Miami-Dade County, Fla. residents voting in the November 2012 election will vote on a measure to assist some of the county's most desperate residents: homeless dogs and cats.
Ballot issue #240 asks voters to approve funding for The Pets' Trust, an organization that will provide "proactive and preventative programs to address overpopulation and euthanasia of adoptable dogs and cats," said Lindsay Gorton, a founding member and volunteer with the group.
The program's emphasis would be providing free or reduced-cost spay and neuter procedures for dogs and cats in the county, which would reduce overpopulation of unwanted animals.
The ballot measure is not "binding," meaning it does not create any actual legislation. If a majority of voters approve it, #240 will direct members of the County Commission to set up the program, as well as secure the funding. Council members would not be required to do so.
According to county self-reported statistics, animal shelters in Miami-Dade County -- including Miami-Dade Animal Control, and Humane Society of Greater Miami -- receive approximately 37,000 dogs and cats each year. Of these animals, they euthanize approximately 20,000 (about 1,000 pets are also brought to shelters to be euthanized due to health issues). The vast majority of these animals are labeled by shelter staff as "healthy" or have minor injuries or illnesses that are easily treatable, and they are therefore adoptable. These dogs and cats are killed only to make room for newer animals entering the facility every day.
Combined animals also euthanized in Broward County, Palm Beach County, and Monroe County, South Florida's animal shelters are killing over 100,000 animals yearly for the sole reason that there are simply too many to keep alive.
Also problematic are the county's homeless cats: figures from The Pets' Trust estimate there are 400,000 cats living on the streets in Miami-Dade County alone, most of which are not spayed or neutered and give birth to countless kittens every year. According to AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association), 75 percent of feral kittens "die or disappear" within six months. Even if kittens live into adulthood, their lives are not easy; despite common beliefs that cats can easily adapt to living in the wild, the average life span of a "feral" (wild) cat is approximately two years, their death resulting either from disease or being hit by a car.
However, Miami-Dade Animal Control does not actively collect homeless cats, as there are so many they have been classified as part of the natural environment. Furthermore, when residents bring feral cats off the streets and into a shelter, it does not mean they will live out healthier lives.
"Picking up cats and bringing them to the shelter means they will be put to death," Gorton said. "There is no room for them."
A publicly funded spay/neuter program certainly seems logical in terms of the financial impact on the county. According to Gorton, performing a spay or neuter operation on an animal costs approximately $60; for Animal Control to catch a stray dog, keep it for the minimum time for adoption, and then euthanize it as well as dispose of the body, the cost is $300. Residents would also benefit from the reduction of dead cats in the community that require disposal, as well as the spread of disease to other animals and people.
The implementation of The Pets' Trust is still in the planning stages, although it already has widespread support from Miami-Dade commissioners. Michael Rosenberg, President of The Pets' Trust, recently completed a publicity campaign in which he lived in an Animal Control kennel for a weekend, a move that garnered extensive media attention.
As it is currently envisioned, the program would be funded "through a tiny increase in property tax," Gorton said. "The average homeowner would pay $10 for every $100,000 of value once the resolution is finalized and enacted. This would bring in an estimated $20 million each year for the program.
"We do not yet know how the funds will be divided," she continued. "That will come when the resolution is written and enacted. However, the majority will go to spay and neuter dogs and cats."
Gorton also said a "small" portion of the fund will pay a salaries for the director and "one or two support staff." Because the program is not yet finalized, Gorton said she does not know the exact amount of their salaries, but administrative staff is usually five percent of the budget.
Gorton said The Pets' Trust would theoretically boost efforts by grassroots organizations such as The Cat Network by providing them money to expand their services and "increase their capacity." The Cat Network provides free spay/neuter operations and vaccinations to feral cats that are brought in by county residents. These cats have the tips of their ears clipped to show they have been "fixed," and then are re-released to where they were living. The Cat Network also provides the same health care for cats that are pets, but charge fees for services, since the organization is a private not-for-profit that is funded by donations and grants.
For more information, go to www.petstrustmiami.com.