Sunday, December 6, 2009

2009 Shelter of the Year Award winner - Miami Dade Animal Services

For decades, Miami-Dade County's ``dog pound'' was notorious for its miserable conditions, demoralized staff and customer unfriendliness.
So even officials of the Florida Animal Control Association (FACA) were surprised to name Miami-Dade's Animal Services Department the 2009 Shelter of the Year Award winner.
``Just a few years ago, this agency would not have been on anyone's list of outstanding agencies,'' reads the citation. ``Now, this agency can be a model for adoption efforts, media relations and volunteer commitment.''
Lois Kostroski, the Tampa-based association's executive director, said that departments apply for the honor.
Presented to director Dr. Sara Pizano and several staff members at the association's Nov. 20 conference in Kissimmee, the award also names Erica Gonzalez, a veterinary technician who joined Animal Services four years ago, as the association's employee of the year.Pizano called her ``a dream employee.''
The department took an honorable mention for outstanding team achievement.
``We know what we accomplish on a daily basis, and I acknowledge my staff for that, but it's very rewarding to have recognition from someone from the outside,'' said Pizano, director since 2005, when Animal Services was still a unit of the Miami-Dade Police Department funded solely by fees and fines.
Under Pizano, it became an independent county department with dedicated funding and 111 employees.
``Since then, adoptions have increased by 266%,'' the citation reads. ``Some of their innovations include: two-for-one cat adoptions, a Facebook page and website that now gets more than 400,000 hits per year . . . over 600 events and media exposure spots this year, a `pet detective' club to return lost pets to their owners, and its continuing series on Animal Planet.''
The state association also noted the department's ``strong volunteer training and orientation program, which resulted in more than 13,000 hours being donated this year.''
The 45-year-old Medley shelter can house 400 cats and dogs at a time. It admits about 37,000 a year, yet despite record adoptions, as well as owner reunions and releases to rescue groups, must euthanize nearly two-thirds.
To reduce that number, said Pizano, pet owners should spay and neuter their animals, microchip and tag them for easier return if they get lost, and adopt from shelters rather than buy from breeders.