When they created the Miami-Dade Pets Trust initiative last winter, businessman Michael Rosenberg, retailer Rita Schwartz and marketing executive Lindsay Gorton hoped it might become a nationwide template for saving unwanted animals.
But there was no assurance that the idea might become reality. After all, to create it, the County Commission would have to impose a property-tax increase a tiny one of perhaps $20 a year for the average property owner, but a tax increase nonetheless.
One politician after another told Rosenberg it was never going to happen, but the Commission agreed to let the people decide, and on election day Nov. 6, voters overwhelmingly favored the measure in a straw vote.
On Thursday, the Commissions Public Safety and Health Committee took the next step, asking the mayor to report back in January on how an estimated $20 million in first-year Trust revenue would kick-start the countys no kill goal.
Even though their campaign succeeded, Trust founders want to keep more than 1,000 volunteers engaged and watchdogging the Commission.
Hours after the election, they launched a 10,001 Miamians drive to recruit activists wholl quickly respond if the effort gets bogged down in politics.
They also sought out national experts to advise on a Trust operations manual, which theyre offering to the mayor and commissioners so Miami-Dade can create it correctly, Rosenberg said.
The county shelter, run by Miami-Dade Animal Services, takes in some 37,000 unwanted cats and dogs per year. More than half are never adopted, rescued or reclaimed by their owners, and end their lives in shelters euthanasia room.
The Commissioners no-kill goal is to increase the shelters save rate to 90 percent, which both they and Animal Services administrators acknowledge is only possible through programs that the Trust would pay for.
We have a big problem: 20,000 deaths. It breaks your heart, said Commissioner Jose Pepe Diaz, who heads the Public Safety committee. Things are hard, but guess what, its an economic issue. Its fiscally responsible.
He said that every one [of his colleagues] understands that the people arent playing out there. For a lot of people, $20 is a lot of money. The biggest problem...was making them understand that the tax isnt there forever...The people voted on a limited tax for a limited time.
Diaz said he was amazed and surprised that the straw vote passed so handily, with 500,000 votes: 65 percent of all votes cast.
So was Rick DuCharme, who founded First Coast No More Homeless Pets 10 years ago in Jacksonville, and who has been informally advising Trust advocates.
When I first heard about it, I thought: Great idea. Aint gonna work. But they knew the problem, saw the problem, looked for a solution and found one...This will move animal welfare ahead at warp speed in Miami-Dade.
DuCharme added that if the effort goes fully through and succeeds and thats a lot of ifs it will be a model for the whole country. I dont see how it couldnt be.
An unpaid board, mainly the heads of time-tested pet rescue groups, experts in sheltering and animal welfare, will administer the Trust.