Overpopulation overwhelms Miami-Dade’s Animal Services

Posted December 3, 2012

School of Communication
University of Miami

A beige-colored building sits in Miami-Dade County with a blue sign on the front that reads Animal Services. It is the only official government shelter that houses our fuzzy four-legged friends, but unfortunately, it cannot house them all.

Look around the streets and you will see hundreds of stray cats and stray dogs lingering around — skinny, hungry, tired, lonely and scared.

Like humans, they want to be loved. But, many of them find themselves in animal shelters waiting to be adopted or picked up by their rightful owner — if their owner still wants them.

Many of the dogs are kept in runs, like the one pictured in this photo (Photos by Elizabeth de Armas).

Many of the dogs are kept in runs, like the one pictured in this photo (Photos by Elizabeth de Armas).

According to Animal Services, more than 37,000 animals come in and out of the shelter each year. Around 6,000 get adopted, rescue missions find homes for about 8,000, and the rest are euthanized.

The average time they are kept in the shelter is five days, hoping that an owner will stop by to retrieve them. If not, they are euthanized — killed, for no reason at all — other than the fact that there is no space to keep them all forever.

There is one exception: A really well behaved and good looking dog or cat. They may be lucky enough to get a little more time.

Because of the overpopulation of animals in Miami-Dade, there is no way that all of them can be adopted. There isn’t enough people that want to foster these animals and there isn’t enough rescue missions that can save them either.

For the past 25 years, the problem has remained constant: More than 20,000 animals are euthanized each year in Miami-Dade County alone. And, more than 90 percent of them are perfectly healthy and ready to be adopted.

Michael Rosenberg, president of the Pets Trust, said that he knew something had to be done about this when he heard the massive amount of animals that are killed each year because of overpopulation.

“I was in shock,” Rosenberg said. “I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was that bad.”

Hearing these statistics led Rosenberg to go check out the animal shelter for himself. And then, he adopted a little male kitten named Wren. But, the kitten died less than 72 hours later because of a type of Leukemia that spread in the shelter.

That was almost a year ago. And so was the creation of the Pets Trust, a nonprofit organization whose main purpose is to help reduce the amount of animals that are euthanized for no reason.

“If that cat hadn’t died, I don’t know what would have happened,” Rosenberg said. “Things like this are what give you the passion and desire to do something.”

Every animal taken to the Animal Services shelter is processed and given an individual sheet, which states their age, name, gender, breed, intake type, date impounded and any health conditions.

Every animal taken to the Animal Services shelter is processed and given an individual sheet, which states their age, name, gender, breed, intake type, date impounded and any health conditions.

Rosenberg’s passion took him to visit all of the Miami-Dade commissioners. He waited more than two hours to see some of them, and he also gathered all the animal rescue groups together.

He received so much support that the Pets Trust was able to get an amendment on the Election Day ballot.

And, it passed with a huge majority – approximately 500,000 people voted yes and about 250,000 voted no.

The amendment is essentially a property tax raise on homeowners. For every $100,000 assessed value of a home, the annual cost is $10. According to the property tax appraiser, the average house in Miami-Dade County is approximately $200,000. Therefore, the majority of homeowners will be paying $20 each year to reduce the killing of animals.

Currently, the Pets Trust is creating a plan of action that will explain the next step in the process of reducing the euthanizing of animals. Spaying and neutering animals is the primary solution to this overpopulation problem.

Unfortunately, the problem persists.

In the Miami-Dade County shelter, nearly 70 animals are euthanized every day. Two individuals are present for the process. The animal is brought in, laid down on a table and one of the veterinarians turns the animal’s head away. Then, numbing medicine is rubbed onto its neck and the animal is injected.

Thirty seconds later, the animal is dead — lifeless.

“The animals think they are going for a walk,” Rosenberg said. “They look so happy. They can’t read the sign.”

Rosenberg experienced this firsthand when he went into the “death room” to witness how animals were euthanized. He watched 15 lives being taken.

“I wanted to feel the pain,” he said. “I will probably have nightmares for the rest of my life.  A perfectly healthy life gone in 30 seconds.”

A Miami veterinarian shared Rosenberg’s thoughts. Though euthanizing animals is the worst part of her job, she has no other choice but to do it.

“It isn’t what I signed up for, but I knew that I would one day have to inject an animal,” she said. “Sometimes it has to be done, other times it doesn’t. It’s like a doctor working with patients. They never want to see one die, but it happens. It’s life.”

Though most animals that are euthanized in the shelter have no health condition, there are a few animals that do. When there is no cure, or the illness is found to late, euthanizing is considered the best option.

Alysha Khan, a junior at the University of Miami, spent a month at the South Florida Wildlife Center, where wildlife is rescued and rehabilitated. Other animals from the South Florida area are also treated there from time to time.

Khan said that there were two main reasons wildlife was euthanized at the center — if the animal was injured beyond saving or if the animal was too young to be taken care of. But, it was never easy to watch.

“It wasn’t a pretty sight either way,” Khan said. “And it felt wrong, but I had to console myself with the fact that there wasn’t a better option available.”

In the animal shelter, there is a better option — adoption.

Adopting any animal at the shelter only costs $65, but the cost isn’t the issue. Overpopulation is. There aren’t enough people to take all of these animals home. And, dogs are more likely to be adopted than cats.

Larry, a one-year-old male Mini Pincher, was found on the streets of Miami-Dade County and impounded on Nov. 24.

Larry, a one-year-old male Mini Pincher, was found on the streets of Miami-Dade County and impounded on Nov. 24.

“At the shelter, way more cats are killed because they are all over the neighborhoods,” Rosenberg said. “With cats you never know. They go quick. You can walk into another room and come back and they’ll already be in the killing room.”

Thankfully, rescue missions like Cat Network and Friends Forever Rescue save some of the animals before they are euthanized, but it still is not enough.

Dee Chess, founder of Friends Forever Rescue, said that she has rescued more than 5,000 dogs since the nonprofit organization was created nearly 13 years ago. The organization has a shelter which houses close to 60 dogs and Chess has partnered up with a high school that has a veterinary science program, and nearly 60 more dogs are housed there.

“We take them in, we rehabilitate them and we spay and neuter then,” Chess said. “We get them ready for adoption.”

According to Chess, many people have gotten their dogs from Friends Forever Rescue, including the University of Miami President Donna Shalala.

Most of the dogs that Chess rescues are stray dogs, transfers from the animal shelter and returns from owners. If no one adopts a dog from the organization, it isn’t euthanized. Instead, they keep it for the rest of its life.

“They can be with us the rest of their life,” Chess said. “We keep them. We take them off the street. We’ve had dogs right now that we’ve had for five years.”

Chess believes that dogs should be treated as an addition to the family.

“I tell them this is a family member and it has to be treated as a family member,” Chess said. “And someone that doesn’t like animals in general shouldn’t have one. That’s for sure.”

According to Animal Services, 35,924 animals were brought to the animal shelter in 2010. Out of those animals, 8,334 were adopted, 4,074 were transferred to rescue missions, 1,534 were returned to their owners, 13,942 were saved and 20,112 were euthanized.

No matter how many animals found a home, 56 percent were still killed.

“I can still see everyone of them,” Rosenberg said. “Picture how people select somebody they want to be with. A lot has to do with physical appearance. So if an animal doesn’t have the right look, I don’t think it would be adopted even if it was the only one in the room.”

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