• Pilar Thorn

Helping Hands for Hounds of Honduras-Happy 25th Anniversary!

For the 25th anniversary of Helping Hands for Hounds of Honduras, I wrote down some thoughts about how things have changed in Honduras since I started rescuing dogs.


HHHH's 25th anniversary logo, thank you to Ana Maria

From 1969 until 1996, I carried food around to feed street dogs and rescued a few in bad shape with mange, distemper, and broken bones. At first, I thought I could return them to the street after they were healthy, but I failed at that the one and only time I tried!


I had rescued a big shepherd, very thin and with mange, going through the garbage at the university. One of his eyes was hanging out of its socket near his cheek. I named him Pirata, got him neutered, had his eye removed, cured his mange, and fattened him up. Then I put him in the car to take him back where I found him. I left him and tried to sneak back to my car. He ran around looking for me and crying. It broke my heart, so I came out of hiding. He came running and wagging his tail. He was adopted by a friend of neighbor Letty and lived a long and happy life.


Once I moved into my current home in 1984, with a large yard, I had room to bring dogs here and keep them until they were placed in permanent homes. And if they couldn't be placed, they have a forever home here.

In 1996, when both my children moved to the US to live, I started the Helping Hands for Hounds of Honduras Sanctuary. Of course, I was still working as an ornithology professor at UNAH, so I had to balance my rescue work and the Sanctuary with my university responsibilities. But you know how it goes-first there were 4 rescued dogs, then 6, then 12. My animal - loving niece, Nereida Montes de Oca, helped me with many rescues (Nere is in the picture below on the right).

Starting around 1996, Nere and I noticed that there were more and more dead and dying dogs along the streets of Tegucigalpa, many abandoned by their owners, many hit by cars and left to die. You couldn't go out without seeing young dogs on the streets, suffering from malnutrition, scrounging for food. They just needed good food, medicated baths, long rests, and lots of TLC. And these dogs would make amazing recoveries.


Nere, and also her daughters, worked with me often, rescuing dogs and some cats until Nere's premature death in January 2006. From a little girl, Nere always loved and rescued stray animals. Nere and her family adopted several dogs from the Sanctuary. Only Whisky, a black terrier, is left. In her honor, I renamed the sanctuary, the Nereida Montes de Oca Sanctuary.


When I started more actively rescuing dogs, there was only one other rescue group, ASHAA, which I worked with for almost a year. As of 2021, there are over 25 rescue groups in Honduras. At least 5, in addition to HHHH, have shelters. A few of the rescues find foster homes for the animals and they provide veterinary care. Some animal welfare organizations focus on spay and neuter.


Typically, I've had about 25 dogs and 5 cats at the Sanctuary (and usually some birds). Although I didn't start out aiming to have a rehab-hospice type of facility, I decided that was what was most needed--a sanctuary that could provide intensive care in needy situations, and if necessary, for those who are unadoptable or unadopted, I could keep the dogs and cats for life.


Lots of the people who help in rescuing dogs and cats are biologists and my former students, like Karen Abadie and Mónica Gálvez. I've held several animal health care training sessions for interested biology students and and many of them have become animal rescuers themselves.


As the years have passed, more and more young people have become involved in animal rescue and with the proliferation of cell phones, any time a needy animal is seen, a network of people communicate to help. What a difference from when I began, when I was one of the only people concerned about hungry or injured dogs and cats roaming the streets and the cruelty meted out to them.

One noticeable change over these 25 years is the treatment of pets. Although animals are still mistreated and abandoned, it's much more common now for people to buy packaged food in dry form and cans. Before, cats were fed cow's lungs and dogs were fed ground-up waste from chicken processing, including heads, feet, and feathers. Now you find many more people take their pets to the vet to get their shots, to be s/n, and to buy meds when they are sick. People buy collars, leashes, clothes, houses, beds, toys, treats and lots of things to make their pets comfortable.


As far as the Sanctuary, people constantly call or come over for medical advice. Sadly, too many people are still allowing their pets to breed, so people come over offering me puppies or kittens or abandon them here. Still most of the dogs at the Sanctuary

with the exception of Bunny, Dobby, and Dot, are senior dogs, more than 8 or 9 years old. Several of the dogs are also special needs (very hard to adopt out here in Honduras). Pixie has a deformed and useless back leg, Odin and Andy are completely blind, and Kesia is blind in one eye. Bunny and Odin lack a leg, Bunny the front and Odin the back.


One of the happiest rescue/adoption stories of an HHHH dog is Maya's. Jennifer, Maya's adopter, wrote this in honor of HHHH's 25th anniversary:


Before I moved to Honduras in late 2016, I found Helping Hands for Hounds of Honduras online. I was a volunteer at a local animal rescue in Washington, DC and wanted to continue volunteering in some capacity in Tegucigalpa during my two-year posting there with the US Government. I met Pilar soon after arriving.


I wanted to help get some dogs adopted and asked Pilar if she would be interested in sending some dogs to a rescue in the U.S. She agreed and we chose Maya to be our pilot project. Maya came to stay with me 2 weeks before we were supposed to fly to the U.S. I fell in love with her but knew it would be best for her to go to the U.S. to find her own home since we already had 3 dogs.


On Memorial Day weekend, we flew to DC, and I dropped her off with her new foster family. I was so sad to leave her but felt like it was the right thing. About 30 minutes later, I received a phone call from the rescue. Maya had jumped the fence and ran away. I rushed back to the neighborhood and helped the foster family look for her.


After a few minutes, we saw her up ahead, standing in the middle of the road still wearing her pink harness and collar. "Maya," I yelled, and she turned her head towards me and broke out in a run in my direction. She jumped into my arms, kissing my face and knocking my glasses off. I knew then that she was my dog.


The next morning, we flew back to Honduras together. We had to go so far to discover what was obvious all along.



Maya is now a diplo-dog and has lived in Mexico, and now in the suburbs of Washington, DC. She's driven across the United States twice, visited Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, and even flown on an airplane in first class.



She sometimes acts like a cat, always loves to give kisses, and most recently enjoyed eating all of the cicadas that emerged in Brood X. She brings much joy to my life everyday, and I'm so grateful to Pilar for giving her a home at the Sanctuary and Andie for rescuing her from the mean streets of Tegucigalpa when she was pregnant.


Maya was very pregnant when rescued from the street and had 9 puppies at the Sanctuary

Here's another story in honor of HHHH's 25th anniversary, this one by fellow rescuer, Ana Marie: