Miami Animal Rescue (MAR), a local non-profit organization, stayed open during the quarantine while the major animal shelters in South Florida closed after President Trump declared a state of emergency on March 13.
Meg Sahdala, MAR’s founder and president, said she was surprised that some shelters shut their doors.
“We never closed down for COVID-19,” she said. “When I heard that all the county shelters closed down, I knew that we had to stay open because there was no one else that could help people with stray or injured animals.”
Miami Animal Rescue has saved 1,907 animals since 2016, 632 of those just this past year. Sahdala credits the growth to the organization’s Colorado branch, which opened in the summer of 2019 when she invested in the property using her family’s savings. This year she is predicting the organization will surpass that number because people in Miami are looking for companionship while in self-isolation.
“[The second location] has worked great because no one in Miami wants [to adopt] the big dogs but people in Colorado do,” Sahdala said. “We transport the big dogs over there and bring puppy litters from Colorado back here, where they are adopted super quickly. And now that everyone is at home, our adoption rate is higher.”
She explained that taking in five times the number of animals during the pandemic has been a small price to pay for the higher probabilities of adoption at Miami Animal Rescue.
“Sometimes I have 20 to 30 dogs in my house because no one can foster them. But I love what I do and I will do anything to help all the animals I can,” Sahdala said.
Nani, a 7-month-old tabby cat, was picked up by Miami Animal Rescue with a broken jaw, a mauled eye and in desperate need of medical attention on Nov. 30, 2019. Under MAR care, Nani was nursed back to health and was quickly adopted.
Sadhala runs the organization full-time with help from her family and student volunteers. Kristen Abdool, an 18-year-old high school student, runs MAR’s cat department.
“I register all cats to our organization, from strays to owner surrenders and those scheduled for euthanasia,” Abdool said. “I foster them out through our programs, schedule their surgeries, make sure they’re vaccinated, keep records of the paperwork and perform background checks for all the adoptions. I do a lot, but I do it because I love it.”
MAR is the only organization in South Florida that offers a fostering program as a way for students in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties to earn community service hours.
Maria Luisa Vizquerra described her daughter’s five experiences fostering animals with MAR, as well as how they helped her adopt a stray cat.
“We loved working with Miami Animal Rescue. My daughter earned 800 hours by fostering three dogs and two cats. They were amazing experiences for her,” Vizquerra said. “And when I found my cat on the street, they asked me to pay an adoption fee that covered all of her medical expenses for the first year.”
After passing rigorous background checks, adopters pay a fee that covers their pet’s microchip, vaccines, $500 worth of pet store coupons, deworming treatments, a spay or neuter surgery, veterinary check-up appointments and one free stay at a pet-boarding facility. Abdool said that although the organization is always in debt with their partner veterinary hospital, West Kendall Animal Hospital, getting the animals adopted is their main concern.
Abdool also explained that it has been difficult to run the cat department on her own while Sahdala runs both locations’ dog departments from Colorado.
“Although our adoption rates are higher, we can no longer hold our weekly Meet-and-Greets at PetSmart [in Kendall Lakes],” Abdool said. “We are dependent on social media to spread awareness about available pets. We’re doing no-contact supplies pick-up and I’ve had to keep our 50 registered cats fostered at all times because we have no facility here in Miami.”
Being a non-profit, Miami Animal Rescue depends on donations from the South Florida community to stay open. Sahdala explained that any kind of donation helps.
“Somehow we always manage to make it past the hard times,” Sahdala said. “But I wish people knew how big the neglected pet problem is in South Florida so that we could help more animals as a community.”