Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lauren Laughlin
Helping others and saving lives is what being a member of the Coast Guard is all about. Though Coast Guardsmen and women love their jobs, hearing the pipe of liberty, liberty, liberty is music to their ears. But for one Coast Guardsman, the liberty pipe is the sound to start his other mission.
Lt. Davey Connor, a public information officer on his second deployment to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, is saving the lives of as many “satos” or feral dogs as he can.
Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017. It ravaged the island for more than 30 hours, with winds lashing up to 175 mph and enough rain to cause catastrophic flooding. Businesses and homes were destroyed and people left in a hurry, many leaving behind their pets.
Connor has been deployed from Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville to help the people of Puerto Rico, twice now. The first time he was there, he learned of the problem of satos. Currently the island has more than 100,000 homeless dogs. Connor and his wife, Angelina Rugghia, adopted one of these satos and named him Valiente, Spanish for “the brave one.”
Rugghia, a nurse, has also responded to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the storm. After bringing Valiente home to the United States, they decided to help address the growing problem of satos in the commonwealth by finding them homes.
“Because of the hurricane, the shelters are overwhelmed,” said Connor. “Many owners had to leave their pets behind when they lost their homes, but I’m here with connections to dozens of homes on the mainland, so why not try to make a connection for good?”
This week, Connor and Rugghia found two black Labrador mix breed dogs homes in Florida. A local colleague delivered Blacky and Tanque to him on Wednesday night and then loaded them onto an airplane early Thursday morning. One of the adopting dog parents brought the pups home from the Tampa airport, where they quickly acclimated to a lush backyard and plenty of dog toys.
“The two dogs we found homes for this week were feral dogs,” said Connor. “They were so cute and friendly, it was hard not to keep them.”
Connor, Rugghia and other volunteers work to find dogs homes throughout the country, ensure they have the vaccines necessary for travel, purchase kennels, collars, food, travel necessities, and pay the airline fees. He continues to collect funds via a GoFundMe page.
“He and Angie have hearts of gold,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Yaw, who worked with Connor in Cleveland. “A few years ago, he brought home two homeless kittens with the intent on helping them find homes, but they bonded and now he has two cats and a new dog.”
Every dog brought to the states by Connor and volunteers has a home ready for them.
In his spare time, Connor posts to social media and makes phone calls to find homes for the dogs or monetary help for transportation. Rugghia posts flyers and spreads the word on the mainland to help the homeless animals.
“All I have to say is that this is Davey and it’s one of the many reasons I love him,” said Rugghia. “It doesn’t matter the hour or if he’s tired… If he can help he will. He’s always said I was the bleeding heart, but I think he can’t deny he is too now. Anything for the puppies!”
Others are volunteering as well. While Blacky and Tanque found their fur-ever homes, their kennel mates Cinnamon, Buddy and Luke are being sent to a no-kill shelter in Massachusetts.
Connor says his next step in helping the satos is to find a volunteer with an airplane with the goal of bringing home 50 dogs in a single trip.
“It’s tough to convince somebody to adopt a dog they’ve only seen online, but I haven’t met one that wasn’t full of love,” said Connor.
Connor, a 2006 marine science major graduate of the Coast Guard Academy, served on active duty for 10 years before transitioning to the Reserves, which he says he enjoys because “you get called to serve when the Coast Guard and your fellow citizens need you the most.”
Helping the satos, he says, is “a good way to unwind after long days protecting Puerto Rico’s citizens and coastlines.”