Shelter animals are the responsibility of all of us

A kitten up for adoption during the grand opening of the Miami-Dade Animal Services shelter in Doral.
A kitten up for adoption during the grand opening of the Miami-Dade Animal Services shelter in Doral.

Every day Miami-Dade Animal Services (MDAS) faces issues that concern every county resident who cares about quality of life in our community. Shedding light on these issues and engaging our neighbors to take ownership of this problem is something that I am committed to doing.

My dream of a kinder, more-humane community has driven my volunteer work for over two decades, and I am proud of these accomplishments and successes. As a long-time Miami resident, I have had the privilege of sitting on nonprofit boards, have raised and donated money to numerous organizations and projects and have advocated for abused and neglected kids. Staying the course and remaining committed to long-term results is what works best.

Until recently, I didn’t know or appreciate the extraordinary issues affecting the welfare of animals in our community. As a volunteer with MDAS and in the animal rescue community, I see the unreasonable and remarkable demands placed on our open-admissions shelter.

Despite a genuine commitment to excellent service and care for animals in its care, the demands are crushing. MDAS has excellent programs to help with the consistent overcrowding at the shelter and the problems of ending animal abuse and neglect in our community.

MDAS has put several innovative initiatives in place: the Pet Retention program helps needy owners keep their pets in their homes; Deferred Pets works with rescues to network animals that owners want to surrender, while asking owners to try to find homes for their pets before leaving them at the shelter; the Transport Partners program works with approved rescues in other communities to transport hard-to-place and long-term shelter residents; and the Trap Neuter Release program serves more than 800 participants annually and keeps countless stray and feral cats from reproducing and adding to cat overpopulation.

I have seen one pet owner after another use our shelter as if it were a retirement home for animals; surrendering old and sick family pets to our shelter as if it were a dumping ground.

I have seen horribly abused and injured animals dropped off at MDAS or picked up as strays, forcing the shelter to deal with extraordinary medical needs that a public shelter simply cannot meet.

I have seen Miami residents selling puppies out of the backs of cars, ensuring pet overpopulation will continue for decades regardless of how many spay and neuter opportunities we provide. And I’ve seen the results of puppy mills selling sick dogs while we have hundreds and hundreds of adoptable dogs and cats in desperate need of homes.

Nearly 100 animals a day come into MDAS. This strains the ability of our community to care for adoptable, salvageable animals by having to keep the community’s old, infirm and injured pets alive, or networking them and using resources that might best be utilized elsewhere.

Animal-welfare issues affect quality of life for every Miami-Dade resident. Animals that end up at our open shelter are the community’s dogs and cats, and we all have a responsibility to be a part of the solutions we need.

By volunteering, networking, and supporting our shelter system and worthwhile programs and efforts, each of us can make a difference.

Residents should let their elected representatives and law-enforcement know animal welfare and prosecution of abuse and neglect are priorities; foster animals in need of temporary homes; insist that pet stores follow national models and sell only animals from our shelter system; volunteer at the shelter and off-site adoption sites; learn about the shelter’s needs and support fund raisers and engage youth to be a part of solutions; and ask more in our veterinary community to support fosters who take medically needy dogs and cats in need of extraordinary care.

Join me in the fight to help Miami-Dade County’s innocent and deserving animals.

Yolanda Berkowitz is a long-time Miamian who serves on several community-oriented boards.