Editorials

The Pets’ (dis)Trust?

TNS

Almost three years after a majority of Miami-Dade voters approved a straw-ballot initiative that could lead to the creation of an entity called the Pets’ Trust, there remains a huge disconnect between its most vocal advocates and the county.

It’s time for both sides to have a Kumbaya moment. And Wednesday, the County Commission’s Metropolitan Services Committee can be the facilitator.

The Pets’ Trust was first proposed by animal-rights advocates as a means to reduce the number of stray cats and dogs on the streets. Through a series of clinics, strays would be spayed or neutered, released, but unable to breed. Low-income pet owners would be able to access affordable veterinarian services, including spaying and neutering. Education programming would help create more-responsible pet owners. And the shelter run by the Department of Animal Services would, ultimately, become a no-kill facility. The Trust would have a $20-million budget and an independent board to monitor how the money was spent.

Voters were so on board with this that they gave county commissioners the go-ahead to create the Pets’ Trust — even though it would mean a $15 property-tax increase for the average homeowner to make it happen.

Well, it didn’t happen. County Mayor Carlos Gimenez remains skeptical that a Pets’ Trust could credibly get the job done. Instead, the county has beefed up programming at Animal Services.

Credit Michael Rosenberg and Rita Schwartz, the committed engines behind the Pets’ Trust initiative, for spurring the county to action. They say, however, that too little remains accomplished in the name of better services and treatment of animals. The shelter? “Awful,” Mr. Rosenberg told the Editorial Board. He and Ms. Schwartz find the shelter’s claim that it is more than 90 percent no-kill dubious. They accuse director Alex Muñoz of turning away animals, transporting them out of state and not counting dogs that are euthanized after owners surrender them.

Mr. Muñoz, however, swats down each contention: He told the Editorial Board that the county is facilitating more spaying and neutering, having opened a clinic in Homestead and another one at the South Dade Government Center, paying the Humane Society $600,000 for about 7,000 animal surgeries for “income-qualified” pet owners. Additionally, Animal Services is exploring a partnership with the ASPCA to operate a spay-and-neuter clinic in Liberty City, the largest intake area for strays in the county.

Yes, some strays are shipped out of state. “The ASPCA gave us a grant to do transport,” Mr. Muñoz says. We have about a dozen partner agencies up North, — in New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Maine. Up there, folks are OK with big, mixed-breed dogs.” Animal Services no longer sends dogs to a controversial shelter in New York found to be neglectful.

No, Animal Services does not lock the doors on owner surrenders, he says, engaging in “surrender prevention,” instead. Sometimes owners are encouraged to find another, humane option before surrendering a healthy dog. “We did not invent that. The ASPCA has given us grants to do that program,” Mr. Muñoz says. And no, the department does not include owner-surrendered dogs that are sick and dying in its count of animals euthanized.

The Metropolitan Services Committee is scheduled to consider Commissioner Xavier Suarez’s request to fully fund the Pets’ Trust. Progress is, indeed, being made. However, given the overwhelming approval to create the Pets’ Trust, the full commission should have a public airing of this issue. The public needs to know whether its wishes are truly being implemented — or dismissed.

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