Miami-Dade voters back creation of Pets’ Trust

Voters in Miami-Dade overwhelmingly supported a measure that could save the lives of more than 20,000 cats and dogs a year, and set the county on a path to achieve its “no kill’’ goal for the Animal Services Department.

The straw-vote victory on a ballot question to support a small property-tax increase for animal welfare now puts the issue in the hands of the Miami-Dade County Commission.

Commissioners wanted to see whether the public favored the issue in principle, and how enthusiastically.

As of late Tuesday, with 627 of the county’s 829 precincts reporting, voters said yes to the Pets’ Trust, by an almost 2-to-1 margin.

Commissioners are now likely to create the agency, which would augment efforts by Miami-Dade Animal Services Department to reduce pet overpopulation and shelter deaths.

The department takes in about 37,000 unwanted cats and dogs a year.

More than half are never adopted, and end up euthanized.

Volunteer board

Even before a definitive commission vote, Pets’ Trust Initiative founders will begin planning for the creation of a 13- to 15-member volunteer board of animal advocates and experts. That board would oversee how an estimated $20 million raised annually would pay for free and low-cost veterinary services and public-education programs on responsible pet ownership.

The Trust, which would cost the average property owner $20 a year, would come up for review annually.

Michael Rosenberg, the Kendall businessman who founded the Pets’ Trust, said that a national advisory board will also be assembled “to ensure that this program is done correctly.’’

‘a chance at life’

“While so many people have expressed and shared their love of our animals by this vote, they are equally concerned by our promise to do this right,’’ he said. “There is a distrust of government that has made many people skeptical, but they have voted ‘yes’ because they want to give our animals a chance at life.’’

He expects it to become a national model.

“Miami-Dade County will prove that when the community is asked the question, ‘How do you care about animals?’ the answer will be we do care and we want the problem fixed. No one ever asked the people this question until now.’’

Commissioner Sally Heyman, a supporter, said that the measure’s success proves that residents “are willing to tax themselves if they see logic, justification, and inclusion.’’

‘the message’

Added Alex Muñoz, Animal Services director: “We will work with the community and our elected officials to implement new and expanded life-saving programs to increase the amount of pets saved, re-homed, and sterilized. The passage of this referendum is providing us with opportunities not previously available.’’

Rosenberg estimates about $70,000 was spent on the campaign thus far.

“The commissioners certainly will get the message,’’ Rosenberg said. and we will bring that message in a strong and positive way. “Our community has voted ‘Yes, stop the killing, and begin a new way of caring for our animals.’ ’’