Politicians easily out-numbered pets at Friday's "ground-breaking" ceremony of Miami-Dade's new animal shelter, which is set to open in the fall of 2015. But there were a handful of four-legged guests that naturally stole the show from camera-loving elected officials.
"This is Princess Leia," Lawrence Percival said of a docile shepherd-lab mix sitting by his feet amid the crowd at the packed reception in Doral. "She just turned two in August. She came from Animal Services as an eight-pound puppy."
Leia and Percival took a seat in the front row as county officials touted the planned $13 million shelter, which will feature retail-esque adoption areas, quarantined and air-conditioned kennels to prevent disease infestation, and outdoor play areas for cats and dogs.
The 70,000-square-foot facility will replace the county's lone animal shelter in Medley, which will be sold as surplus to help cover the construction costs, said animal-services chief Alex Munoz. The new facility includes 25 percent more space for homeless dogs, and twice the space for cats, he said. The new shelter is being built in a retro-fitted warehouse, with renovation work already underway.
Munoz played master of ceremonies, which began with an invocation by Rev. Michael Roan, a member of the county's sergeant-at-arms force who addressed his remarks to Miami-Dade's pets. "We forgive them as they eat countless shoes, and stain many carpets, and even dig up our yards."
The event wasn't without controversy. Miami-Dade's animal-advocacy group, Pets' Trust Miami, complained to Mayor Carlos Gimenez about the timing: four days before a primary election against Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz, who spoke at length during the ceremony, and Marjorie Figueira, the challenger recruited by the pets group.
Near the back row, Jennifer Diliz watched the proceedings while cradling Sophie, a three-year-old Shih Tzu, on her shoulder. "She's a rescue," Diliz said of the dog (pictured above). She said it wasn't clear if this was a "pets-welcome" type event, but "I just brought her in." No problem, as it turned out.
Miami-Dade's new portable adoption trailer was parked outside, with homeless dogs and cats looking out from kennels with plexiglass sides. Brandi Reddick, who works in Miami-Dade public art program, stopped by to "borrow" a foot-ball-sized terrier puppy, who spent the event curled up on her arm.
Tempted? "Oh, God yes," Reddick said. But a sick dog at home with kidney failure forced Reddick to return the puppy at the end of the reception. There were some takers, though. Animal Services reported guests adopted two dogs and one cat. "Not bad for one hour," Munoz said in a text message.
(The photo below shows Princess Leia meeting the terrier puppy being held by Reddick.)