On Tuesday, Miami-Dade County Commissioners are likely to approve a plan to keep unwanted cats and dogs out of the county shelter’s death chamber, taking a giant step toward a goal that longtime pet rescuers thought they’d never see: a public shelter that more animals leave alive than in body bags.
The plan is Animal Services Department Director Alex Muñoz’s blueprint for achieving the “no kill’’ objective that the county commission adopted last July, defined as a 90 percent “save rate.’’
The vehicle to enable this breakthrough: an estimated $20 million budget boost from a property-tax increase that nearly 65 percent of voters — 500,000 — supported in a non-binding straw vote last November.
It would cost the average property owner $20 a year, or $10 for every $100,000 of value. Among other things, it would pay for more veterinarians and vet techs at Animal Services, more off-site adoption events, and keep a mobile clinic on the road seven days a week.
Nonprofits would be able to submit grant proposals for projects such as responsible pet-ownership education programs and rescuer stipends to an advisory board that would then make recommendations to the commission. The commission would decide which projects to fund.
A grassroots coalition called Pets Trust Miami campaigned to put the straw-ballot question before voters, then gave Muñoz its research. He included much of it in the plan that commissioners are expected to approve.
Pets Trust Miami is a nonprofit that got no public funding. It will not control the advisory board or decide who gets tax money.
The plan’s cornerstone is making free and low-cost spay/neuter widely available, to curb overpopulation and reduce the number of animals entering the shelter: up to 37,000 a year, many of them feral cats from a population estimated at more than 400,000.
But stripped from the plan is Muñoz’s and the Pets’ Trust plan to have several high-volume clinics that would have done nothing but spay/neuter in low-income areas where there are few veterinarians.
This happened after a lobbyist for the South Florida Veterinary Medical Association told commissioners at the June 12 Public Safety and Animal Services Committee meeting that his clients objected to the clinics.
At that session, only one commissioner objected to the plan: District 3’s Audrey Edmonson, who wondered why her colleagues are willing to raise taxes for animals while cutting human services like “affordable housing, services to the needy and poor children and elders.’’
But she said she’d ultimately support it because “the voters voted for it.’’
The vets’ lobbyist, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a member of the Florida senate and a former Miami-Dade County Commissioner, told the committee that Miami-Dade’s 167 veterinary hospitals would be able to handle extra sterilizations and that vets favor a voucher system.
Both the Muñoz and Pets Trust organizers figure that vets would need to perform at least 1,500 sterilizations weekly to keep the “no kill’’ goal on track.
Michael Rosenberg, Pets Trust co-founder, said it was great that the vets agreed to accept the responsibility, but he questioned whether most could handle the extra load or would willingly pass up lucrative private patients to work on voucher cases.