Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade opens new animal adoption center

Miami-Dade County can now boast it’s the home of “the largest air-conditioned animal shelter in the United States,” said Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

The grand opening of the new Pet Adoption and Protection Center, whose construction had been delayed for 10 years, took place on Monday in Doral. But although many present at the ceremony hailed it as a big step forward for animal rights, others think this is just a band-aid over an old wound.

Across the street, protesters from Pets’ Trust were lined up with placards, arguing that the new shelter doesn’t solve the problem of too many animals being put to death by the county. Pets’ Trust said it is suing the county, seeking to stop euthanizations.

The county, they note, never adopted a tax for animal services even though voters endorsed the tax in a 2012 straw poll.

The new shelter has 72,000 square feet and is equipped with modern amenities and an open-floor plan — the “Adoption Mall,” designed to mimic a mall where you can shop for new pets. The mall design is intended to encourage and facilitate the adoption process, the county Animal Services Department said. It also has various tongue in-cheek art installations; as customers walk in, a chandelier-like fixture made of bronze cats and dogs hangs over their heads.

“You really have to see the old shelter to appreciate this place, that one was a dump,” said Silvia Unzueta, a Coral Gables resident who has two adopted dogs and a cat that she brings to the shelter for vaccinations.

But besides the aesthetics, the shelter has also increased the number of dogs and cats it can house, and will now serve as a venue for community education efforts and increased spaying and neutering services.

Speaking at the ceremony, Gimenez stressed that the improvement in services aligns with the county’s goal of eventually becoming a no-kill county — in other words eliminating the deaths of animals by euthanization.

But past the applause of the hundreds of people present from the community and the County Commissioners, protestors said the shelter still can’t keep up with the numbers of homeless cats and dogs.

“We love the new shelter — we’re not complaining about the shelter,” said Michael Rosenberg, the president and co-founder of Pets’ Trust in a phone interview with el Nuevo Herald. “The problem is that there are 100 new homeless animals that come in every day and the shelter can’t house them or address the problem of the homeless pet overpopulation in the county,” he said.

Rosenberg said the nonprofit never sought to build a new shelter. Instead, it wanted to get to the core of the problem by allocating more funding for spaying and neutering programs via the Pet’s Trust Initiative, a nonbinding vote that voters passed in 2012 but was never implemented by the county.

The group has filed a lawsuit against Gimenez and Miami-Dade County, demanding, among other things, that the county stop killing animals placed for adoption with the shelter. It also says that the county’s practice of turning away pets indirectly encourages pet owners to dump unwanted animals in the Everglades and Redland.

Rosenberg estimates the nonprofit spent $100,000 in its campaign for the Pet’s Trust Initiative and says its donors were defrauded.

“The new shelter is like saying here’s my new airport, but the planes are still crashing,” he said.

The Pet Adoption and Protection Center is now open to the public at 3599 NW 79th Ave., Doral.

Follow Larisa Casillas on Twitter @Lari_Casillas