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North Hills Monthly

Local Couple Ends Up with Furry Reward while Taking Part in Hurricane Relief

Nov 30, 2017 01:20PM ● By Vanessa Orr

On Sept. 6, Hurricane Irma made landfall in the U.S. Virgin Islands, causing incredible devastation on the islands of St. John and St. Thomas. Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Irma came roaring through, decimating St. Croix, and causing massive damage to its neighbor to the west, Puerto Rico.

Four months later, all of these communities are still trying to recover, with a number of them still lacking basic necessities like working electricity, safe shelter, and the ability to communicate with the outside world. Many local people have stepped forward to help, sending shipments of generators, clothes and food to the islands, and holding fundraisers to raise money and garner attention for the people living in these U.S. territories.

Kathleen Ganster and her husband, Paul Sauers, are two such people. Longtime visitors to St. John, they decided to take matters into their own hands when they heard about the devastation in Coral Bay, which was directly in the eye of the hurricane. And while the goal was to send as many supplies as possible to their friends living there, they didn’t expect to receive anything back—especially not a puppy.

“We had no intention of getting another dog, but the Animal Care Center of St. John was completely overwhelmed with animals because many people fleeing the island had to leave their pets behind,” Ganster explained. “Often tourists who visit the island take pets back with them, but there’s no tourism because of the devastation. When I saw that they needed help on Facebook, I said that if they could get a puppy to Pittsburgh, I’d take her.”

Ganster worked with the St. John shelter and with the organization Pets with Wings Humane Society of St. Thomas. “Surprisingly, they had never worked together, despite the fact that they were on sister islands,” said Ganster. 

The puppy was taken by ferry to St. Thomas and stayed in a foster home overnight before a couple from Pittsburgh that was on the island volunteered to accompany the pup on her flight to her new home. 

“I have to laugh, because the puppy is so chill,” said Ganster, who named the dog Coral. “But you figure that she already lived through two Category 5 hurricanes.” Another dog from St. Thomas made the journey to Pennsylvania to land with a rescue in Washington County that had previously rescued dogs from the island.

Despite the fact that the hurricanes occurred months ago, it is still not easy to get things in or off of the islands, as Ganster found out. “After the hurricane, we tried to get in touch with our friend, Terry McKoy, an artist who lives on St. John and is originally from Point Breeze,” she explained. “It took us awhile to find out that he was okay, because they have no cell towers and no electricity, and communication is really sporadic.”

Through Facebook, they discovered that McKoy desperately needed a generator, so the Gansters and a group of friends pooled their resources to send him one. They bought it through a supplier in Florida, and a Florida contractor who did a lot of work in the islands picked it up and shipped it for free to St. John. 

“It took a long time to get there, because it had to go through Customs, and they were really backed up because of the hurricane,” said Ganster. “The crane that had to take the generator off the boat broke down, and then the Customs office closed for Columbus Day; I actually cried when I heard that it finally got there.” 

Since then, the couple has been helping to raise money and spread the word about how dire the situation is on the islands, including in St. John, where approximately 90 percent of the buildings were destroyed. “There is so much need right now, and it’s hard to ask people for money because there have been so many natural disasters lately that people are suffering from disaster fatigue,” Ganster said. “But every little bit helps.”

How Can You Help?

There are numerous things that you can do to help the Caribbean communities devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. To help St. John and the U.S. Virgin Islands, you can donate to the St. John Community Foundation (, St. John Rescue ( or the Animal Care Center of St. John (

While cash is always helpful because it can be routed to where it can best be used more quickly, you can also send boxes of supplies through the Adopt a Family program to both the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Find more information at

There are many other charities with campaigns underway as well. These include

• United for Puerto Rico 

• Hispanic Federation (

• International Medical Corps 

• One America Appeal (

• Direct Relief (

• Global Giving (

• Americares (