Before even walking into the brand-new, multi-million dollar Miami Dade Animal Services building, it became obvious that the shelter still has serious problems. The parking situation is a huge one. It was poorly planned and is inconvenient for those trying to visit the shelter. On a Monday at noon, there was not one parking space available. To make a poor situation worse, when trying to find a parking space on one side of the building, there is nowhere to turn around at the end of the lot, so if there are four cars in the lot looking for a space to park, all four cars must back up through the lot to get out. I was forced to park across the street from the shelter outside the UPS facility, next to their fence, on grass and dirt. This was on a Monday afternoon. It’s difficult to imagine what the situation is like on a weekend. Whoever designed this parking lot and planned for the number of cars sorely miscalculated.
When I asked the director of the shelter, Alex Muñoz, about this problem, he was dismissive. “There’s lots of parking,” he said. I replied that there were no parking spaces available. He said, “There’s plenty of parking in the building.” I was mystified and asked, “You mean there is indoor parking?” Instead of giving me the courtesy of a response (I am from Chicago and we do have indoor parking), he sneered at me and walked away. Hardly the attitude of someone who wants people to feel welcome at the new shelter.
Once inside the shelter, things did not get better. Something good about the new shelter is that the dogs are now housed in a place where there is air conditioning. However, the fact that the dogs are housed in small cages — tiny, actually — with no outdoor access, is horrible. Not one dog is in a kennel that has access to the outdoors. Most of the dogs — even the really large ones — are in small cages with drains to catch the urine and excrement that the dogs leave in the same small area where they eat and sleep. It’s really disgusting. And while the workers do seem to try to keep the kennels clean, when dogs are not allowed to potty as needed, they have no choice but to use their kennel as a toilet area.
Small dogs and cute fluffy dogs probably get walked often during the day, but large dogs and dogs who look “scary” may never get walked, according to volunteers. One cage had two piles of excrement in it when I passed by. The poor dog wanted to get some attention from me, but she kept trying — and was unable to — avoid the large pile by the door of the cage.
Almost none of the dogs in the cages have bedding. This is very strange because in late December of 2015, a benefactor donated 250 Kuranda beds to the shelter. Volunteers remember this clearly because they spent a weekend putting them together. When I asked Mr. Muñoz where the Kuranda beds were, at first he denied that they ever had them. I persisted and he finally said, “Oh, those? That was a long time ago.”
Really, Alex? Six months is a long time? Kuranda beds cost about $75 each. That’s a donation of approximately $19,000 dollars in beds for the dogs. Where are the beds? Why don’t the dogs have any bedding to make their tiny cages a tiny bit more comfortable?
In addition to the tiny cages, no outdoor access, and lack of bedding, the shelter is designed so that most people only visit the first few pods, and the dogs in the rear of the building — in pods I, J, K and L — don’t get as many visitors. This problem could be solved by simply rotating the dogs so that all dogs get a chance to be seen, but the shelter does not do that. When I walked through the various pods, in one pod almost all of the kennel cards were missing. When I asked where they were, no one knew. I persisted, and much later, someone informed me that the information was on the other side of the cages. The only problem is that the other side of the cages was not accessible to anyone looking at the dogs.
There are dogs in large rooms at the front of each pod, but again, the shelter doesn’t make things easy. There is no way to know any information about the dogs in those rooms. Their kennel cards are not readily available, so that if someone is taken with a particular dog in that room, they won’t know whom to ask for.
In one kennel, the kennel card did not match the dog. Upon investigation, I realized that there were, in fact, three kennel cards in the plastic envelope. None of them appeared to actually belong to the dog who was in the kennel.
The kennel cards themselves are poorly conceived. They include no specific information about the animals. Instead of being allowed to write notes on them like “good on a leash” or “likes other dogs,” the volunteers are forbidden from writing any such notes on the cards. Prospective adopters must guess at the temperament of the dog.
While wandering through the kennels, it was clear that sick dogs were mixed in with the healthy ones. When the kennel staff were asked about a dog’s obvious illness (runny eyes, persistent cough, bloody diarrhea), they knew nothing. Exhibition rooms were empty, the shelter choosing to pass on the opportunity to showcase special dogs .
Something that is strange for an open-access county shelter is the small number of cats there. There were fewer than 100 cats at the shelter and many of them were kittens. Apparently, Miami does not have a stray cat problem because there were not many adult cats available for adoption. Some of the kittens were housed alone, crying pitifully for company. Many shelters try to house kittens of the same age together so that they have company and are socialized.
Perhaps the saddest part of the visit to the new-but-not-improved shelter is that the same practices are going on as at the old shelter — dogs being killed and rescues not allowed to pull them (see “Shelter mixup to cost small dog his life“). And anyone is allowed to adopt a dog with little information about how to successfully integrate the dog into a new household. Worse, there was no information to be seen in the lobby about spay and neuter programs. The failure was clearly evident when after the “Clear the Shelter” day on Saturday, dogs were being returned within 24 hours of their adoption. Upon their return to the shelter, such dogs are labeled owner return, a label that makes them more at risk than other dogs. When a dog is returned before even 24 hours have passed, that dog has not been given a fair chance to adjust to a new living situation. But Miami Dade Animal Services doesn’t really seem to care. There are no adoption counselors who actually sit down with those adopting to counsel them. There is no follow-up. No one calls to see how the dog is doing in the new home and offer advice if needed.
And communication continues to be a problem at this shelter. One man came into the shelter with his dog. He had been told on the phone that he could bring his dog to the shelter to meet with prospective dogs to make sure they got along. Again, Mr. Muñoz showed his lack of people skills when he clearly showed he had better things to do than explain to this man why he was given incorrect information. In fact, he walked away mid-sentence. Other people mentioned bringing dogs in to get tags and being told by shelter staff to put their animals in the car while conducting business at the shelter– in Miami on a 90-degree day!
Many people won’t even go to the shelter to adopt an animal once they realize that there is no parking available. It’s a new shelter with tiny kennels, no outdoor access for dogs, minimal information about the animals, and sick animals mixed with the healthy. Poor planning, poor execution — it’s not unexpected, but it’s very disappointing.
Miami-Dade, you could have done better!
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