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.

A neighbor had said the dogs were rampaging around a piece of property behind his: a duplex, vacant, its front and rear doors ajar. Armed only with his flashlight, Vinton pushes his way in. An old stove sits in a corner, trash is strewn on the floor. Vinton moves slowly through the house and out into the back yard and wanders around the property. He spots several small puppies running loose. Though he notes that they're too young to be out there, he won't touch the animals because they are on private property.

Next door a dog in a squat, locked cage begins barking. From a distance it appears to be a pit bull. Pit bulls are illegal to possess in Dade County unless they were owned before the legislation passed in 1989, in which case the dogs must be registered with Metro and possess special liability insurance. "I don't think they can have a cage like that," Vinton muses, making a note to report both the cage and the puppies to the county.

Driving north, Vinton swings past the parking lot where he began the shift -- again without turning up anything -- then moves on to the location where the other injured dog was reported more than three hours earlier, as he was on his way to West Miami. The address is a narrow, tree-lined street of modest townhomes and broken sidewalks. Vinton locates the dog, a puppy, but he's too late. Teeth bared, eyes wide, ears erect, it has been dead for hours and is stiff with rigor mortis. It wears a collar but has no tag.

Packing the carcass in a yellow bag, he returns to the Humane Society, where he scans it for a microchip. "I'm very confident some of the animals I pick up at night belong to people," he laments.

The kitten recovered in Coconut Grove makes a quick trip from the truck to the euthanasia room. Its tortured cry, like a creaky door, ceases in seconds, and Vinton swings the pair of plastic-swathed bodies into the cooler with the week's other dead awaiting their final ride south.

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