Puerto Rico has a major problem with stray animals. An estimated 500,000 dogs and 1 million cats roam the streets waiting to receive proper care. University of Delaware student and proud Puerto Rican Stephanie Bayron paints a picture of unwanted animals that is not for the faint of heart.
“’Dead Dog Beach’ got its name from being a dumping ground for unwanted animals and home to dozens of strays,” said Bayron, a UD Class of 2023 animal science major. “This beach may have one of the largest concentrations of homeless animals, but stray dogs and cats can be found in almost every corner of my island.”
While she rescued her own puppy Maya from that fate, Bayron is wholly focused on changing this reality for many more of these animals. After graduating from UD, she plans to head to veterinary school where she will specialize in shelter medicine. For the inadequate number of shelters that do exist in Puerto Rico, overcrowding is a fact of life. Most shelters hire external veterinarians to assess and treat the animals. With her pioneering spirit, Bayron wants to work directly for a shelter, which is much more common in Delaware than it is at home.
“Reducing the number of stray animals reduces disease outbreaks; addressing overbreeding and overpopulation is so critical,” Bayron said. “In Puerto Rico, we don’t have proper educational campaigns. You need people that work with and in underdeveloped communities. We must educate people on how important this is.”
Bayron’s cultural identity is a pillar of her personal and academic success; she wants that identity represented in the veterinary field. The lack of Hispanic veterinary practitioners, who comprise a mere 5% of the field, is a driving force for the UD senior, who is working hard to become an example for younger students.
“Diversity and inclusion are important to me when forming professional relationships because it allows me to connect with people from different backgrounds,” said Bayron. “This diversity of knowledge and experience is what allows science to advance. In the case of veterinary medicine, it allows us to serve a greater portion of the population, therefore advancing public and animal health.”
But Bayron is not waiting for her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree to make a difference. She volunteers for shelters and related organizations that provide care to underserved communities. Bayron is eager to help with vaccination events and spay and neuter clinics.
As a high school student, Bayron said, she knew nothing about UD nor its vaunted Department of Animal and Food Sciences. She looked into the University on the advice of a college counselor.
“I took a tour of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) with a UD ag ambassador. The hands-on experiences made me apply,” said Bayron, who attended Dorado Academy. “The facilities and the campus sold me. I chose UD over larger schools. I felt like I could make a home here.”