Who Let the Dogs Out?

From the Shelter to Loving Homes – Thanks to these Gables Residents

By Lizzie Wilcox//Portrait Photography by Jonathan Dann

December 2019

These days, it feels like there is such a divide between citizens. From politics to healthcare to climate change, everyone has their own opinion – and your Aunt Sally is not afraid to share hers by writing a small novel on Facebook. But one thing we can all agree on? Dogs are the best.

Not only do the people of Coral Gables in particular love their own pups, but also dogs that don’t belong to anyone. One resident leading the charge in the battle to save man’s best friend is Yolanda Berkowitz, founder and president of Friends of Miami Animals.

“Our goal is essentially to improve and save the lives of homeless pets in Dade County and at the shelter,” says Berkowitz, who created the foundation in 2016.

Yolanda Berkowitz, founder of Friends of Miami Animals

Berkowitz, a Gables resident for 20 years, works tirelessly with Miami-Dade Animal Services in Doral, the only open intake shelter in the county. Whereas closed shelters, like the Humane Society of Miami, can somewhat control their population by turning away animals when they’re full, Miami-Dade Animal Services accepts every stray, homeless, or abandoned animal that is brought to the shelter. According to Berkowitz, MDAS takes in around 30,000 animals a year.

This many animals means the shelter needs a lot of help. Which is where FOMA comes in. The foundation organizes volunteer fairs for those who want to lend a hand at the shelter; it also funded roughly 5,000 spay/neuters in the past year and a half.

“The truth is that it’s not really about the dogs I rescue,” Berkowitz says. “It’s about learning what the needs are for shelters.”

One of those needs at Miami-Dade Animal Services was larger play yards. Eighty percent of shelter dogs are large dogs, so they need more room to play. Having adequate space is beneficial to both those with four legs and two, by giving the shelter staff the opportunity to see how their dogs interact with humans – and with each other. Thanks to Berkowitz, this need became a reality. “I was like a dog with a bone with that one,” she says.

Not only is MDAS an open intake shelter, it also became a no-kill shelter in 2015.

“The goal is that no adoptable animal is ever euthanized,” says Berkowitz. This means that no healthy or treatable animals are euthanized even when the shelter is full – and that less than 10 percent of animals brought to the shelter are euthanized, and only if they are severely ill or untreatable.

Community Engagement

For the Friends of Miami Animals founder, the secret to improving animal welfare is engaging the community and having it help in any capacity: donating, volunteering, adopting, or even fostering. Fostering allows a dog to have a temporary home until it finds a permanent one, while making room for others at the shelter, which is exactly what Tatiana Maldonado did.

Lady, a terrier mix, was brought to Maldonado back in May. Lady was abused and overbred. Her owner would either keep her outside or let her loose on the streets until he found a dog to breed her with. Even when pregnant, she would still be kept outside. The owner would then sell her puppies and dump the ones no one bought. “When the doctor was doing the spay, he said he didn’t know how she didn’t die because she didn’t have one cycle without being bred,” Maldonado said.

With quality food and vitamins, Maldonado was able to nurse Lady back to full health. Now all the dog needs is a forever home. Typically, when adopting, families don’t know what card they’re being handed as far as personality goes. Fortunately, with Lady, Maldonado can attest to how sweet and nurturing she is.

Lady, a terrier mix, is looking for a forever home

“I’ve been working with animals for over 20 years and she’s the best dog I have ever been able to care for,” Maldonado says. “I have never seen a personality like hers.” That’s saying a lot, considering the fact that Maldonado runs a doggie daycare and boarding service, Your Paws R My Paws, from her home, and cares for 6 to 12 dogs at any given time.

Maldonado herself was a Gables resident who recently moved out of the city for more affordable space to expand her business; the lion share of her clientele, however, remain Gableites. She has been running her daycare and boarding business for six years now but has been working with dogs since she was 15, through pet sitting, volunteering at shelters, and working at animal clinics.

“Although I was in accounting for 13 years, I’ve always done some type of work with animals on the side,” she said. “It’s always been my passion.” If Lady gets adopted, she will be a foster success story. “Fostering is really, really important and that’s one of the places I hope where we [Friends of Miami Animals] are able to make some inroads in the next year,” Berkowitz added, stressing that fostering puppies is especially important, as they are more susceptible to diseases at a young age.

And then there are the foster “failures.” Maria Alonso and husband Alex are now the proud parents of Maya, a shepherd mix. They heard through friends that there was a dog at risk to be euthanized, so Maria, the CEO of United Way of Miami-Dade, sent Alex to bring her home after agreeing to foster her.

“We thought we’d find a good home for her, but I fell in love with her and so did Maria,” Alex says. “She became part of the family so quickly.” So quickly, in fact, that the second they brought Maya home, she ran upstairs and jumped on their bed. The 80-pound shepherd mix has slept with the couple every night for the past four years. Maria describes Maya as the most loving part of their family, despite her sometimes fierce demeanor. “When you come to the door, [she] looks like Cujo foaming at the mouth,” Maria says with a laugh. “But once you walk in she licks you.”

The addition to their family, which already consisted of several King Charles Cavaliers, made her realize the importance of adopting. “There are so many dogs that are just waiting to come and be a part of a family, and they give so much unconditional love,” said Maria. “I don’t see them as pets… they’re my kids – my furry kids.”

For more information on Friends of Miami Animals and how you can help to improve animal welfare, visit fomapets.org or contact info@fomapets.org

Professionals You Can Turn To

The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child. The same goes for our furry children. Whether you’re going on vacation, or just need someone to let them out during the workday, you can fortunately turn to Miami Pet Concierge or Equipaws Pet Services.

