On Saturday morning, Cutler Bay residents Julio and Dayling Natera left their house with 3-year-old Joshua to buy some paint. But the Nateras came back with a little bit more than they had bargained for: they took home wriggly Moe, a Labrador-retriever puppy born a little more than two months ago in the county shelter.
Their errand took a detour when Dayling noticed some pop-stands across the way from the paint store in the Harley-Davidson parking lot right off U.S. 1. Among the vendors was one unlike the others – the county’s brand new mobile pet adoption center, a 28-foot air-conditioned trailer bringing shelter pets closer to new homes all across the county.
Julio’s 15-year-old Rottweiler, Rocky, died recently, and the family had been thinking about getting another dog for their two young sons to grow up with.
“It’s a nice experience for kids to grow up with dogs. It creates a nice family bond because everybody takes care of it and plays with it,” he said.
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The Nateras are exactly the kind of people that Animal Services are targeting: people that are thinking about adopting, but might do so later rather than sooner, or that might just go to a nearby pet store instead going to the county’s single shelter.
The main problem, says Animal Services adoption counselor Kaylynn Atoe, is that “a lot of people don’t know we exist.” Which means they also don’t know about the department’s shelter at 7401 NW 74th St., or about the thousands of healthy, adoptable animals the county still has to put down each year when space runs out.
Miami-Dade Animal Services Director Alex Muñoz said it’s still “too soon” to know how much the trailer is helping overall adoption numbers, but that the trailer is ultimately not just an adoption center but also the department’s biggest “promotional opportunity.” Those who don’t go home with an animal that day might come back to shelter later – sometimes to adopt, sometimes to volunteer. On average, adoption counselors say that between six and 10 animals are adopted at every event.
The trailer first hit the road July 9, making the rounds of however many parks, shopping centers, and fairs the department could book.
“The idea is on the road, all the time,” said Muñoz. They’ve managed to arrange about three to four events a week, and the department is blasting them out on social media sites.
Along with new hires, a fostering program, dedicated marketing department, and the controversial trap-neuter-release program, what Animal Services is calling their HOPE Express is all part of a ramped up effort to make good on the county’s resolution last year to become a ‘no kill’ community, which would bring down euthanasias to 10 percent of adoptable pets brought into shelter.
In September, county commissioners voted to boost the Animal Services budget by $4 million to deal with pet overpopulation after nixing a $19 million plan that would have required a small tax hike.
The trailer has adjustable compartments that can accommodate anywhere from 24 to 56 animals. Both side walls raise up to become awnings, revealing clear inner plexiglass walls that allow the pets to stay cool inside while prospective owners take a look. A grant from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals paid for a little over half of the $80,000 trailer, which is also used by Animal Services to transport pets to out-of-state partner organizations.
Any pet adopted from Animal Services – whether at the brick-and-mortar or mobile shelter – will have all age-appropriate vaccinations, a microchip, tags, and have been dewormed. Adoption fees are usually $35 for cats and $65-$75 for dogs, but in an attempt to counter the spike in intake the shelter typically sees during the summer months, Animal Services is offering a series of discounts in July and August. For bigger and older dogs, usually the hardest to find homes for, adoption fees are waived until Aug. 31.
To find out where the HOPE Express is heading to next, visit http://animals.miamidade.gov, follow Miami-Dade Animal Services on Facebook or @PetsToLove on Twitter. You can also call 305-884-1101.