New day, new shelter for county animals

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Amber Oliver, 24, performs a trick with her dog, Oakley, during the grand opening of the Miami-Dade Animal Services shelter in Doral.
Amber Oliver, 24, performs a trick with her dog, Oakley, during the grand opening of the Miami-Dade Animal Services shelter in Doral. MIAMI HERALD

It’s a new day for one group of Miami-Dade residents — the tens of thousands of homeless dogs and cats that annually end up in the county animal shelter. And there’s good news, too, for those seeking to adopt them, for their experience is about to improve.

The new $29 million shelter in Doral made its grand opening Monday, an event overshadowed by the Orlando massacre, but one that should be acknowledged.

Dozens of supporters and county officials led by Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who should be praised for shepherding this dream into reality, were there to usher in a new way of treating animals in the county. The shelter, approved by voters in 2004, has been nearly a dozen years in the making.

The new facility is the first rescue and protection center of its scale to open in Miami-Dade and it surpasses the standard requirements of any shelter in the country. For animal lovers, that should be a comfort.

And controlling the homeless animal population — Miami-Dade takes in about 100 animals a day — is key to the facility’s goal to evolve into a “no kill” shelter.

Here are some of the new features residents and the animals will like:

▪ The new facility has the largest air-conditioned animal shelter in the country, which means animals will no longer be cold in the winter and hot in the summer. The unique air-conditioning system will mitigate odors and reduce the spread of disease.

▪ Enhanced surgical capacity means neutering and spaying increases by more than 50 percent, said Alex Muñoz, director of the Miami-Dade Animal Services Department.

▪ At 70,000 square feet, the new building doubles the size of the old shelter. And the whimsical and welcoming design of the new facility — dog and cat silhouettes adorn the building — make it a brighter place, ending the death-camp atmosphere of the old facility.

It all dovetails with the priority of making the shelter a pleasant pet adoption center. The center is set up like a mall — where pet lovers can walk about and adopt. They will find a larger animal selection, with the number of dogs housed increased by more than 25 percent; cat capacity will almost double.

In recent years, the care of homeless animals in the county has been controversial, exacerbated in 2012 when, in a straw vote, Miami-Dade voters supported a Pets’ Trust that would function much like The Children’s Trust.

Animal advocates were convinced that such a trust, and the tax that would fund it, would herald the “no kill” era at Miami-Dade’s animal shelter. But months later, the County Commission decided not to raise property taxes to generate the $19 million trust backers envisioned. Those advocates have remained angry at commissioners and Mayor Gimenez.

Michael Rosenberg, head of the Pets’ Trust, now a political PAC that backs pro-Trust candidates, told the Editorial Board a new shelter is great but that it’s not enough.

But these advocates should instead pat themselves on the back for pushing the county to focus on the problem of stray animals and move more quickly toward a solution. They should remember, too, that the 2012 vote was a straw vote, basically a show of hands with no obligation on the county’s part to establish the Trust.

And even Mr. Rosenberg agrees that the new animal shelter means our throw-away animals will receive more humane treatment — and that’s nothing to bark at.