Camp Canine, Tania Isenstein

Sean Adams/WCBS 880

Stories From Main Street: Former Lawyer On Mission To Help Abandoned Dogs In Puerto Rico Find New Homes

October 29, 2018 - 3:36 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- A year after Hurricane Maria it is still a struggle in Puerto Rico -- especially for animals who once had a home.

Tania Isenstein is a New Yorker on a mission to help rescue the abandoned dogs of Puerto Rico.

She once was a corporate lawyer for one of the largest investment banks in the world and gave it all up in order to follow her passion -- caring for dogs.

"It was a grind, I didn't enjoy it and finally after about 20 years I realized that I needed to do something I enjoyed," Isenstein said. "One thing in life always makes me happy and that is dogs."

Nacho, her loyal 6-year-old Shar Pei mix, is the unofficial mayor of Isenstein's Upper West Side doggie day care and boarding facility, Camp Canine, which now also doubles as a temporary shelter for other rescued dogs from Puerto Rico.

"He was found in a parking lot down in Puerto Rico," Isenstein said. "I didn't intend to adopt him, he was one of our many foster dogs, and we just kind of fell in love."

Nacho and Mario -- dogs rescued from Puerto Rico
Sean Adams/WCBS 880

She said before Hurricane Maria there were close to half a million strays on the island.

"Since the hurricane, that number has only gone up as families abandoned their pets, they lost their own homes, they often couldn't keep their pets, but also there's a different culture around pets down there than there is here," Isenstein said. "It's not a big spay and neuter culture."

As chair of Animal Lighthouse Rescue, Isenstein recently brought four Puerto Rican pooches to the United States, including Mario, a Chiweenie​ that loves to be cradled like a baby.

"That's why I ended up taking him because I picked him up down in the shelter and he just hung on to me. I put him on me and he clung. I said, 'We have to take this guy back, I can't leave him here" Isenstein said. "He was scared, he was drooling uncontrollably, shaking uncontrollably. Now he walks on the leash, he knows how to go to the bathroom outside in just a week."

Camp Canine rescues
Sean Adams/WCBS 880

In the stairwell at Camp Canine the walls are covered with more than 200 photographs of the dogs that have been rescued. 

For now, Isenstein's plan is to keep going back to Puerto Rico to save as many stray dogs as she can. And you can help too.

"We also are always looking for volunteers to foster dogs, take them into their homes like I've taken Mario in, and help get them some love in transition and training until they can get to their forever home," she said. "We need people to help walk our dogs. Frequently they stay here at camp and we need help getting them socialized and used to the sounds of the city."

Isenstein said they can also help arrange trips down to Puerto Rico for those interested in helping rescuing dogs off the streets.

In spite of adversity, there is something special about these dogs from Puerto Rico.

Isenstein said, "They have extra heart."