosaurs I would love to work with you again!

Being part of the Moroccanoil Inspired By Women campaign has been especially rewarding for me as an individual. Carmen Tal has acted as a mentor and cheerleader, and the staff is incredibly invested in our work. I truly feel like I am part of a wonderful, diverse, incredibly supportive family. A quick example: I have never met Moroccanoil Artistic Director Kevin Hughes, but I feel like we are great friends. We follow each other on social media and he always has a kind word and continues to encourage me all the time. We joke that one day we will be in the same city and finally get to meet. I truly cannot wait to give that man a great big hug.

Surveying the damage from Hurricane Maria.

How did Hurricane Maria change the way you operate?

Hurricane Maria changed everything. We lost 12 years of work overnight. Maria decimated the island, and we are dealing with more stray and abandoned dogs than ever before, at a truly unprecedented level. It is the hardest thing I have done—trying to continue to rescue when everything was gone. I lost my home and everything I owned—including all of our Sato Project equipment and inventory. So I was homeless and trying to come up with a plan. To give a metric: Prior to Maria, The Sato Project would rescue on average 375–400 dogs per year. Since September 2017 we have rescued more than 2,000, and there is no sign of things slowing down. We are doing two large transports a month. We had a very large transport in August (at least 110 dogs) that cleared out the majority of the pups in our program, and we have a plan in place should the island be hit with another hurricane—though we are all truly hoping that this will not be the case.

What was the greatest challenge presented by the hurricane?

The entire island was without power and the majority without running water. There was an island-wide curfew in place, and if you needed gasoline it was a 9-hour wait for $10 worth of fuel. In the immediate aftermath there were virtually no vet offices open. The two veterinarian clinics that The Sato Project operates were closed—one was almost completely destroyed. We had 60 dogs stuck in crates, balanced on concrete blocks so the dogs would not drown. No commercial airlines were flying, and we desperately needed to evacuate those dogs off the island. The Sato Project was the first organization to fly dogs, nine days after Maria thanks to the Humane Society of the United States and Wings of Rescue providing a plane. One of the proudest moments of my life was watching those dogs take off and knowing that they were finally safe.

Dogs rescued by The Sato Project on board a plane that will carry them from Puerto Rico to the United States.

Tell us about the Freedom Flight on August 18, 2018. How many dogs were rescued?

We had at least 110 rescued dogs flying on August 18. We also continued our “no dog left behind” program for owned dogs, reuniting displaced families with their animals. Since Maria, we have reunited over 200 families with their dogs.

What’s the most rewarding part of the work you do?

My personal fuel is the moment of rescue. To gain the trust of a dog that may have been abused or abandoned; that is frightened and alone. That second when they look at you and they know you are there to help them. When you can pick them up and tell them that they are safe now. That is everything and is why I will always, always go back for the next one.

How can people help?

There is always something that people can do. Donations are key—we cannot operate without them, and we receive zero financial help from the Government of Puerto Rico.

You can adopt.

If you can’t adopt, foster.

If you can’t foster, donate.

If you can’t donate, volunteer.

If you can’t volunteer, spread the word!

The more people that know about our work = the more people that can help.