As the dangerous Hurricane Delta closed in on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Ricardo Pimentel opened his home to about 300 dogs. There were plenty of other critters too: Dozens of cats were harbored in his son’s room; his daughter’s room served as a refuge for chicks, bunnies, and even a hedgehog; a patio became a haven for a flock of sheep. Not surprisingly, the house smelled terrible, he says. But it was worth it: All survived the storm.
“It doesn’t matter if the house is dirty, it can be cleaned,” he says. “The things they broke can be fixed or bought again, but what’s beautiful is to see them happy, healthy, and safe, without wounds and with the possibility of being adopted. ” Pimentel told friends he had cut branches and boarded up windows at the Tierra de Animales (Land of Animals) shelter he founded nearly a decade ago about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southwest of Cancun, where he also lives with his family. He warned of the hurricane’s devastating power. Concerned that stores might remain shut after the storm, leading to food shortages, he asked for donations. “If I lived with just 10 or 20 dogs, I wouldn’t worry much, but here we have hundreds of animals and we can’t afford the luxury of not having enough food,” he said.
He was surprised by the generosity of people from around the world who donated thousands of dollars. It was, he said, perhaps the biggest fundraising moment since he founded Tierra de Animales. And local residents stepped forward to help clean up the damage at the shelter. Some Tierra de Animales dogs were rescued from dogfighting rings or were left unable to stand after being brutally beaten. Over the years, many have been adopted by families in Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. Pimentel gets help from workers, volunteers, and family, including 20-year-old daughter Luna, who is studying to become a veterinarian. Whenever he feels overwhelmed and needs the inspiration to continue his mission, he looks at photos of rescue dogs who found a new home.