This weekend, Suncoast Animal League, located in Palm Harbor, Florida, were excited to announce that Sahara, a sweet pit mix, went home with her foster family. She is the first fostered animal of the group of 70 that the rescue saved from starvation and death in the Redlands of South Florida earlier in the week. WTSP reported on March 22 that Suncoast was going to make the journey, and were looking for additional supplies and volunteers. If you missed this run but would like to donate or participate, another ‘Run to the Redlands’ is set for this coming weekend, with information provided at the end of this article.
Suncoast volunteers and local animal advocates spent three days in the blazing Miami heat, driving and walking street after street, picking up 68 dogs, including four ten-day-old puppies, and two cats. At least one of these animals was an owner turn-in, who was brought by his owner directly to the rescue’s parked vehicles, and not to Miami Dade Animal Services. Why did the owner choose the rescue instead of the shelter? For a number of reasons, many of which are very disturbing.
The first reason, though MDAS claims that they are ‘at an almost 90% no-kill rate’, locals and animal advocates believe that is not the case, based on their experience with the shelter. Any pet has a better chance of finding a new home with a rescue than with a kill shelter such as MDAS. Second, MDAS administration claims that they have no idea where dogs are being dumped in Redlands, though, as previously reported, volunteers and rescues from out of the area have no problem locating stray animals, such as the 70 above found in just three days. Had this owner thrown his dog out of his car in the Redlands, the chance of him being hit by another car and killed, or simply starving to death, is exceedingly high, since MDAS has ‘no idea’ where the animals are.
Third, locals report that when calls about abandoned animals are made to Homestead Police Department, the area in which the Redlands is located, they are directed to call MDAS. However, they say when they call MDAS, “Miami-Dade acts like it’s a hassle, to come all the way down to Homestead. I know this for a fact, cause when I lived in Homestead, I made a few calls to Animal Services.” Homestead does not have a physical location to which people can turn in animals. People wanting to dispose of animals must drive an average of 90 minutes one way in order to bring them to MDAS.
The fourth reason, and a very alarming one, is that MDAS has a ‘script’ by which local residents who call the shelter wanting to turn in their animals, are being informed by shelter employees that it is closed to owner turn-ins. Here is the exclusive transcript of one such conversation, provided to Examiner by Ms. Michele Wacker, a member of Poodle and Pooch Rescue, the Central Florida group who traveled to the Redlands a few weeks ago on an emergency rescue mission to pick up abandoned animals. The names of the workers have been omitted pending an investigation by MDAS.
At 8:15 this morning I called MDAS. I spoke to “S” and told her I had 3 dogs to surrender because I was moving. She said I could come to MDAS to “get photographs taken of my dogs but they would not take in my dogs for at least a week”. I told her “I don’t need photos of them, I need a place for them to go as I am moving today”. I further said, “So you are not accepting owner surrendered dogs today?” and she said, “No we are not”.
This call is part of the public record and is retrievable, should anyone on Miami-Dade’s Commission be interested enough to want to effect a change in ‘business as usual’ in their community. If that’s not enough to cause the Commission concern, Ms. Wacker went on to write,
I called again at 8:28. I spoke to a supervisor named “A” and told her I had two aggressive dogs to surrender and I’m being evicted. I asked if I can I bring them to MDAS. She said, “No”. I said, “Well I’m going to let them loose in The Redlands or some rural area and they will kill something or someone, what if they kill a kid?” She said her hands were tied because she is just “following instructions from MDAS”. I asked her, “If I bring them to MDAS to be photographed today, how long would it be before MDAS can take them?”. She said, “When we have space”. I said, “One week, one month??”. She said, “I don’t know”.
When questioned about this series of phone calls, Alex Munoz, Director of MDAS, replied, “That’s the wrong script.” What’s the right script? What part of the conversation was confusing? It’s obvious that MDAS is not accepting owner-surrendered dogs.
Still not convinced there’s a problem? Here is yet another conversation regarding a requested owner turn in to MDAS, this time reported to Examiner by Ms. Rebecca Lynch, President of Poodle and Pooch Rescue:
March 10th: Was on phone from 11:21 to 11:24 AM with “K”. I said I had two dogs to surrender. She said MDAS is not accepting owner surrenders right now and I could put them on a list. I could take them to humane society but they will charge me. I said what if I can’t afford charge. She said for me to look on line for rescue groups. I said I did that but couldn’t find anyone to take them. I said “I may have to take them to a neighborhood and dump them and hope for the best” . Then she said I could take them to Broward County Animal Control. “They will take dogs from miami?”. She said yes but there’s a fee. I thanked her.
