By: Diana Bello Aristizabal
Photos: Miami-Dade County Animal Services
September is Animal Pain Awareness Month, and unfortunately this summer some animal cruelty cases were reported in the county. Although this is an uncommon scenario in a community best known for being animal friendly, this is still very disturbing and encourage us to question ourselves about the great responsibility we have with pets and all creatures that inhabit the planet.
It’s beyond surprising how little empathy some people have with dogs, cats, and other living beings that, contrary to people, are unable to express their needs with words and are much more likely to get hurt. This was the case of ‘Miracle’, a female dog who wandered the streets of North Miami with a shot in her head until she was rescued by a group of volunteers.
A four-year-old dog who was stabbed in Pompano Beach and another one who was caught on a security camera being abandoned by his owners in a Miami park on a hot summer day met a similar fate.
“Animals also grief, experience trauma, get bored and need motivation,” says Flora Beal, public affairs administrator of Miami-Dade County Animal Services. It’s because of all this that the decision to have a pet must be taken with great responsibility and not simply moved by a need for company or to own the trendy breed of the moment.
“Before becoming a parent of a dog, cat, or any other animal, honestly assess whether or not you are emotionally, physically, and financially ready to take charge of a life,” recommends Flora.
In this sense, cases like the above and others that are not reported could be prevented if people understood that a pet needs much more than a plate of food, a place to rest, and a roof on their heads.
The above is something basic that must be provided, in addition to the vaccination scheme required by the county, visits to the veterinary and supplies such as a leash and a tag. However, they also require growing in a safe and functional home with individuals that have the mental stability to care for them properly.
“Animals need stimulation just like humans do,” explains Flora, for whom it is necessary to do some research about the breed and candidate of interest to better learn about their temper, if they need little or a lot of physical activity, and if they are inclined to be calm or, on the contrary, nervous.
Once the personality traits are identified, the recommendation is for the potential caregivers to ask themselves whether or not those traits fit with their lifestyle. “It’s a lifelong commitment, you have to think about it carefully.”
In addition to educating ourselves on how to properly choose a pet, it’s important that as a community we act responsibly towards all animals surrounding us, as well as exercise good practices to help reduce emotional suffering and the overpopulation of dogs and cats in shelters.
First of all, it should be known that the vast majority of animals that end up in shelters or rescues escaped from their home or, due to different circumstances, got lost. The sad thing about this situation is that 74 percent of them are within a mile of their place of residence when they are found by strangers.
For this reason, the community is highly encouraged not to take them to a shelter or rescue immediately after being discovered. According to Miami-Dade Animal Services, stray dogs or cats that are kept in the same area they came from have an 83 percent chance of reuniting back with their owners, while those that are taken to a shelter have less than 20 percent.
“If you find them on the street, take them to a local vet, walk them around to see if anyone recognizes them, or post on social media. Taking them to a shelter should be the last resort, because at this moment the adoption rate is very low while we continue to receive the same number of animals,” Flora says.
On the other hand, between 80 and 90 percent, approximately, of the animals that are received have no collar or microchip, so there isn’t any feasible way to return them back home. As a result, they enter into a system that despite best efforts is not the most suitable environment for them due to being overcapacity, and thus, overcrowded.
The good news is that those who lack the financial resources to keep a pet at home while the owners are being found can approach Miami-Dade Animal Services where they will receive food, a cage, leash, collar, and other items so they can take care of their new guests.
“We want stray animals to have a better chance to return to their families. That is why we also offer deferred appointments for one or two weeks when there is no space available. After that time, we contact the people to let them know if a spot has opened or not or if they need to wait a little longer.
But collective responsibility also consists of contemplating adoption as the first option when thinking about having a pet. In doing so, not only one life is saved, but two: the adopted pet and another one that because a new spot has opened has a roof, food, and a place to rest.