Miami-Dade County

Overcrowding at Miami-Dade Animal Shelter leading to high number of euthanizations

In an urgent email on Thursday to rescue groups, Miami-Dade Animal Services administrators sought refuge for dozens of dogs destined to die Friday because of shelter overcrowding.

“The space situation is out of control,’’ wrote Jacquelyn Johnston, clinic supervisor. “We are over 100 dogs OVER our capacity. Imagine, and we only have 267 kennel spaces.”

Johnston listed the dogs that will be euthanized Friday — many of them old and sick — each with a description from personal observation:

“Sweet big boy, now has URI’’ — upper respiratory infection.

“Nervous and shy, but warms up if you spend time with her.’’

“Older pet but would make a great senior retiree…’’

“Adopter never showed up, super sweet, already spayed, 35-40 lbs.’’

“This is the one who came in from a caring homeless man, conformed pittie’’ — pit bull terrier, illegal in Miami-Dade

“Has ticks that we are treating. Needs out by tomorrow, no more time.’’

“Just a puppy and been here too long.’’

“Has URI and not even one interested person.’’

Summer usually brings “a spike in intake,’’ added Kathleen Labrada, Animal Services operations and enforcement chief.

Since last Wednesday, the county shelter, in Medley, has taken in 484 dogs and puppies, Johnston said. By longstanding practice, in contrast to nonprofit shelters that admit only adoptable animals, it accepts all strays and any animal that an owner surrenders.

The crisis comes just over a week after Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez pulled his support for a $19 million plan to reduce pet overpopulation and shelter intake through a property tax rate increase, and County Commissioners rejected rate increases for any reason.

Nearly 500,000 voters, 65 percent of all who cast ballots in the November 2012 election, supported the notion of a Pets’ Trust — a property tax that would have been used for low-cost spay and neuter procedures, and pet owner responsibility education.

The increase would have amounted to an extra $20 in the coming fiscal year for the average county property owner, or $10 per $100,000 of value.

The vote was not binding.

However, in nixing the idea of a property tax rate increase last week, Gimenez said voters didn’t understand what they were supporting.

The overpopulation emergency also comes one year after the commission adopted a “no kill’’ resolution aimed at reducing killings to 10 percent at the shelter, which typically admits 34,000 to 37,000 cats and dogs per year.

The rate for dogs briefly dipped to 20 percent earlier this year.

Gimenez says said he plans to find $4 million in the budget on which the commissioners will vote in September for a scaled-down version of the $19 million plan, which Animal Services Director Alex Muñoz assembled based partly on research from Pets’ Trust Miami, the grassroots group that placed the tax-rate question before voters.

Pets’ Trust co-founder Michael Rosenberg noted that days after “the mayor and the commissioners voted to kill Pets’ Trust, Animal Services will kill more animals than anytime this entire year, and it’s going to get worse.

“The problem has been so long in the making that there is no quick fix...The process of spaying and neutering 75,000 animals every year needs to start now, otherwise there will be more panicky calls like this, year after year.’’

Johnston, the clinic supervisor, said that deciding which animals to euthanize amounts to “war zone triage.’’

“We look at each case individually and make sure each one has the best chance’’ to get out, she said. “We send the lists to Facebook pages, crossposters’’ — people who alert rescues via mass emails — and the Humane Society of Greater Miami.

“We have limited resources in labor and space,’’ she said. “The variable which we have no control over is intake.’’

Overcrowding at the shelter inevitably leads to disease, Labrada added.

The biggest challenge is finding space in the respiratory-disease ward, so that sick dogs move quickly off the adoption floor.

To view adoptable cats and dogs at Animal Services, visit