24 Hours a Stray

The Humane Society's animal rescue drivers work hard to save the wounded, to rescue the sick and abandoned. But usually the endings are not so happy.

The Humane Society doesn't keep every injured or sick animal that passes through its doors. In fact, only a small fraction stay around. The first concern is to determine whether a recovered animal has an owner. In the absence of an ID tag or tattoo, the rescue personnel scan the animal for the presence of a microchip, which some pet owners have surgically implanted in their pets. The microchips carry identification such as the owner's name, address, and phone number.

Unidentified dogs are usually sent to the county's dog pound, the Metro-Dade Animal Care & Control Division, although the Humane Society keeps some dogs (particularly puppies) it deems easily curable and adoptable. Cats and kittens with a good chance of recovery and adoption are also held. (Metro-Dade, on the other hand, doesn't take any cats unless they're dropped off by owners.) Those beyond repair get an immediate appointment with the euthanasia syringe.

Often the drivers themselves determine the fate of the animals they pick up. Otherwise that call usually rests with the shelter manager. Becky Reynolds, a compact, fit woman with a mane of black hair and a no-nonsense disposition is on duty when Yera reaches the Humane Society's North Dade headquarters. "Keep 'em," she decrees, and disappears.

The sprightly female Dalmatian gets a small run of her own in one of several kennels arrayed throughout the labyrinthine edifice; Yera carries the male to a small cage in what is known as the "isolation room," reserved for sick and hurt animals awaiting an inspection by the staff vet. The Dalmatian curls up and lies unmoving. By 8:30, Yera is back on the road.

He makes a run down to the Humane Society's satellite shelter in Cutler Ridge, where manager Dierdra "Buffy" Jorgensen tells a story to explain the presence of a ferret in one of the cages. "A lady came in with a garbage bag in her hand and said she had a raccoon, it was in her yard. I said, 'We don't take raccoons, you need to call [Wee Care] Wildlife,'" she recounts, referring to an animal rehab company that usually sees to such matters. "She said no, and took the garbage bag and went..." Jorgensen swings her hands in a shoveling motion "...and threw the animal on the floor. It wasn't a raccoon, it was a ferret. And that little ferret went all over the place." And the woman? "She took off."

Yera goes north, collecting a mangy stray cat from the bushes outside a townhouse condo complex in West Kendall before responding to an "owner request" in North Miami Beach. There he pulls into the circular driveway of a plush, Mediterranean-style spread. A tubby, barefoot man in a torn white tank top and too-short pants pads out of the house. His dog's out back, he says curtly. It has been acting strange lately. "Don't know what's wrong with her. Runs away sometimes for weeks at a time. She didn't used to leave. She hasn't been the same since the accident nine, ten months ago. Then she started to wander."

The man leads Yera through the gate of a low fence into a vast back yard with a dog pen set off to one side. "He's about two," the man offers, but the dog, a gold-color mixed breed with ribs that show clearly through patchy red skin, looks older than twelve. The man says he has taken his pet to the vet "several times" for treatment. It skitters off as he approaches. Using a long pole with a rope attached at the end, the modern-day dog catcher's net, Yera manages to capture the dog.

"I don't have much luck with them," the man continues, while Yera hoists the creature into his truck. "Had a Doberman, ran out, got killed." He fills out a personal check to cover the cost of the dog's removal and euthanasia A $50, which is technically considered a donation. "I'm sorry, but these things happen. Bye. All right." The man walks back into his house without a second look. "Looks like the dog's never been treated," Yera remarks, rolling out of the driveway and heading for the Humane Society.

In the euthanasia room, which is the size of a big walk-in closet and smells of old animals, Yera pulls on a pair of plastic gloves, fixes a leather muzzle to the dog's snout, and fills a syringe with blue liquid from a bottle labeled Fatal Plus. The dog waits patiently, a different beast from the skittish thing that refused to be caught half an hour ago. Its head hangs so low that its nose touches the ground. When Yera steps in front of the dog, it begins to wag its tail.

Yera reaches down, expertly grasps one of the dog's forelegs, feels for a vein, and guides the needle in. "It's very important to get that vein," he notes. "He didn't even make a sound, see?"

The dog slowly drops back on its haunches, as if drunk. Its tailbone hits the linoleum floor with a hollow knocking sound. Moments later, the body keels over with a muffled thump, tail curled taut between hind legs. It will be a few more minutes before the dog has officially expired.

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