As Hurricane Delta closed in on Mexico’s Yucatán 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.”
It all started with 6 October social media post. 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 (30km) south-west of Cancún, 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.
To keep the animals safe from the impending storm, he moved them inside. It took hours to lead the hundreds of canines indoors by leash.
Pimentel was so busy in the midst of the storm – the hurricane downed trees, knocked out power and prompted the evacuation of thousands of residents and tourists along the Yucatán peninsula’s resort-studded coast – that he was unaware that a photograph of his crowded house had gone viral on social media.
Afterward, he was surprised by the generosity of people from around the world who donated thousands of dollars.
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 US.
Pimentel gets help from workers, volunteers and family, including his 20-year-old daughter Luna, who is studying to become a veterinarian. Whenever he feels overwhelmed and needs inspiration to continue his mission, he looks at photos of rescue dogs who found a new home.
“We would like to think that thanks to all this attention, somebody would like to be part of the story and say: ‘I adopted a dog saved from that famous Hurricane Delta.’”