ALBION – Jennifer Stilwell was on a family vacation about four years ago in Puerto Rico when she saw dogs roaming the streets, beaches and parking lots. Many of the animals had also been hit by cars and were lying dead alongside roads.
The Stilwells were driving and noticed one emaciated dog in the street. Jennifer insisted the family stop and help the animal.
Stilwell is the owner of the Olde Dogge Inn in Albion. In the past four years she has helped adopt out 425 street dogs from Puerto Rico. In March, her organization received the final approval to be a non-profit organization.
MAD (Make A Difference) Rescue of Western NY has a shelter in Puerto Rico where dogs are nurtured back to health before they are brought to Albion. They are spayed, neutered and fed. Some receive heartworm medication and medical care. Some of the dogs also stay with foster families in Puerto Rico until MAD Rescue finds a home for them in WNY.
“It’s what makes me happy, just helping these dogs,” Stilwell said at Olde Dogge, which she opened in 2000 at 14472 Ridge Rd. “They have nobody else. When you see them going from laying half dead on the side of the road to watching the TV with a family, it is the best feeling.”
Stilwell estimated about half of the 425 dogs have been adopted by families in Orleans County, with many others accepted into homes in Buffalo, Rochester and Toronto. Some dogs have gone to families in Ithaca, Binghamton, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
She lists the animals on the Pet Finder website and typically spends two to three hours each evening reviewing applications and checking references. The MAD Dog Rescue Facebook page shows many of the newly adopted dogs with their smiling families.
Most weeks she finds homes for two dogs from Puerto Rico. But the past two weeks have been particularly busy because 32 dogs arrived on Aug. 3.
Those dogs were flown from San Juan to Miami. From there, a volunteer from Buffalo and his son drove the dogs in an air-conditioned vehicle to Albion.
Stilwell said the father and son are examples of the many devoted volunteers who make MAD Rescue possible. Other volunteers will pick up dogs at the Buffalo airport and drive them, sometimes late at night in the winter, to Albion.
Stilwell at first worked with “Save a Sato” in Puerto Rico. Satos are “street dogs” in Puerto Rico. In January, she got the final approval for MAD Rescue of WNY. She remains in contact with Save A Sato, but most of the dogs that reach Albion now come from MAD Rescue, which has two board members from Puerto Rico, who run the MAD Rescue site there.
Going on vacation to the island four years ago was an eye-opener that pulled on Stilwell’s heart.
“Dogs there are not viewed like family members like dogs are here,” she said. “The shelters are full and you see dogs all over. Even on the beach, there are dogs all around you. You see them dead by the side of the road, like you see deer here.”
The hurricane about a year ago exacerbated the street dog problem in Puerto Rico, Stilwell said. Many families fled the island and couldn’t take their dogs with them.
Stilwell is committed to the cause, to finding loving homes for the animals. She is looking to retire from owning the Olde Dogge, hopefully not too far into the future, and would like to devote more time to MAD Rescue.
“These dogs need us,” she said.
For more on MAD Rescue, click here.