Playing the numbers game: is Miami Dade Animal Services really no-kill?

miami numbers

“We gotta work on reducing shelter intake,” is what Alex Muñoz, director of Miami Dade Animal Services, told NBC reporter Roxanne Vargas during a recent interview touting the shelter’s “impressive” 90% save rate. They compared the statistics to the much more dismal statistics from a few years ago when 51% of the animals were being killed. But a closer look at the facts reveals some disturbing truths, and that the shelter may be tweaking numbers and facts to make the “no-kill” 90% target happen.

Terra was listed as RTO (return to owner). She was really killed at the shelter.

Terra was listed as RTO (return to owner). She was really killed at the shelter.

If one examines the chart showing the numbers from 2011 to 2014, over 1,500 fewer animals were rescued or transferred out of the shelter. The number of animals dying in the shelter (not killed, but dying in their cages or kennels), went from 290 in 2011 to 501 in 2014. Why are more animals dying in the shelter?

But perhaps the biggest misleading figures can be seen when three areas are examined: TNR (trap, neuter, release), Saved, and Killed (Euthanized). Instead of killing the stray cats that are brought to the shelter, they are now sterilized and abandoned back on the streets. The figures for TNR clearly reflect that. In 2011, there were no cats in the TNR column. By 2014, 8,259 cats, almost 10,000 cats, were simply dumped on the streets of Miami. That change serves to make the kill rate go from 13,756 in 2011 to 5,140 in 2014 (the math is easy, simply subtract the 8,259 cats dumped back on the streets instead of being killed). That also serves to make the save rate look better. The shelter is counting the cats returned to a life as a stray as being a “save.” I doubt the cats would consider themselves “saved.”

The government officials claim that the shelter is “at or above the 80% save rate” for cats. That may be true because the shelter includes in the “save” rate those cats who are sterilized and dumped back on the streets to try to survive, get killed by a roaming dog, get hit by cars, get disease and die horrible slow deaths. This is not “saving” the cats. For example, with this thinking, if the shelter sterilized all the animals they received (dogs and cats) and then just dumped them back on the streets, there would be a 100% save rate. But is that really solving the problem of dogs and cats roaming the streets hungry and abandoned? In fact, by releasing many cats, some surely tame, back on the streets, MDAS is surely condemning them to a life of struggle — they are, in fact, abandoning those cats.

Then there is the fact that those who live in Miami and work to rescue the dogs from the shelter claim that the shelter actually lies on its documents. As one example, they point to the case of Terra, a dog who arrived at the shelter as a “stray” (according to the shelter). When this neglected dog was reported to be “returned to owner” (RTO) in the MDAS documents, volunteers became concerned that an obviously neglected dog had been returned to the neglectful owner. Questions were asked. When MDAS tried to delay (see attached emails), answers were demanded of the shelter. The final story was that the dog had been turned in by the owner and “euthanasia” was requested. Yet in their numbers, Terra is showing up as RTO, not a dog who was killed. Terra is shown as a “saved” dog. Here is the link to a video of questions being asked of Alex Muñoz.

There is also a concern that the shelter is labeling dogs as “aggressive” so that they can be killed. Read more about this issue in the article “Miami Dade Animal Services labels dogs “aggressive” and then kills them.” A dog named Dexter was labeled aggressive, and the shelter did not bother to post photographs of him so he could be networked on social media. Yet his video shows a dog whose tail wags and who is thrilled to greet people. Not an aggressive bone to be seen.

Volunteers and residents of Miami Dade County also point out another failing of the shelter. There are several rural areas in Miami Dade County, including the Redlands, the Rock Pit Quarry, and the Everglades. While as many as a hundred dogs roam those areas, the shelter never goes there to pick up strays. A group of dedicated volunteers buys food and not only feed the dogs there and give them water, but also find rescue for many of the dogs. Unfortunately, the group cannot take them all, and the very graphic photos show some of the dogs who are killed before they could be rescued. MDAS does nothing to help these animals. Nothing. The founder of the Facebook page Ready for Change at Miami Dade Animal Shelter wrote: “Sadly there is a direct correlation to these false numbers and the fact that they are doing nothing about the strays that are roaming the streets in these areas where they refuse to go.”

Another way to look at the supposed 90% save rate at the shelter is this: if you only picked up and accepted as many dogs as you knew you could adopt out, you would achieve a 100% save rate. By limiting the number of dogs they accept, by labeling some dogs as aggressive, by dumping most of the stray cats back on the streets, and by listing killed dogs as being returned to owners, is that tweaking the numbers at MDAS? Those who are fighting for change at the shelter certainly believe so.

This writer sent a few questions to the shelter about those figures. “Are the owner surrenders (with euthanasia request) entered into the system and do they become part of the shelter statistics? Which animals get numbers which are part of the total statistics? And if owners request that a healthy animal be killed, is that request filled?” It’s been almost two weeks with no response.

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