MIAMI – It's a story that will break your heart -- a story that for too long has been ignored. Perhaps because it's easier to pretend it's not happening.
In this 2-part special investigation, Local 10's Animal Advocate Jacey Birch takes you inside the Miami-Dade animal shelter to reveal numbers that are sickening. The content of this investigation will be disturbing to many of our viewers, but telling the truth is the only way anything will get done.
Tens of thousands of dogs and cats come through the doors of Miami-Dade Animal Services every year. Nearly half of them are put to death, rather than being sent to new homes.
There are crying puppies that will never make it out of their cages alive. Dogs desperate for love and attention. Animals surrendered by their owners -- killed the same day they are dropped off.
It's a shelter packed with unwanted pets -- overcrowded cages of sick, abused and neglected dogs and cats.
Miami-Dade Animal Services is a county-run, tax dollar-funded, public entity in charge of rescuing and adopting out abandoned animals.
"Generally, the shelter population far exceeds the number of cages that we have," said Kathleen Labrada. "It's never one animal per cage."
Labrada runs the shelter.
Staffing is also a problem.
"We don't have enough staff," Labrada said.
Three staff veterinarians, thirteen veterinary technicians and 33 animal care attendants make up the staff at MDAS, a facility that takes in over 30,000 animals every year.
The numbers are numbing.
In 2012, 31,223 dogs and cats ended up at the shelter. Nearly 12,000 -- almost 40 percent -- received a death sentence.
"We become overcrowded so quickly that we do end up euthanizing for something as simple as space," Labrada said.
It's something you don't normally see -- dead dogs wrapped in red bags -- lying next to live dogs in cages. Local 10's cameras captured it all.
More than 200 four-legged bodies pile up every week. At least 30 animals are killed daily, seven days a week, 365 days a year. And they all end up in a landfill.
"I think the shelter has been a dumping ground for unwanted and sometimes abused animals for years," said MDAS volunteer Candice Lavigne. "The community does not know about Miami-Dade Animal Services. The people that usually go there are the ones dumping their dogs. Sometimes I'm there for half an hour, I see 30 dogs being dumped, and some dogs in horrible condition and nothing is done about it."
Lavigne has been a volunteer at the shelter for over a year. She posts on Facebook frequently, hoping to save dogs scheduled to die. But there are just too many abandoned animals and not enough people adopting.
It's gotten so bad that aborting the unborn puppies of a pregnant dog is now common.
"The puppies would be terminated," Labrada said. "With more than 30,000 animals coming into this shelter every year, we have more animals right now than we have homes. Until we get our community behind us and supporting the shelter and only adopting, I don't see things getting better."
Animal rights groups point the finger at those who run the shelter, saying not enough is being done to save the animals. Things are bad, but it's an overwhelming situation where workers and volunteers have to make terrible choices given their resources.
But there's hope for the future. A new shelter facility is in the works and should be up and running in 2015, along with an influx of $20 million tax dollars that would be provided if the County Commission passes the Pet's Trust 'No Kill' referendum. that decision is expected on May 15th.
In Part II of this special report on Tuesday night, we will look at the problem of dogs that are killed by mistake -- animals that rescue groups say didn't have to die.