It all began when Rosenberg, a Chamber of Commerce booster in the Miami-Dade community of Kendall, heard about the shelter’s high kill rate and couldn’t quite believe it. He requested and was given permission to spend a day in the euthanasia room, from which he emerged a changed man. Deeply disturbed that 60 to 70 animals were dying every day because nobody wanted them and the shelter had no space, he vowed to accomplish what many had tried to do and failed: end the carnage.
Long an underfunded bureaucratic afterthought, Miami-Dade Animal Services had been run by the public works and police departments before it became its own department in 2005, headed for the first time by a veterinarian and given a general-fund budget (another first). Previously, it had subsisted on fees and fines, and focused on enforcement rather than adoption.
At times, the kill rate topped 75 percent, casting the county’s threadbare shelter as a notorious death factory.
The veterinarian, Dr. Sara Pizano, brought a different perspective in 2005. She upgraded the open-admission facility, increased adoptions and reduced euthanasia. But poverty, an out-of-control feral cat population and entrenched customs in a multicultural county of 2.5 million people continued to fuel the high intake. Some 100 animals come in daily to a shelter that can humanely house no more than 400. Most years, owners reclaim fewer than 1,500 lost pets.
Even at its peak of $10 million, the department’s budget never came close to meeting its needs. Then came the financial collapse of 2008, and with it, deep cuts to all county departments.
Pizano left in 2011, replaced by veteran county administrator Alex Muñoz, who faced the same lack of political will to adequately fund Animal Services as did his predecessors.
In late 2011, Mike Rosenberg was fresh off a victorious, against-all-odds battle with the county’s water and sewer department over billing practices. The kind of guy who doesn’t hear the word "no," he decided on a novel approach: no more begging or "guilting" the commissioners.
Instead, he adopted the model of another local initiative, the Children’s Trust, a public/private partnership that provides dedicated tax revenue for services to at-risk children. Voters approved the plan, but only after a decade-long, nearly $2 million lobbying effort.
When Pets’ Trust proponents applied to the Petco Foundation for a grant before the election, foundation president Paul Jolly, knowing Miami-Dade’s reputation, was so skeptical that he initially declined. Then came the election. "If I would have picked a community for this to happen, it would not be Miami," says Jolly. "For something like this to be accepted by the citizens and commissioners, it’s sign of the apocalypse!"
He finds the notion of a public/private partnership and voter ratification "intriguing … We thought it was a great template program to be used in other parts of the U.S." He signed on to help.
"I agreed to be on the advisory committee— and the cheering committee … This seems [to be] light-years above what any other community is doing in terms of animal welfare."