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One Woman's Mission: Saving Dogs In Danger After Natural Disasters

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- There are plenty of homeless dogs in New York, but in other places the situation is more dire.

Saving them is not cheap, but one woman chose a love for dogs over a love for money. She's the focus of this week's Snapshot New York with Steve Overmyer.

When CBS2 spent time with Tania Isenstein, she was waiting for a special delivery, a journey three months in the making, and the work is about to begin.

This isn't any canine rescue. Tania focuses on dogs in danger after natural disasters. She met "Laura," "Ashley" and "Wali" in Humacao, Puerto Rico.

MOREAbandoned Pets Get Private Flight Out of Hurricane-Stricken Puerto Rico

"When we met them in October they were pretty friendly. Laura went on her back and gave us belly and everything, immediately," Tania said.

Puerto Rico dogs
Laura and Ashley were rescued from Hurricane Maria-ravaged Puerto Rico and will soon by adopted by someone, possibly in New York City. (Photo: CBS2)

Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico in devastation. Most families lost their pets or let them fend for themselves. As a result, the stray dog population in Puerto Rico has skyrocketed from 200,000 to nearly 500,000.

"It kills me. You know, homeless dogs? I just can't. I can't not do something. Just thinking about it. Look at these poor babies. They just need love and care and I can relate to that. We all need that," Tania said.

Isenstein, in cooperation with Animal Lighthouse Rescue, is finding these dogs forever homes in New York City.

"They are tested thoroughly in Puerto Rico," she said. "We have a vet we work with down there who is fabulous. They've been spayed, neutered and vaccinated. In an abundance of caution we re-test. We're very careful about their health."

While Ashley is settling in, Laura is still anxious. But Wali is loving life. He woke up in Puerto Rico and by nightfall was walking the streets of Manhattan.

It costs about $1,000 per dog to get them to New York. Since the hurricane, Isenstein has overseen the rescue of more than 100 dogs, and her adoption rate is 100 percent.

"We're in a position here in New York, in Manhattan, to pull some resources and help them," she said. "They don't have the resources down there."

Puerto Rico dogs
Wali quickly adapted to life in the Big Apple after living for a long time in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico. (Photo: CBS2)

When asked if the dogs were pets or feral down on the island, Tania said, "These don't strike me as being someone's pet."

In seven days of training, cleaning and socializing, the dogs turned the corner.

"Laura and Ashley, they were, as you recall, quite nervous when they came in. They're still getting used to the sounds of New York, but at first we really couldn't even get them to go outside. Now they go on walks," Tania said.

Isenstein is an expert at transformation. For two decades she was a litigator in the financial world. Seven years ago she started her new life.

"I wasn't happy. I didn't want to be working at a place or doing something for a living that didn't feed my soul in some way or make me happy," she said.

The dogs will soon join the ranks of the 1 million pets in the city. Isenstein isn't just changing the lives of man's best friend, but also the families who adopt them -- all because she followed her passion.

"Everybody's gotta make their own decisions and trade-offs, but certainly if people did what they loved it'd be a better world all around," she said.

Isenstein goes to Puerto Rico every three months to find more homeless dogs to rescue. Her next trip is planned for next week.

For more information on Animal Lighthouse Rescue, please click here.

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