Across our nation, animal shelters are pleading for help. Pet adoptions skyrocketed during the pandemic, when 2% more animals left shelters than came in, according to Shelter Animals Count, a nationally trusted source on shelter pet data. But in recent years, that trend has reversed, amounting to an all-time high of homeless animals across the United States.
Experts attribute the crisis to a variety of factors, from the rising cost of living to increased housing insecurity. In Miami-Dade, we, too, are feeling the effects. Engaged residents have expressed concern over the unprecedented number of pets in our care at the Miami-Dade Animal Services Department. No one is more concerned about animal welfare in our county than the men and women who serve within Animal Services. They, alongside their leadership, are committed to tackling this crisis with every available resource.
In Palm Beach County’s shelter, kennel space meant for 144 dogs is now caring for 228. Sadly, the shelter has reached its breaking point and will soon begin euthanizing dogs with behavioral and medical issues to create space for those constantly arriving. In neighboring Broward County, the shelter facility can handle up to 120 dogs but is now caring for 150. And in Austin, Texas, for example, shelters are experiencing disease outbreaks because of overcapacity.
Here in Miami-Dade, the Pet Adoption and Protection Center can comfortably house up to 300 dogs, but we are caring for more than 650. Although over capacity, we are a no-kill shelter no matter what.
We use our Medley facility as a critical tool to help prevent overcrowding that can cause disease, behavioral problems and other major challenges. The pets housed at Medley are regularly fed, walked and cared for by specialists and veterinary staff.
The use of this facility has prevented many of the issues we’re seeing across the state and the nation. We’re committed to finding innovative solutions so that all animals in our care can be safe and comfortable, such as aggressive adoption campaigns and regular spay/neuter events. From January 2023 to date, we’ve performed more than 19,000 surgeries. All our pets are listed online. I also encourage animal-rescue groups interested in dogs at the Medley location to contact the Rescue Team at ASDRescue@miamidade.gov to schedule an in-person meet and greet.
In the future, our county has big plans to continue improving animals’ quality of life. I have proposed $2 million in the upcoming county budget for enhanced and expanded animal services. These funds will be used for the enhancements we have planned to reduce the shelter population, increase adoptions and increase spay and neuter services.
In all these efforts, partnership is key. We are working with animal welfare experts, such as Dr. Julie K. Levy, a professor of Shelter Medicine Education at the University of Florida, to find forward-thinking and humane solutions. Her recommendations have led us to three major goals:
▪ The first is to assess the current population and categorize dogs by temperament. Along with Dogs Playing for Life, we are working to identify the best pathway for each dog – be it adoption, rescue or behavior training. Additionally, Applause Your Paws is working with us on safely running playgroups with multiple dogs to provide better quality of life while at the shelter and increase socialization.
▪ Next, our Spay/Neuter Initiative is being revamped to work with even more partner groups and reach even more pets. We hold monthly events that target 125 dogs each, with Miami Vet Foundation assisting in surgeries. We are increasing our free spay-and-neuter services. Soon, we’ll provide more than 100 dog surgeries on Sept. 9 out of the Doral Facility and another 100+ dog surgeries Oct. 14 at the Cutler Bay Community Cat Center. We continue to strengthen our relationships with current sponsors as well as seek new ones to increase our high volume spay-neuter events throughout the community.
▪ The third goal is more large-scale adoption events. Since January, we have adopted approximately 4,000 shelter pets. In addition to Clear the Shelters, a month-long adoption event, there will be a 12-hour adoption fair on Aug. 26 at the Doral Shelter. Additionally, we will hold our annual MEGA adoption event on Oct. 21, and another MEGA event is planned for early spring.
We can all do something, and our community’s support is key as we work together for a better future for all our animals. The most meaningful thing residents can do is to consider adopting a four-legged friend. Visit 24petconnect.com/miad to view all our adoptable pets. You can also become a foster parent or take a shelter pet on a one-day PAWVENTURE by emailing ASDFOSTER@miamidade.gov. Visit miamidade.gov/animals for more information.
It’s Miami-Dade County’s responsibility to ensure that all pets in our shelter are safe, loved and cared for. Together, it’s our entire community’s goal to create a county where every pet has a home.
Daniella Levine Cava is mayor of Miami-Dade County.