Ever wondered what would happen if your municipal shelter didn’t accept dogs and cats surrendered by your community’s residents? Sadly, Miamians are currently in the throes of such a calamity since Miami-Dade’s Animal Services division temporarily closed its doors to owner-surrendered intake of dogs.

Sure, Miami-Dade Animal Services (MDAS) will still attempt to take dangerous dogs off the streets and keep the shelter alive for feline services during this stressful period, but here's the reality: it looks like the chronic underfunding that has plagued MDAS over the past decades has finally caught up with its canine population.

Not that previous years haven’t seen its challenges, but a serious crisis has been brewing — no, snowballing — since December, at which time shelter pet activists (including lots of increasingly vocal, No-Kill Nation-affiliated South Floridians) took their case to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez’s Facebook page, demanding he open his eyes to the desperate state of the county’s aged shelter facility.

Things got progressively more heated when in mid-February a group of outraged shelter pet activists drafted a petition in protest of Dr. Sara Pizano, MDAS’s Director of six years, citing her failure to get Miami-Dade’s only municipally-funded shelter in working order, and (more acutely) the inhumane conditions at the outdated facility under her control, including an alleged episode of inhumane euthanasia practiced under her watch.

Yet according to this local news report:

When Dr. Pizano first took over the shelter, 28,000 animals were brought in and fewer than 5,700 of them were able to be saved. In 2010, under Pizano's leadership, the facility took in nearly 36,000 pets and saved nearly 14,000 of them.

"But is that enough?" the protesters asked. If under her watch pets are still being euthanized en masse and housed in substandard conditions, can we not agree that more needs to be done?

All of this happened just before the nail in the coffin was driven deep last week, when a massive distemper outbreak finally broke the back of MDAS’s failing system — which I wrote about as it was emerging, weeks ago.

Though efforts to reign in the contagion have been ongoing for nigh two months now (including one Sunday I spent helping in the free distemper vaccinations of area pets), the effects of the virus have been devastating to the shelter, to the adopting public and, most of all, to the animals still living within the facility: a total shutdown, decided upon through the joint efforts of the University of Florida, Maddie's Fund and the ASPCA.

Which totally makes sense. When you've got a facility so outdated that the animals cannot be safely housed in the face of this kind of contagion, what else can you do?

When the county’s commissioners and mayor decide it's better to fund a ballpark while opposing public health amenities like animal services, can we not agree that something is being fundamentally mismanaged?

Miami-Dade’s mayor was recently recalled by a sweeping referendum due to his chronic mismanagement of taxpayer funds. Miami's boondoggle ballpark — a lasting testament to his fiscal folly, brash style, and cronyistic tendencies — rises high against the backdrop of Little Havana as Miami-Dade's Animal Services facility falls apart at the seams.

As many national animal welfare organizations have attested in light of our animal healthcare crisis, no shelter is immune to this kind of disaster. Infectious disease outbreaks happen even in the best-managed facilities. But it's also altogether too plain that Miami-Dade's problems have less to do with micro-mismanagement by Dr. Pizano than with the big-picture ills that plague our county government.

Luckily, an unprecedented weekend-long outpouring of community support, galvanized by a massive adoption effort led by Dr. Pizano and her staff's PR efforts, forestalled any more distemper related deaths (for the moment anyway). Now that all but a tiny group of dogs is left to face euthanasia, it's clear that the distemper virus's relentless course can be temporarily halted.

As is undoubtedly the case for so many outdated municipal shelters in the country, Miami-Dade's facility is a disgrace. No world-class city deserves such a disgustingly underfunded facility. In light of this recent healthcare crisis and subsequent shutdown, I'm given to wonder whether anything will give the Miami-Dade County powers that be pause to consider the obvious:

We'll never be a world-class city if our citizenry's most defenseless companions are subject to conditions better suited to a third-world slum than to a "first-world" metropolis.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pic of the day: Shelter Dog by eng1ne