A group of coworkers were strolling down a beach when they noticed a stinking heap of garbage. But as they went to walk past the trash, one of them noticed it was moving. And what they discovered hiding within the pile would break all of their hearts.
Those colleagues all worked at The Sato Project, a dog rescue organization based on the island of Puerto Rico. The project gets its name from Sato Beach, which is otherwise known as “Dead Dog Beach;” it earned its rather gruesome moniker after it became a popular dumping place for the island’s stray dogs.
Local owners often get rid of their dogs because they can no longer afford to keep them. However, once the animals are on the street they can breed easily. That’s because in Puerto Rico it is not the custom to neuter canines; many people believe, in fact, that it’s cruel to take an animal’s “manhood.”
So, The Sato Project has attempted to tackle this problem with a two-pronged approach. First, it saves dogs: since 2011, in fact, it has rescued more than 1,600 pooches. Its dedicated team of staff then rehabilitate the animals before finding them homes with caring families.
Furthermore, since 2016 The Sato Project has run its “Spay, Neuter, Vaccine and Microchip” scheme. By providing this vital service for the animals of Puerto Rico, the organization hopes to make a long-term difference on the island. Then, maybe, Sato Beach can lose its “dead dog” reputation.
However, attitudes among some locals still need to be changed for that to happen. And that became evident in April 2016 when the project dealt with one of their most heartbreaking cases yet. It all began when The Sato Project’s founder Chrissy Beckles was doing her rounds with some colleagues.
When out on Sato Beach, however, one of the group noticed that a heap of garbage seemed to be moving. That’s when they stopped what they were doing and decided to take a closer look.
However, nothing could have prepared them for what they’d find in the trash. Because, as they investigated, they discovered a tiny puppy. Before long, moreover, they found another two. All three dogs were of a similar age and, at that point, were lucky to be alive.
“It was a really sad scene,” Beckles told The Dodo in an interview in July 2017. Indeed, according to the animal rescuer, their plight was an increasingly desperate one. “They were literally sitting in a pile of garbage. There was no food source, no water source and it was a hot day,” she added.
However, one of the three puppies – later named Maximus – was bigger than the others. In fact, he seemed not to be from the same litter as his two fellow abandoned animals. “I don’t know whether they were dumped together, or they just kind of found each other,” Beckles said to The Dodo.
Yet even though they might not have shared the same parentage, Maximus had seemingly taken on the responsibility of watching over his smaller buddies. “He was just kind of the big brother,” Beckles explained. “They were all very, very bonded. It’s definitely an illustration of how these doggies look out for each other.”
Despite the role Maximus had assumed, though, he was apparently the worst off of the trio. For instance, as Beckles watched the little dog moving around, she noticed that he had a serious problem with his hind legs. As a result, he was having difficulty moving.
“I kind of stood him up to see if he could walk, and he was very wobbly,” Beckles revealed to The Dodo. “He was kind of moving sideways, a little bit crab-like, rather than moving forward. I can’t even imagine what kind of pain this little doggy was in.”
However, brave Maximus didn’t seem to let any discomfort he may have been feeling get to him at all. His biggest worry, it seemed, was making sure that his little friends were okay. “He kept going back to his adorable charges,” Beckles added. But his strong demeanor belied the agony he must have been experiencing.
And when Beckles got Maximus and the other puppies to a vet, an X-ray uncovered the magnitude of his injuries. “Very sadly, he had two broken back legs, and on one leg, pretty much every single bone was destroyed,” Beckles said. “The worst of it was his femur, which had kind of been snapped in half and was completely out of alignment with itself, so it wasn’t a clean break.”
Unfortunately, there was no way of getting to the bottom of what had happened to Maximus. Beckles has said, however, that all clues point to the possibility that he had been run over. Whatever the cause of Maximus’ broken legs, though, they led the vet to brace Beckles for a horrible possibility: the limbs may have to be amputated.
But Beckles was unwilling to give up on the determined little pup. So, she and her coworkers put soft casts on his legs and hoped for the best. They also switched the supports every week and took an X-ray of the legs every other week. Those loving measures, moreover, led to a breakthrough.
That’s because, just five weeks after Maximus had first made that trip to the vet with Beckles, his legs healed to the point that the casts were able to be taken off. And in time, he managed to walk once more. “He’s about 35 pounds now, and he’s beautiful,” Beckles revealed to The Dodo. “He’s such a happy, happy guy – he really, really is. His rehabilitation has been pretty much nothing short of a miracle.”
And the good news didn’t end there. Once the vets discharged Maximus from the animal clinic, he went to live in a foster home. After that, it wasn’t long before he found someone to love him permanently. So, in July 2017 he was being prepared to fly to the United States, where he’d finally have a home of his own.
It was the happy ending that Beckles had always dreamed of for Maximus. “He’s going to be able to swim in the ocean with his new family, and they’re going to take him to water therapy as well to help strengthen his legs,” she told The Dodo. “We’re over the moon.”