Though MDAS report that the number of dumped animals is down, locals openly dispute their findings. Regarding the Redlands, Director Munoz claims that “the Department routinely responds to calls in the area with more than 2,000 live animals picked up from the area over the last three years.” Mathematically, that’s less than two dogs per day. What are the Animal Control Officers doing the rest of the time? Where were the other 64 animals hiding that one rescue managed to find in three days in the Redlands’ area just this past week? Advocates for Pets’ Trust, the group who would have been instrumental in making a positive change for animals in Miami Dade County, had they and the voters not been thwarted by Mayor Gimenez and the Commissioners, poses the following challenge to Director Munoz:
Since Animal Control Officers are required to note where stray animals are found when they are picked up, please provide Pets’ Trust with the ‘found’ locations for those 2,000 live animals.
Sunshine laws allow that this information can be provided to requestors. To that end, Pets’ Trust representatives, and other animal advocates, are extremely interested in knowing what parts of Miami-Dade County are actually being serviced by MDAS. Is it not the case that MDAS has stopped picking up animals in areas like the Redlands, since, again, they claim to not know where these animals are hiding, and have, in fact, contracted with local authorities, such as the Homestead police department, to pick up strays? Is MDAS only actively servicing the more exclusive areas of Miami-Dade County, and ignoring poorer areas such as the Redlands and Homestead, allowing this plague of abandoned animals to continue unabated?
Residents of wealthier areas have the time and the finances to take in abandoned animals and post them on social media. They can hold the animal until its owner is located, unless it is re-homed or taken to Animal Control. Less well-off residents have no such ability. So the animals in poorer areas, such as the Redlands, are left to fend for themselves. Are these resident’s needs being ignored because they have no voice in the community?
Further, why do multiple Florida counties outside Miami-Dade County (M-DC) grasp the urgency of the situation and take action, while M-DC pretends nothing is wrong? Should taxpayers outside M-DC and volunteers inside that County feel there is no other humane option but to take on what is essentially MDAS’s responsibility? Should it be other counties charge to rescue these abandoned animals, assisting the community, when a viable solution was accepted by M-DC voters years ago? The solution, the Pets’ Trust, was thrown back in voters faces and ignored by the Mayor and Commissioners, who told voters they were too stupid to know what they were voting for. Residents and rescues wonder, ‘When will M-DC wake up?’
In 2013, the Mayor and Commissioners allocated $4 million dollars to MDAS, which they used to fund services that would have been provided by monies from the Pets’ Trust, but now on a much smaller scale. According to Pets’ Trust, in 2016, with mounting pressure from the public, and elections for Mayor and the Commission on the horizon, another $7 million was added to the budget. This is only a band-aid to cover the problem of the County’s abandoned animals. Had the Pets’ Trust been established, as the majority of voters indicated they wanted, it is estimated that more than $20 million in tax revenue would have been generated on an annual basis for the duration of the Pets’ Trust agreement, an agreement which could be renewed after five years, based again on what voters wanted. The Trust money would have been allocated to improve animal welfare, increase adoptions and decrease overpopulation by providing free and low-cost spay/neuter, low-cost veterinary care, surrender prevention and educational programs.
The FY 2013-2014 Adopted Budget allocated $4 million toward implementation of the “No Kill” plan. Additional funding was for increased capacity for spay & neuter for shelter animals, creating a community sterilization program for owned pets, disease prevention at the shelter, provide better medical care to increase adoptions and expand various shelter programs. A new spay/neuter clinic was opened in the Homestead Community this month, and it is housed within a retrofitted trailer. The Clinic is open three days a week. According to Pets’ Trust President Michael Rosenberg, a volunteer board was supposed to be monitoring the city-provided millions. However, that did not happen. When Mr. Rosenberg asked Director Munoz where the money was going, his response was “trust me.”
MDAS appears to be trying to make a dent in the overpopulation problem, but they could have done so much more, and saved so many more lives, had the County begun tackling this issue in this area three years ago. Examiner was informed that the County is dragging their feet on yet another issue as well. Approximately 20 rescues have applied to be new rescue partners with MDAS, yet the County is lagging behind giving their approval. They are rewriting MDAS contracts while untold numbers of dogs and cats are dying in the shelter.
While Examiner is the only media continually seeking answers, M-D’s local press continues to look the other way. Ignoring the issue is tantamount to accepting the continued abuse of the animals and neglect of some of the residents of Miami-Dade County.
Central Florida volunteers will be making another ‘Run to the Redlands’ this week. If you would like to donate supplies, please click here for the list of suggested items, including food, dewormer, flea and tick medicines, leashes and collars, or find the Redland Donation Drop-Off in Orlando page on Facebook.
This story is part of a continuing series. The issue of how cats, both feral and owner-turn ins, are ‘disposed’ of in Miami-Dade County will be addressed in an upcoming article. Follow this Pet Rescue Examiner here, on Facebook and Twitter.