The Miami-Dade County Commission on Tuesday accepted a groundbreaking plan to stop the killing of adoptable dogs and cats at the county shelter, and curb pet overpopulation.
Commissioner Jose “Pepe’’ Diaz, the measure’s sponsor, said he would follow up with legislation authorizing Mayor Carlos Gimenez to budget the money that a $10-per-$100,000 property tax increase will generate for animal welfare, perhaps as much as $20 million annually.
The increase got overwhelming public support when it appeared on the November ballot as a nonbinding question. Commissioners had agreed to let voters be their guide in the matter, and nearly 65 percent of all who voted, some 500,000 people, sided with the animals.
“The citizens said, at the end of the day, ‘We’ll pay a little more,’’’ Diaz said. “It was very clear.’’
The plan, which Animal Services Director Alex Muñoz assembled, proposes widely available free and low-cost sterilizations and responsible pet ownership programs as the best the way to achieve the “no kill’’ goal that commissioners set last summer.
“For the first time in history, there is a solution to stop killing 20,000 adoptable animals [in Miami-Dade], which has been going on for decades,’’ said Rita Schwartz, the South Miami furniture-store owner who co-founded Pets Trust Miami, the grassroots group that promoted the ballot question.
She and other animal advocates sported red paw-print bandannas, and left the commission chambers elated at the 12-0 vote.
Commissioner Sally A. Heyman, who heads the Public Safety and Animal Services Committee and supported the plan, was unable to make the meeting because of a personal issue.
Despite her vote, Commissioner Barbara Jordan wondered if spending millions on animals made sense when she’s getting calls from elderly feeding programs short on money and “we have to cut 400 slots in Head Start because of sequester.’’
Animal Services would get much of the money to beef up its veterinary staff, keep its mobile spay/neuter van on the road seven days a week, put more examining tables in the new shelter it plans to open in January, and educate the public on how to treat their pets so that fewer animals wind up at the shelter.
Nonprofit rescue groups also would be able to apply for grants. An advisory board would make recommendations to the commission, which would decide which groups’ projects to fund and periodically review the plan’s effectiveness.
But missing from the final plan was a provision that animal activists considered crucial: dedicated, high-volume spay/neuter clinics in low-income parts of town with few veterinary hospitals.
After the South Florida Veterinary Medical Association opposed the clinics, Heyman’s committee axed the provision.
The vets’ group said that its 167 member clinics could handle an extra 1,500 weekly sterilizations, which Muñoz and Pets Trust say must be done to advance the “no kill’’ agenda.
The county wants to bring the “save rate’’ for cats and dogs at the shelter to 90 percent, and substantially slow the parade of animals into the shelter. Some animals are so sick or injured that for humane reasons, they must be euthanized, Muñoz said.