Six years ago, Miami-Dade voters overwhelmingly supported a measure touted as a way to save the lives of thousands of cats and dogs and set the county on a path to achieve its "no kill" goal for the Animal Services Department.
The straw-vote was intended to give county commissioners a sense for whether the public would support a property-tax hike to increase animal welfare. By an almost 2-to-1 margin, voters said yes to the Pets’ Trust nonbinding initiative that would augment efforts to reduce pet overpopulation and shelter deaths.
That initiative is now the subject of a documentary, Political Animals, which will be screened in Coral Gables on Tuesday and broadcast on public television the following day.
"I remember voting for the Pets’ Trust initiative thinking there was no way it would pass because the word 'tax' was in the very first line of the ballot question," said independent filmmaker Joe Cardona, who co-produced the documentary with the Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald. "I was pleasantly surprised to see that it not only passed but it was ratified by such a huge margin — it succeeded across every ethnic, racial, gender, age, partisan demographic in Miami-Dade County, which is rare."
While the vote was impressive, the inspiration for the film came long after when rumblings began to emerge about the initiative not being carried out. Cardona said he realized the scope of the story after reporting on it for a column.
At the core of the story, he said, were the pets and their suffering: "They are the real victims of all the political hemming and hawing. That is what inspired me to do this film."
Earlier this month, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a trial court’s previous order to dismiss a complaint filed by the Pets' Trust against the county. The complaint accused Miami-Dade of defamation and also alleged that by not enforcing the ballot initiative, the voters' will was violated.
Officials say the "no kill" objective has been fulfilled.
"In 2015, Miami-Dade Animal Services achieved the unprecedented no kill goal by saving 9 out of 10 of the more than 28,000 pets entering the shelter," Alex Muñoz, director of Miami-Dade Animal Services, said in a statement. "The 90 percent no kill goal was attained through increased funding supported by the Mayor and the County Commission and is still sustained today through the continuation of no kill programs."
The one-hour documentary focuses on animal rights and the political ecosystem that surrounds these rights. The film also depicts the ensuing political maelstrom that evolved from the vote as well as the dangerous strain pet overpopulation has put on the county’s Animal Services Department and on many residential communities in South Florida.
Tuesday's screening at the Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre is sold out. But the documentary will broadcast at 8 p.m. Wednesday on South Florida PBS (WPBT).