Introducing ... The 12 Dogs of Christmas

Seriously now, what would you do with a partridge in a pear tree?

Pear trees don't grow in South Florida, and while you might find roast partridge on the menu at some froufrou Miami Beach eatery, you'd probably be violating your condo's no-pets rule if you tried to keep one.

But this festive season would hardly be the same without that 16th century anthem of romantic generosity, The 12 Days of Christmas, noodling through our brains (and through thousands of mall loudspeakers).

So we customized the song to reflect our wonderful, wacky life in this multiculti tropical paradise. And how better to illustrate it than with our very favorite co-species?

Behold: The 12 Dogs of Christmas -- South Florida style!

We want you to be amused, but there's a serious subtext to our fun. The dogs you'll see featured in Tropical Life over the next 12 days -- 13 days, actually, as we're creating a poster that will be published on Dec. 24 -- were at the Miami-Dade County Animal Services Department shelter last week.

That's where strays end up, and where pet owners drop off dogs and cats they no longer want or can keep.

The shelter takes in an astounding 30,000 critters a year but has space for a little more than 300 on any given day. About two-thirds never make it out.

Among the shelter's dogs, an astounding 40 percent are purebreds: Labrador and golden retrievers, poodles, beagles, German shepherds, Rottweilers, huskies, English bulldogs -- you name it.

But 60 percent are mutts, which are no less loveable than the breeds but unfortunately, are less adoptable (especially the big ones).

The baseline problem? Pet overpopulation, which stems from pet owners' failure to spay or neuter their dogs and cats. Puppies and kittens are adorable, but they're doomed if they're born on the street.

''Too many precious animals are euthanized just because they are homeless,'' says Dr. Sara Pizano, director of Miami-Dade Animal Services. ''We need the entire community to come together to solve this crisis.''

So on behalf of The 12 Dogs of Christmas, their canine and feline friends, a plea: Adopt from a shelter or rescue group and save a life.

It's like shopping at the thrift store: You never know what you'll find on a given day, so keep coming back until you find what you want.

Think carefully, however, about springing a living creature of any kind on someone as a holiday gift. Having a pet is a lifetime commitment, and adopting one should be as carefully planned as getting a car or plastic surgery.

Of the dogs you'll see in Tropical Life, two were reunited with their owners by the time we finished shooting the layout, four were adopted, and the remainder went to rescue groups to be adopted (See box for phone numbers).

But rest assured: There are plenty more like them at the Miami-Dade shelter, as well as its Broward County counterpart and the Humane Societies in both counties.

No animals were harmed in the photo sessions -- in fact they were thrilled to get out of their runs and cages and get lots of attention and treats (and in one case, a bath). Still, it was quite a challenge getting them to wear Santa hats and sit in kiddie cars.

Nearly as challenging was rewriting, by a committee of dog lovers at The Miami Herald, The 12 Days of Christmas.

Feel free to sing -- and howl -- along.


The 12 dogs of Christmas were homeless when they were photographed at the Miami-Dade County animal shelter.

Here are places you can adopt dogs and cats in South Florida:

  • Miami-Dade Animal Services Department, 305-884-1101,
  • Broward County Animal Care and Regulation: Fort Lauderdale shelter, 954-359-1313; Pompano Beach shelter, 954-970-0130,