Should Miami-Dade's New Pet Shelter Be No-Kill?

It's the last stop for thousands of

stray and abandoned cats and dogs in Miami-Dade: an aging building

surrounded by gray warehouses in industrial Medley. On a recent

morning, 20 new strays have already come in, including a shih tzu, a

schnauzer, and a beagle. They're just a handful of the 100 or so

dogs and 200 cats that arrive on an average day at the overworked,

undersized shelter built decades ago.

Change is coming for Dade's wayward

pets, with a 69,000-square-foot facility ready to break ground in

Doral next year. But behind the scenes, a vicious fight is brewing

over how to handle the animals there.

Miami-Dade has to take in any

domesticated animal that comes its way, and as a result ends up

euthanizing up to 30,000 every year. A growing chorus, though, is

calling for the new shelter to be no-kill, meaning at least 90

percent must be adopted out.

County Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz sponsored a bill to that effect which passed a committee this month. Shelter director Alex Muñoz says the agency already struggles to handle the large numbers of dogs that Miamians abandon.

"We're even seeing more and more perfectly healthy pure-bred dogs being turned in," he says. "It's a community issue that needs to be addressed."

Muñoz led a reporter through the aging current shelter to illustrate the challenges. An average of 37,000 animals come through every year. In one room, large pens hold litters of three to six kittens each. "People trap them and bring the cats here because they don't want them on their property," he says. "We get 15,000 cats a year."

The main facility has long since been overtaken by the numbers. The results have horrified some critics and led in part to the resignation of Animal Services Director Sara Pizano last year.

In March 2011, the department was forced to shut down due to a distemper outbreak. In August, shortly after Pizano resigned and warned that looming budget cuts would further erode the department, another disease epidemic killed 14 cats and forced an additional 72 to be put down. And on December 31, the canine side had to be locked down once again because of distemper.

Muñoz says the old shelter's poor ventilation and overcrowding make such outbreaks impossible to prevent. Regardless of whether the new shelter goes no-kill, he says the project -- a $6.6 million Doral warehouse redesigned for $457,897 -- will drastically improve conditions. Each animal will get its own individual glass-encased pen with ventilation to stop the spread of airborne viruses.

But that's still two years away. While the county commission and activists fight over the kill policy, thousands of dogs and cats will meet their end in this outdated facility.

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