Trisha, the brunette boxer who leans on a visitor’s leg to solicit more scratches, holds an unwelcome record in Miami-Dade County.
She has been at the county animal shelter the longest of all animals, a 196-day stay that is part of a discouraging return to pre-pandemic routines when it comes to homeless dogs and cats.
Following higher demand for new pets after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, the county animal services department reports a growing population of dogs and cats at its Doral shelter, which is approaching capacity. record.
Much of the problem lies with large dogs like Trisha, a 4-year-old girl weighing around 50 pounds who was found stray in May.
While terriers and other companion dogs remain in high demand, adoptions of medium and large dogs are not keeping pace with arrivals. The shelter’s dog population increased by more than 200% a year ago, with nearly 400 dogs living there in November compared to less than 125 in November 2020.
âDuring the pandemic, a lot of people said, ‘Oh, I want a pet. I have time, âsaid Marcela Garcia Bonini, a Miami dog trainer who visits the shelter three times a week as a volunteer dog walker. âBut no one thought the pandemic would be over and people would resume normal lives. “
Increase in the number of animals in shelters during the summer
Shelter managers saw admissions increase dramatically over the summer, when the number of people crossed the 200 mark for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
The increased interest in pets during work-at-home precautions gets some of the credit for the briefly reduced shelter population. But adoptions from the shelter actually fell in fiscal year 2020, which includes the first six months of the pandemic.
The pandemic has also upended the normal routines that bring dogs and cats into the shelter, with fewer strayers spotted at the time of COVID curfews, reduced errands and fewer commutes.
Animal services also reduced the pick-up of stray animals early in the pandemic and discouraged the public from returning pets to the shelter. This included urging residents in April 2020 to keep any stray dogs they found instead of turning to the county for care.
The overall intake fell 6.9% in 2020 to around 27,000 dogs and cats. Now, arrivals of homeless pets are expected to increase by nearly 18% in 2021 to 32,400, according to figures released with the 2022 budget for animal services.
This spike in new dogs and cats defied predictions for a smaller increase as the pandemic effect wore off. For cats, the county is relying on a release program where the shelter sterilizes stray cats and then returns them to where they were found. Miami-Dade plans to treat around 12,000 cats under the program this year.
The dogs are not released, leaving the shelter staff to look after them or find the canines in other homes. Miami-Dade policy is not to euthanize animals for space, and the county expects to report a 94% survival rate this year for dogs and cats taken in as stray or returned by them. owners.
For Michael Rosenberg, one of the main critics of Miami-Dade’s approach to animal services, the current increase in shelter population reflects a long-term failure of the county. He is one of the founders of the pet advocacy group Pets Trust, which successfully voted in 2012 for a property tax increase to fund pet sterilization efforts and education efforts throughout the county under a separate Animal Services board.
The referendum passed with 65% of the vote but was not binding, and county commissioners – including Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who served on the board between 2014 and 2020 – approved more funding for Animal Services but not the dedicated tax rate Pets Trust wanted.
Pets Trust figures show that Animal Services’ budget has increased by almost 250% since 2012 to reach $ 32 million, and spayings performed by the agency have also increased by almost 90% to around 25,000. per year. But the annual animal intake has remained essentially stable at around 30,000 per year before the pandemic, although that figure is expected to increase for the fiscal year that ends September 30, 2022.
âThe Pets Trust plan provided for 120,000 sterilization or sterilization surgeries per year, and the funding was there to do it,â Rosenberg said. âWe wanted to anticipate the problem and not always play catch-up. “
Big dogs need a home
As 2022 approaches, Animal Services is bracing for record population levels at its $ 15 million Doral shelter which opened in 2016.
To free up space, the county agency is stepping up efforts to find other homes for large dogs.
One avenue relies on County Foster Volunteers, where residents agree to temporarily welcome dogs or cats that remain available to the public for adoption.
Animal Services recently offered gift cards to foster family volunteers willing to accommodate additional dogs. Bronwyn Stanford, the new Director of Animal Services recently hired by Levine Cava, presents the holidays as a good time for families to welcome a foster dog for a few weeks.
âWe would like people to take dogs just for the holidays,â Stanford said. “Just to give them a break from the shelter.”
Shipping dogs elsewhere is a strategy reserved for the more difficult dogs to adopt. Miami-Dade transported nearly 700 dogs north in 2019, but only around 360 last year, according to budget figures. For 2022, the goal is more than 700 transports.
A non-profit rescue group supporting Animal Services recently funded an airlift of dogs out of the shelter and to a rescue farm in Canada. The theft from the nonprofit Wings of Rescue cost about $ 34,000, said Yolanda Berkowitz, president of Friends of Miami Animals, which sponsored the transport, along with private donors.
The plane shipped 54 dogs to the Dog Tales farm in Ontario. Berkowitz said that kind of expense is rare, but that she didn’t want Miami-Dade to miss a flight as the shelter population grows.
âIt’s a reflection of the fact that they have so many big dogs at the shelter,â she said.
Flora Beal, public information manager at Animal Services, said the theft took away some dogs that arrived before May 2021. These transports made Trisha the boxer the longest-serving resident of the shelter.
âIf it hadn’t been for this theft, you would have another pet named Rocco who has been here for 190 days,â Beal said.
Trisha lives in the kind of county pen that was once double the size, when shelter officials had enough extra room to leave the back panel up and allow a dog to occupy both cages. Now the shelter needs both enclosures, in an area where dozens of dogs live when they are not being walked by county staff and volunteers or visiting potential owners.
Beal attached a leash to the harness of another staff member attached to Trisha. Next, Beal, Trisha, and two visitors walked to the mini dog park system outside the shelter – a collection of benches and artificial turf surrounded by outdoor fencing where dogs can be left off leash.
âYou can tell she’s good on a leash,â Beal said as Trisha moved forward at a leisurely pace. âShe doesn’t shoot. It is always a good thing.
Trisha ignored the barking of other dogs in the area and had to be coaxed into eating a treat offered by Beal. Instead, the boxer seemed to prefer to sit close to the human who had chosen to sit on the bench, a hint that scratches might be available.
âHe’s a very well-adapted pet,â Beal said as Trisha sat next to a visitor, looking at the shelter’s parking lot through the fence. “She just wants this human interaction, this human affection.”
Adopt a pet
Miami-Dade Pet Adoption and Protection Center
3599 NW 79th Ave., Doral, Florida 33122
This story was originally published November 26, 2021 3:21 pm.