From the Shelter to Loving Homes – Thanks to these Gables Residents
By Lizzie Wilcox//Portrait Photography by Jonathan Dann
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.
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.
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.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.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.