MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – A new policy regarding taking in stray dogs at Miami-Dade Animal Services has caused confusion and distress for many unsure where to turn when trying to find a place to take stray animals.
“They just told me they have no space available,” said resident Marjorie Jean-Louis.
She temporarily took in a dog she called Troy back in November after someone found him being attacked by another dog on the street. For months, Jean-Louis said she made every effort to find out where Troy came from. He had no microchip and no one claimed him.
“He got along with my dogs no problem,” she explained. “But I also have a cat, and he does not like cats.”
After trying multiple rescues, Jean-Louis finally turned to the county’s animal services but says they turned her away.
“They told me they were not taking any dogs,” she explained. “And that I had to put stuff online and try to find the owner, and I said I did.”
Lucy Rosario told Local 10 News she found a female dog running in the middle of the street on Christmas Eve.
“I walked around the neighborhood, every corner for hours, knocking on doors,” Rosario said. “Everyone told me, ‘I’ve never seen this dog before.’”
After three days, Rosario tried to take the dog to Miami-Dade Animal Services.
“They said, ‘Go around the neighborhood.’ I said, I already did that. I told them all the things that I did, and they said, ‘Put her back where you found her.’”
Those who called the county 311 line for help got a similar response. “We are still overcapacity,” an operator told one caller. “We’re not accepting any stray animals at this time.”
The decision was part of a policy change that went into effect in early December due to a lack of capacity inside the shelter. The details are outlined in a document from the county describing a new “Managed Admissions Program.”
“What it means is we were managing our space prioritizing animals that are really in need of sheltering,” explained Animal Services Assistant Director Kathleen Labrada. “So injured, abused, neglected, not owner surrender, or friendly strays found in a neighborhood type location.”
Labrada said the policy urges those who find healthy strays to help reunite them with their family, using social media and talking to neighbors. She said the decision is based on research that showed the vast majority of dogs, 83%, are reunited with owners within three days if kept in the same neighborhood.
“It’s actually to leave that animal in its familiar surroundings, walk around, knock on doors, ask if someone might know where the animal lives,” Labrada said. “That’s how you help an animal find its way home.”
Critics say the shift in policy was never explained to the public, and importantly, not every dog found on the street is actually someone’s pet.
The shelter’s policy does include exceptions if the person is unable to find the animal’s home, if the dog is hurt or found in an unsafe area. Those criteria applied to the dogs found by Jean-Louis and Rosario, still both were turned away.
Labrada said that should not have happened.
“Definitely when she originally presented the dog. At that point, the intake should have happened,” Labrada said. “So we’ve increased staff training. We’re trying to make the communication more consistent.”
Rosario eventually found a rescue willing to take in Lola, the dog she found. In late January, Jean-Louis tried again to take Troy to the shelter. After waiting for over an hour, she was told she would be put on a waiting list. She explained she was leaving town and had nowhere to take the dog.
“She said, ‘I’m going to talk to my supervisor and see if we can keep him,’ but I had to email them my travel plans,” Jean-Louis said.
The new policy has also put a strain on volunteer rescue groups who say they have been overwhelmed.
“The increase in phone calls since December to the rescues ... has quadrupled,” said Jamie Robinson, who runs Jamie’s Rescue.
She said she understands the shelter can only house so many dogs, but worries the new policy could discourage good Samaritans from trying to help.
“I hear that all the time,” she said. “Absolutely.”
Rosario agreed: “I definitely do think this will discourage a lot of people from doing a good deed.”
Shelter officials said the capacity issues have improved since early December but this policy will remain in effect moving forward.