“Even if we start now, it will take about five years to get things under control,’’ Rosenberg said.
Animal Services Director Alex Munoz figures it will take even longer to change public consciousness about responsible pet ownership, perhaps a generation, as it did with recycling. One reason: Miami-Dade’s multi-cultural population.
“Here, a dog is part of your family. In other places, it’s not the same relationship. It’s an outdoor pet that rarely comes inside the house...This is a community issue. “We’re not making the animals’’ at the shelter. “They end up here from this community, and the community is part of the solution.’’
Kathleen Labrada, Animal Services’ Operations & Enforcement chief, said that a system-wide school curriculum would help. When she goes into schools for special events, she’ll ask: “‘How many have a dog?’ And every hand goes up,’’ Labrada said.
When she asks “How many live outside?,’’ 20 hands go up.
“‘How many have a dog house?’’’ she asks, and four hands go up.
“You talk about how your dog gets hot, thirsty and tired like you do,’’ Labrada said. “Those kids are reaching their parents.’’
Yleana Escobar, who runs the veterinary technician program at Felix Varela High School, hopes that Trust-supported awareness programs will attack the cultural myths that cause so much animal misery in Miami-Dade.
Her students show Friends Forever rescue dogs at weekly adoption events and care for them as part of their training.
They’ve seen animals with their ears and tails docked with scissors and knives. Dogs covered in ticks, maggots and mange. They find boxes of puppies in Dumpsters, kittens tossed in canals.
“I’ve seen...dogs hit by cars and instead of taking them to the vet, they take home and let the bacteria grow until the animal rots,’’ Escobar said. “I’ve seen ropes embedded into their necks where you have to surgically remove them.’’
She has one word for this sort of behavior: “Stupid.’’
Even stupider, said Adrian Diaz, one of 14 Animal Services officers who respond to complaints and pick up strays across the county: the “machismo thing’’ that clashes with the spay/neuter message.
“People think it takes away their manhood. Even if you explain the health benefits, they don’t understand. I’ve seen people have their dogs neutered then put in [prosthetic testicles]. That’s the freakin’ dumbest thing I’ve heard of in my life.’’
Diaz issues citations for wandering and tethered dogs, outlawed pit bulls, failure to give vet care and other infractions in gritty areas of north Miami-Dade. One September day, police called him to the scene of reported gunfire, where they found two protective pit bull-type dogs and a litter of puppies.
Diaz realized the owner was the same man who’d been trying to sell the puppies on Craig’s List, which is illegal without a breeder’s license. He tells the man he can give the puppies away but can’t charge for them and issues a written warning.
The same day, Diaz spent half an hour trying unsuccessfully to catch an elusive female American bulldog running through Miami Gardens. She’d recently had puppies, and Diaz theorized that someone sold the puppies and dumped the mother.
At another stop, he found an attention-starved Labrador mix in the fenced yard of an abandoned house. A neighbor said he’d been feeding the dog. Because the dog was not in serious distress, Diaz couldn’t remove him from private property without leaving a 48-hour citation.
“In two days that piece of paper will still be there and we’ll come get the dog,’’ he said. (It was, and they did).
At another stop, he carried a frightened brindle mutt from someone’s lawn to his truck. The resident had called in a stray complaint.
“We’ve been running him off all week,’’ the man said.
As he filled out paperwork, Diaz named the dog Mortimer.
“He’ll get adopted,’’ Diaz predicted. “Who couldn’t love that little striped face?’’
Mortimer was one of the lucky ones. He was transferred to the Humane Society of Greater Miami Adopt-a-Pet, which guarantees adoption or lifetime care.