Miami-Dade County

Sick dogs at Miami-Dade shelter remain in danger of euthanasia

One got adopted.

One was rescued.

Five made it through the day … and 20 didn’t.

That’s what happened to the 27 dogs at highest risk of euthanasia at Miami-Dade Animal Services on Friday, after the county shelter clinic supervisor warned rescue groups about overcrowding.

Jacquelyn Johnston said that 484 dogs had come in from July 17 to July 24, which amounted to 100 over capacity.

“Imagine,” she wrote, “and we only have 267 kennel spaces.”

Johnston’s email didn’t surprise veteran Miami-Dade animal activists who’ve watched shelter intake numbers stuck in the 34,000-37,000 range for years — and the euthanasia rate climb as high as two-thirds of intake.

But it caused outrage among many who got involved for the first time last year to support Pets’ Trust Miami, the grassroots movement whose members thought until earlier this month that they’d persuaded Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami-Dade commissioners to fund a voter-supported initiative aimed at raising $19 million for animal welfare.

The group, overjoyed that the commission set a “no kill’’ goal for the county, worked to place a non-binding question on the November 2012 ballot asking whether voters would approve a tax-rate increase amounting to $20 for the average property owner.

Nearly 500,000 voters — almost 65 percent of those who cast ballots — agreed, and eagerly anticipated the anti-overpopulation measures to follow: mass sterilization programs and responsible pet-ownership education.

The latter, said Kathleen Labrada, Animal Services operations and enforcement chief, is sorely needed in a community where owners fail to sterilize or train their pets and let them wander without identification.

“Pets are considered disposable,’’ she said. “Every day, we have 70 to 100 surrenders. As long as they consider their private issue a public problem, we’ll be in the same situation. Don’t turn in your puppy the first time he chews a shoe.’’

But on July 16, the mayor and commissioners abruptly withdrew their support, opting to maintain the current tax rate for another year because, they said, their constituents don’t want higher taxes. Gimenez pledged to find $4 million for animal services.

“I have been very supportive of our mission to save animals, and have recommended a major 40 percent boost to our Animal Services Department’s budget this coming year to support the initial phase of a No-Kill Plan,” Gimenez said in an email Friday. “I would also like to encourage our residents to adopt a shelter pet — doing so will help contribute to the solution.”

Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, among the strongest anti-tax voices on the panel, held to that view even after visiting the shelter’s euthanasia room.

Bovo said he favors stricter licensing enforcement to raise revenue plus voluntary contributions, already possible through the Animal Trust Fund at Animal Services.

“We know that public fundraising works,’’ he said in an email. “It is inexcusable not to attempt this established approach before increasing property taxes.”

He said that commissioners have approved placing fundraising solicitations in all county correspondence with taxpayers, and thinks it should include the amount that the property owner would have paid with the higher tax rate.

He said he wants to raise awareness of the “Animal Services Foundation through the development of public service announcements and through aggressive marketing strategies.”

If the Pets Trust and Animal Services Director Alex Muñoz have already suggested some of his ideas, said Bovo, “the difference now is that I am strongly championing them to achieve a successful outcome.”

Adding a property tax to assist animals “is not appropriate at a time when we are asking other, more vital, departments in county government to live within their means,’’ he said.

Among them: the county’s fire-rescue department, which stands to lose 144 members without a tax increase.

Rowan Taylor, Firefighters Local Union 1403 president, said that his members have partnered with the Pets’ Trust and advocates of the public library system, which also faces deep cuts, “because we want to make it clear we’re not competing for funds. Firefighters are pet lovers.”

Whatever the specific issue, Taylor said, the mayor and commission were wrong to disregard nearly 500,000 votes.

“Our firefighters are citizens, and we understand importance of a vote,’’ he said. “A lot of firefighters voted for [the Pets’ Trust question] and we feel like the people spoke.”

Labrada, the shelter’s chief of operations, said that while overcrowding led to Friday’s high euthanasia number, the shelter is working hard to find homes for all the animals, especially those with contagious respiratory infections who have to be isolated.

Those left Friday night: Patas, a neutered male 3-year-old American bulldog mix; Rocky, a 1-year-old, non-neutered Labrador retriever mix; Fifo, a 4-year-old neutered male German shepherd mix; Sable, a 10-month-old spayed female Labrador mix puppy; Tito, a 3-month-old neutered male terrier mix puppy; Deisy, a 2-year-old female German shepherd mix; and Budda, a 4-month-old neutered male Labrador mix.

“Pick me!” his kennel card reads. “My owners could not bring me along when they moved. You are the perfect person to give me the love I need and a new place to call home.’’

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