Last week, I visited Puerto Rico for the first time. It offered the opportunity to see how one place can simultaneously offer beauty and despair, and how one person who takes action makes a difference in the lives of many.
This U.S. territory is a beautiful Caribbean island rectangular in shape, approximately 100 miles long by 35 miles wide. The tropical views and warm weather are idyllic. Yet the island is dealing with some challenges that are not as pretty as the landscape. As a tourist, it’s not immediately easy to see the dire financial crisis, nor the struggles of its residents. We stayed at a beachfront property that was bustling with activity. Over the weekend, the beach was packed with local families having fun. Dads helps kids build sand castles, young people were playing toss, and the ocean waters were bursting with exuberant swimmers splashing around. The air was filled with happiness, nothing else. At night, we enjoyed tasty meals at busy area restaurants and on Friday, we toured the El Yunque tropical rainforest, all of it delightful.
A drive two hours inland to the mountains told another story. My husband and I ventured out to a remote area southwest of San Juan. As we neared our destination of Villalba, nature still offered beautiful vistas but living conditions and commercial areas were not prospering. Off the main highway, the roads were winding and houses were in varying degrees of disrepair. The roads were paved but presented some unusual obstacles, such as wandering wild chickens with their broods-in-toe, a small pony blocking the lane, even full-size jersey barriers to indicate a sink hole (making it a challenge for one car to go around, never mind two!).
A safe haven for animals
We were headed to the shelter where Grace had been rescued, many years ago, I’ve always had a curiosity about the place my Puerto Rican street dog had her start and I was eager to visit. The directions were fine, but the signage was not, so we had to call for clarification in order to arrive at the right spot.
Bonnie Lukas, founder of Second Chance Animal Rescue, greeted us at the roadside so we could find the driveway. As we pulled it, we saw lots of fencing, a couple cars, and a beautiful view of the mountains. Here, Bonnie has created a safe haven for dogs and some cats that is nothing short of amazing. Bonnie opened the gate to the first fenced area, and we were greeted with wagging tails and voices of about 30 dogs. Talk about a warm welcome! In total, Bonnie cares for 100 dogs, each assigned a specific area appropriate to the dog’s age, size, demeanor, and physical needs. At one time, this was the home of Bonnie’s parents; now it is home to Puerto Rico’s luckiest residents: animals that would otherwise have perished or continued life scavenging and wandering. Here they receive food, shelter, companionship, and medical care.
She talks candidly of the issues she faces. Attitudes and action towards animals can be gruesome. Dogs and cats are found mistreated or neglected. Money is tight. Life is hard. But despite the daily significant challenges, Bonnie doesn’t sit and stew about it. She takes action.
Taking action despite overwhelming odds
Puerto Rico has similarities to many workplaces. There are a lot of good things happening on this island, just like within your organizations. Along with the positive, there are also areas that need improvement and no doubt that can get overwhelming–especially if you’ve been fighting that uphill battle for a long time. We need leaders who will cut through the challenges and take action, despite being faced with overwhelming odds.
Bonnie’s level of commitment is what stands out in my mind. Year after year, she devotes her energies round the clock. She climbs an uphill battle daily, but she carries on, despite those obstacles. That is not easy, but it matters. It matters to Grace, who otherwise probably would not have survived. It matters to me because of the impact Grace has had on my perspective for all relationships. I imagine I speak for hundreds who feel the same way; both dogs and humans who have some connection with this sanctuary.
It is a model we can all learn from. When faced with overwhelming odds, do what you can to take action. It matters to many.