By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Half the job, Cure says, is knowing how to deal with people; the animals aren't the problem. "Sometimes people call and say their animal's sick and when I get there, there ain't nothin' wrong with it. They just want to get rid of it. We get that all the time, all the time."
Sometimes people try to drag the Humane Society into the middle of their disputes with neighbors. Once, Cure remembers, the Humane Society got a report that a neighbor's cat had been poisoned. "I went to the neighbor's apartment and the husband pulled a gun on me," he says. "The cat looked okay to me."
When he gets to the trailer park, a woman waves Cure to a stop. She has trapped the kitten under an upturned laundry basket. Pus dribbles from an infected eye. On the way back to the Humane Society, Cure suggests the kitten's fate without actually saying it: "Underweight, too young -- two and a half to three weeks old -- eye infected. Not adoptable. Lot of strays carry diseases you might not see on the outside." Within ten minutes, the animal is in a yellow bag.
It's a slow evening. The next call doesn't come in for a couple of hours. As long as they're readily available to take a call, the drivers can do whatever they want during down time; this evening Cure makes a stop at a relative's house to check on an old car he's restoring, has an early fast-food dinner, visits some friends, and catches part of a college football game on TV. At about 7:00 he is notified about a stray cat with a broken leg that has wandered onto the grounds of a doctor's house in Kendall. When Cure picks up the cat from the plush estate -- complete with an electronic gate and a Lexus and Jag in the garage -- the couple makes a donation of $50 without being asked.
Back behind the wheel, Cure observes, "Most people don't come looking for their animals. Sometimes we find dogs with dog tags on 'em and we call up and they don't want it any more. A couple of weeks ago we had a dog with a beeper number on the tag. I called the guy and he said it wasn't his dog. But I picked up the dog in the area where the guy lived, so I knew good and well it was his dog."
Then come two more calls: an injured cat presumably hit by a car near Naranja in deep Southwest Dade, and a wounded dog in the Brownsville neighborhood of Miami. By night's end both will have been euthanized. But Cure still has a lot of driving to do. (The cat with the broken leg will remain in the truck throughout the ride. Animals injured at night and in need of immediate medical attention are taken to a private veterinary clinic in North Miami that treats the Humane Society's animals at no charge.)
Out of range of the pirate radio station, Cure twists the dial, then settles his bulk back into his seat. "If there's one thing about this job, it's that you find the shortcuts," Cure crows. "Ooooh, you find the shortcuts. I don't think there's a shortcut I don't know." He goes silent for a while, letting the sounds of Barry White fill the cab. "So," he pipes up, "You think the Gators'll win the national championship?"
Most of the Humane Society's charges don't come in on the back of a rescue truck; they arrive through the door marked "RECEIVING," led or carried by the people who don't want them any more. "Here we're the local dump," spits Becky Reynolds, the shelter manager. "People who bring their animals here don't care what you do with them. They don't want to know what you do with them. The burden and guilt they throw right on the people who work here."
The kennels are always crowded with "donated" animals that were abandoned for ridiculous reasons. There's Suki, a two-year-old Akita from Hialeah, whose owner claimed the dog was "hyper." The former owner of Rocky, a year-old Lab-chow mix, "has too many animals," according to intake documents attached to the dog's run. A beagle mix named Sunrise came from a home in southwest Dade ("Can't afford to keep"). Nearby is Keisha, a six-year-old Siamese cat cowering fearfully in her litter box. The owner was "allergic to hair."
Other common (or notorious) excuses: "doesn't get along with my kids"; "jumps on the children"; "moving"; and the legendary "doesn't match the furniture."
Scoffs Reynolds: "Most of the time it's behavioral problems, and that could be changed. If they'd read up on their breed, they'd know. We've had 'em when they've brought a Labrador retriever. Now, the animal's 45 pounds and they say it's too large. Or ~`The cat sheds in the house.'"
Scott Jelescheff, the center's coordinator for volunteers and special fundraising events, points out two dogs, both rottweilers, that had been dropped off that morning. Their owner gave their names as "Luggar" and "Barreta." When the intake staffer pointed out to the man that if he'd intended to name his dogs after firearms he'd misspelled the names, the man declared that he had spelled the names correctly, and left in a huff.