One Million and Counting

The Humane Society's four drivers aren't the only animal-rescue personnel plying the county's streets. The Dade County pound, officially known as the Metro-Dade Animal Care & Control Division, has its own crew of about fifteen drivers. Though the Humane Society and Animal Care & Control are regularly confused, and their services overlap, they are two distinct entities. The county agency's $3.1 million annual budget is funded almost entirely by dog license fees, adoption/redemption fees, and fines stemming from animal-related infractions. The Humane Society, meanwhile, is a nonprofit organization that subsists on a $1.5 million annual budget funded by private donations, wills, and bequests, fees for services such as adoptions and euthanasias, and grants. (The group receives no funding from the national Humane Society, with which it is affiliated in name only.) And while the Humane Society's mandate is to care for abandoned animals, the county is concerned primarily with the well-being of the citizenry; sick, injured, or dead animals are an issue because they pose a threat to public health.

Animal Care & Control is part of the Public Works Department. The division's drivers work from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. picking up dogs running loose A a violation of Florida law A as well as injured or sick stray dogs. According to division chief John Zobler, Metro workers are not permitted to pick up cats because there is no ordinance that prohibits cats from running loose. The county handles cats only if they are donated by owners. Cats, in fact, aren't required to be licensed in Metro. "People in the county believe cats are free-roaming animals," Zobler says with no small amount of annoyance, asserting that cats are the primary vectors of rabies. This past year he spearheaded an unsuccessful effort to pass an ordinance requiring rabies vaccinations and licenses for cats as well as dogs. Faced with an outpouring of angry public sentiment, commissioners voted down the ordinance.

A significantly smaller operation than Animal Care & Control, the Humane Society provides a bigger breadth of services. (The agency intends to build a new, four-million-dollar headquarters in South Dade; executive director Merrill Crews says he doesn't know when construction will begin, but he hopes to have the plans finalized within six months.) While its drivers defer to the county during the day when it comes to stray and injured dogs, they pick up all the nighttime slack and respond to cat-related calls around the clock. Humane Society personnel also handle animals Metro won't touch. (Domesticatable animals such as rabbits are adopted out; other critters are passed on to a private wildlife rehabilitation company.)

One concern that the agencies share involves the proliferation of stray cats and dogs in Dade. The numbers are daunting and have turned both organizations into veritable animal mills.

To illustrate this problem, the Humane Society distributes a graphic representation of the procreative potential of cats. It's a picture of a pyramid of felines. At the top are two healthy members of the species, a male and female. Assuming that the pair has two litters per year with 2.8 surviving kittens per litter, and that each has a ten-year breeding life (and assuming each of their offspring has the same reproductive capacity), the pyramidal form represents the increase of the population. Within two years, those two progenitors would beget 68 cats. By year five, the colony would be 12,680 strong. Year eight would usher in a nation-state of 2,423,316. And after a decade of unfettered intercourse, the original couple's cumulative offspring could top 80 million, a veritable feline empire.

The numbers scare and sadden animal lovers and the public officials responsible for keeping our streets clean. Not only does uncontrolled breeding increase the spread of diseases such as rabies, it also results in more mandatory killings at places like the Humane Society and Animal Care & Control. Zobler puts the estimated number of Dade's cats at a little more than 500,000, dogs at a little less than 500,000. Of those, he guesses, about 20 percent are stray.

Through September of 1995, Animal Care & Control:
* received 24,378 animals, a vast majority of which were untagged dogs
* adopted out 3528 animals
* reunited 1242 animals with their owners
* euthanized 18,546 animals

* scraped 3198 dead animals off the roadways, including 1805 dogs and 932 cats

On any given day, an average of 354 animals have occupied the department's kennels, runs, and cages. The population has risen as high as 420. Cats usually number between 20 and 25, Zobler says. Animal Care & Control has a statutory obligation to keep recovered stray dogs for a minimum of five days if they aren't in distress. No such obligation exists for cats or for animals surrendered by their owners.

The Humane Society runs a smaller shop, but its statistics are no less alarming. Through October of 1995, the organization:

* received 9242 animals
* adopted out 1735 animals
* reunited 44 animals with their owners
* euthanized 5605 animals
* sent 657 to Animal Care & Control

Director of operations Ernesto de Palacios says the Humane Society has no set requirements regarding how long animals are kept. The group will, however, try to keep cats and dogs for at least a few days, particularly if they appear to belong to someone. Pets put up for adoption by owners are held according to the same schedule as adoptable pets found on the street. On any given day, between 90 and 120 cats and dogs call the Humane Society home, albeit a very temporary one.


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