Barbara St. Aubin always has a can of dog food in her car.
The Redland resident sees a homeless dog on the street every day. She often tries to lure it to her car with the food in an effort to take one more dog off the streets and find it a home.
“There’s such a severe problem of homeless dogs down here,” said 47-year-old St. Aubin, founder of Homestead-based-dog-rescue organization This Is The Dog!
The homeless cat and dog problem has been plaguing South Florida for years: The Miami-Dade County animal shelter in Medley is so overcrowded that about 20,000 animals are put down annually through lethal injection. Other cats and dogs are dumped on South Florida streets where they often end up emaciated or covered in parasites.
“Sometimes people have no option but to take them to animal control or to let them take their chance on the street,” said Jamie Robinson, founder of Jamie’s Rescue near North Miami.
But there is a glimmer of hope. Pet-rescue organizations have been springing up throughout Miami-Dade County, where volunteers nurture homeless pets to health and get them adopted. Places like Jamie’s Rescue, Smitten with Kittens , Paws 4 You and This Is The Dog! rescue dogs from the county shelter and off the streets.
“Rescue work is not fun and games,” said St. Aubin. “It’s very hard day-to-day work. It’s one dog at a time that we are able to help. And really, what we are doing is nothing. There’s so much more.”
About two weeks after Jamie Robinson adopted a litter of puppies, all of them came down with parvo, a disease that causes depression, vomiting and diarrhea.
“It was a fortune to get them healthy,” said Robinson, 61, adding that it could cost about $700 to treat parvo in a puppy.
Like many other pet-rescue founders, Robinson supports the nonprofit herself with help from fundraising events and adoption fees.
And sometimes that is just not enough.
“My vet bills are off the chart,” she said. “I make no profit. I take them and get them healthy and spend the money.”
Paws 4 You rescue founder Carol Caridad described the same problem.
“It’s loss for me,” she said. “It’s on my credit.”
Caridad said she has had about $50,000 on credit cards at some points, and then pays it back by doing fundraising events. She her organization needs about $18,000 a month to cover things such as transportation, food, spaying and neutering, vaccines, microchips and paying four full-time staffers.
But that’s in a perfect world where dogs do not come down with distemper, parvo, ringworm and heartworm disease. For one year alone, she spent $68,000 on veterinary care.
“You are constantly getting thrown curve balls,” said 41-year-old Caridad, of Palmetto Bay, who works as a pharmaceutical representative for veterinarians. “So how do you balance financially? Well, you look at the dogs and you are like ‘We’ll figure it out’.”
Pet rescues are also restricted by county laws.
In Miami-Dade County, it is illegal to have more than four full-grown dogs on a residential property that is less than one acre.
So organizations like This Is The Dog! and Smitten with Kittens depend entirely on a network of foster caregivers who take care of one or two pets until a permanent home is found.