In the past decade, pet rescue has become a popular trend in South Florida. Local philanthropists have made Miami Dade Humane Society fundraising events the "not-to-miss" social calendar experiences, attracting a Who's Who in Miami to the guest lists. Pet rescue is now a priority for many - a cause celebre for not only the rich and famous.
I rarely have training customers these days who don't say that they have rescued their dogs. They share stories of finding them wandering the streets, or waiting wide-eyed to be adopted at a shelter. Stretching the definition of the term, many describe window shopping at pet stores, and feeling so sorry for puppies, like $1,000 Shih Tzus there that have outgrown their cramped quarters, that they "rescue" them. People love to feel good about giving a dog or cat a better life than it had before; the only thing that trumps that feeling is their knowing that they have saved it from the euthanasia needle.
What has also become popular is throwing around the phrase, “no-kill shelter”. No-kill shelters simply don’t exist. A shelter is either a private facility or a public one. Private shelters have limitations on the number of animals they accept, so lack of space never becomes a criterion for euthanasia. Miami Dade Humane Society and most breed rescue groups fall into this category. These private shelters euthanize pets that have un-adoptable temperaments or health conditions that cannot easily be cured. Public shelters, on the other hand, don’t refuse animals; therefore, lack of space becomes a criterion for euthanasia, along with temperament and health. Animal Services Department (ASD) is a public shelter, and for years has carried the burden of the moniker, “kill shelter”. The fact is that ASD has space for only 400 animals. According to ASD spokesperson Xiomara Mordcovich:
4,000 animals came into the shelter in May 2009, and an additional 4,000 in June 2009. Some fortunate ones were transferred to rescue groups and humane societies, but due to limited space, ASD was forced to euthanize many adoptable pets.
It’s no secret that the Animal Services has worn a scarlet letter of sorts. As part of the overburdened Police Department, the “pound” was almost an afterthought, clearly in need of a complete overhaul. Mordcovich states that in 2004, The Humane Society of the United States presented county commissioners their conclusions in an investigative report, addressing 580 points of needed improvements. Part of their findings was the recommendation to create an independent department, with a new administration to put into practice standard operating procedures that had been missing from day to day business. Miami Dade County government listened, and in 2005, a new director, veterinarian Dr. Sara Pizano took helm, guiding the newly independent ASD through a myriad of positive changes.
Staff is now better trained and the organization is being run like a business. A formal volunteer program was established in 2006. Stress-relief improvements were put into place, such as installation of sound-proofing in adoption areas, purchasing beds and toys, and building an air-conditioned cat room separate from the dog area. In 2008, microchipping of adoptable animals was introduced and has greatly improved lost and found procedures. Also that year, vaccination of dogs at intake began, and has substantially reduced infectious disease in the kennels. New corporate partnerships were forged; a 2-for-1 cat adoption program began; outreach initiatives were put into place, such as advertising campaigns that have increased visibility and thus adoptions; even the Animal Planet reality show “Miami Animal Cops” has helped carve out a new face for ASD.
With these improvements in place and at work, there has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of adoptions over the last four years. In the fiscal year 2008-2009, 8,328 animal were adopted, which was up 177% from 2005, while intake of animals increased 24%; 3,888 animals were transferred to rescue groups and humane shelters; 1,486 pets were returned to their owners (out of 30,000 strays annually). Mordcovich is quick to point out that as hopeful as these numbers are becoming, ASD has a long way to go. The truth is, in FY 2008-2009, over 37,000 animals were received at ASD – that’s about 100 animals per day surrendered by owners or picked up as strays. Of the 37,000, 7,000 to 8,000 were surrendered by their owners and 30,000 were strays. 21,367 were euthanized; broken down that’s 893 puppies, 1,676 kittens, 8,118 dogs and 10,643 cats. Makes you sick, doesn’t it?
These numbers CAN be reduced. Of those 30,000 strays brought into ASD last year, many were beloved pets that could have been reunited with their owners if only they had been microchipped. ASD is getting the word out about microchipping and is offering low cost microchip implantation and registration for $10. Microchipping can not only help find a pet in case it is lost, but it can save its life. If a lost pet enters the ASD system and has been chipped, it won’t become part of the euthanasia stat.
ASD also offers free spay and neuter programs. Besides microchipping pets, neutering can greatly reduce those euthanasia numbers as well.
Surprisingly, only 20-30% of the ASD budget is county funded; 80% of funds are self-generated by license tag fees, citations and donations. All donations are put into the Animal Services Trust Fund, and are used for spay/neuter programs, bedding and toys, microchipping and public awareness programs.
Mordcovich says ASD hopes to someday move to a different location, to a more user-friendly space, one that can handle more animals and thus save more lives; but it’s obvious they have already moved - into the 21st century, that is. Join their group on facebook.