The Miami Model

Miami model
The Miami Model
How one concerned citizen galvanized a community to take action for animals and tackle a towering euthanization rate head on

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Eighteen months ago, Miami resident Michael Rosenberg had absolutely no experience in animal rescue. But he was interested in his community, and as a local businessman, photographer, and activist, was an enthusiastic participant in civic life. He often organized speakers for the Kendall Foundation, a Miami-area homeowners’ association of which he is a member, and, on a whim, decided to invite the head of Miami’s Animal Services department to discuss the efforts made to find homes for Miami’s stray and abandoned animals. The speech received polite interest—until the question and answer period rolled around and Rosenberg asked the head of the shelter system how many healthy animals were euthanized every year in Miami-Dade. “About 20,000,” was the terse reply. Rosenberg was shocked.

“Surely you must have had a bad year?” Rosenberg asked. They hadn’t been having a bad year. Miami-Dade’s euthanization rate had been holding steady for 25 years.

The next day, Rosenberg visited Animal Services, intending to photograph the animals and adopt a cat. More sobering realizations came quickly as he faced the desperately overcrowded animal cages. Although Miami-Dade Animal Services held regular adoption events, they were not sufficient to find enough homes for the animals overwhelming the shelter. Shelter staff were too busy to even walk the dogs; despite this, Rosenberg saw how friendly and positive the animals were, even as they were taken to be euthanized. Dogs destined to be dead minutes later often licked the faces of the shelter staff and wagged their tails until the final moment.

“It was then I realized that we needed real change,” Rosenberg said. He decided to start by getting all of Miami’s rescue organizations together for a meeting. Together with his collaborators Rita Schwartz and Lindsay Gorton, he inspired these various groups to unite to form the Pets’ Trust, an organization with the specific purpose of achieving an increase in Miami-Dade property taxes to fund a no-kill shelter initiative.

But when the Pets’ Trust went to Miami’s 13 commissioners, their initial reception was lukewarm at best. The commissioners thought it would be political suicide to raise taxes for animals. They were unwilling to even put the idea on the ballot in the November elections, saying that the idea would never garner popular support. Undeterred, Pets’ Trust members went to meet the commissioners, armed with a homeless dog that they had acquired just outside city hall. Faced with a real victim of Miami’s high-kill shelter policy, Miami’s city commissioners agreed that the Pets’ Trust could campaign for a property tax increase, but warned that it would take years—and millions of dollars—to successfully pass the motion.

Rosenberg realized that it was time for dramatic action. On October 5, 2012, Rosenberg was admitted to Animal Services to spend the weekend there—as a surrendered animal would. Rosenberg was caged in the facility, next to dogs and cats for 48 hours, under the glare of almost continual television coverage. His efforts were not in vain.

The Pets’ Trust ballot initiative was passed with 65 percent of the vote on Election Day—a colossal victory for the organization. It had taken just three months for the initiative to pass, an unprecedented achievement. Through a slight raise in property taxes, amounting to an increase of just $16 per average Miami household, a $20 million fund was created for low cost spay-neuter clinics, low cost veterinary care, and educational programs. Rosenberg says that now they are in the planning stages to create an effective program that will be a model for rescue beyond the borders of Miami-Dade. Miami-Dade animal service organizations are set to begin receiving funding from the initiative as of October 1st, 2013.

“Just ask your community if they would give a little money for the animals,” Rosenberg suggests to others who would be interested in pursuing a similar plan. “Just see what you could achieve.”

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