Miami Pet Concierge

Miami Pet Concierge was founded by Nicole Brown Packin in 2007. The company offers dog walking (pictured above), pet sitting, Puppy 101 classes, dog training, dog park visits and overnight pet care. Packin is somewhat of an expert in animal welfare herself. She earned her Small Animal Massage Practitioner Certificate from the Northwest School of Animal Massage. She specializes in Myofascial Release Therapy, Trigger Point Therapy and Stress Point Therapy. She is also a certified Canine Aquatic Therapist. She is currently working toward an online degree in Applied Animal Behavior from the University of Washington. “We’re trying really hard to differentiate because there’s 185,000 dog walkers,” Packin laughs.

Equipaws Pet Services

Equipaws Pet Services was founded by the sister team of Frankie and Flavia Berti (above) in 2011. They offer dog walking, dog running, pet sitting and boarding, vet drop off and pickups, and pet store errands from Brickell down to Cutler Bay. But with their office just across the Gables border on the South Miami side of 57th Avenue, a majority of their clients are Coral Gables pet owners. Their most popular service is the midday dog walks – perfect for when you can’t make it home during lunch or have to work late. Their newest service is home pet health care. “It’s about convenience for [the owner] and comfort for them and the pet,” Frankie says.

Members of the Coral Gables Community and their Dogs
The Dog: Maya
The Breed: Collie/Shepherd mix
The Age: 5
The Owner: Maria Alonso, CEO of United Way of Miami-Dade
Quirks: “When we first got her, for some reason she endeared herself to our bed, all 80 pounds of her,” says husband Alex. “We call her ‘birth control.’ For the first year if you moved your feet around, she would bite them. She might have been a little abused [Maya is a rescue dog], but she finally acquiesced and stopped.”
The Dogs: Jeroboam & Magnum
The Breed: Golden Retrievers
The Ages: 5 and 4
The Owner: Jeffrey Wolfe, Wolfe’s Wine Shoppe
Quirks: “They want to be part of everything going on in the shop,” says Wolfe. “During the week, when the suppliers come in, they want to taste the wine along with me. This is especially true for Jero. When he was growing up behind the counter, I used to stick my finger in the wine to let him have a sip. Now he is bigger [83 pounds], so instead I just pour some in his mouth and he calms down.”
The Dog: Thor
The Breed: Husky
The Age: 6 months
The Owner: Wayne Eldred, President and CEO, Brown Label (Events, Productions); Eldred Consulting Group (Business and Hospitality)
Quirks: “He is a very clever dog. He is the kind of dog that will learn the things he is supposed to learn, and then some,” says Eldred. “If I tell him I am leaving he will run outside of the house. He doesn’t want to go into his crate. I will have to chase him around the house for 10 minutes, and literally pick him up and put him in his crate. He is a terrible guard dog, because he loves all people. If a murderer comes in my house, he will probably kiss him.”
The Dog: Jim
The Breed: Dalmatian
The Age: I’m guessing 4-years-old (not sure, he was a rescue)
The Owner: Ben Mollere, Corporate VP, Baptist Health
Quirks: “Jim thinks he is a lapdog. At a lean 50 pounds, his favorite activity when we read the paper or lounge around is to attempt to climb into our laps. He was rescued and had limited interaction with families, so now he loves being around – or on – people.”
The Dog: Sushi
The Breed: Chihuahua/Yorkie mix
The Age: 2
The Owner: Milanka Placeres, Phula Hair Salon
Quirks: “He dances for treats,” says Milanka’s boyfriend Jose Casas (and co-master of Sushi). “If you have a tree in your hand, he can walk forever on two legs… He also sits on my shoulders like a parrot… At night he sleeps in Milanka’s hair like it’s a nest. She can look like a real tangle in the morning.”

2 thoughts on “Who Let the Dogs Out?

  • December 7, 2019 at 4:42 am

    This part is not really true: “This means that no healthy or treatable animals are euthanized even when the shelter is full – and that less than 10n just fine outside the shelter. percent of animals brought to the shelter are euthanized, and only if they are severely ill or untreatable.” I know many dogs that are just fine and are euthanized because they show stress or are deemed aggressive when in fact they are just stressed out and would be able to function just right outside of the shelter. The truth is that the shelter gets more dogs in that it’s able to safely adopt out. A percentage of the adopters are not good ones, they either return the dogs after just days of having got them out of the shelter, or they surrender the dogs they adopted as puppies when they are seniors, or for several other reasons too long to list. The reality is that there is a pet overpopulation that MUST be dealt with by the local authorities, passing MANDATORY spay and neuter regulations to obtain a pet license, and mandatory microchipping, or otherwise raising fees to license an unaltered pet so much that people would think about S&N as a well better option. There is so much that the community and the authorities can be done, the pets in Miami cannot wait any longer.

    • December 9, 2019 at 3:36 pm

      If you go to the Miami-Dade Animal Service’s website, they specify that they have reached no-kill status back in 2015 (https://www.miamidade.gov/global/news-item.page?Mduid_news=news156520350522773). This is also information that we were given by Yolanda Berkowitz, who is quoted in the article and works very closely with the shelter. However, you’ll also see on their site that they accept around 30,000 animals each year, which is absolutely way more than they can handle. We wholeheartedly agree that there is so much work still to be done – by both residents and officials!
      – Lizzie Wilcox

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