Since its founding in 2016, Friends of Miami Animals Foundation (FoMA) has been creating and funding programs to help shelter pets and at-risk, owned pets throughout Miami-Dade County. This vital work has included funding for free spay & neuter programs for owned pets, TNVR (Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate & Release) for community cats, pet retention support to help keep pets with their families and out of shelters, support for volunteers and fosters through our county shelter and funding a mobile clinic to provide free wellness services to owned pets in vet deserts. They have also secured funding from the County Commission, building relationships and bringing resources to help with the extreme overpopulation and needless death and suffering of animals. “We are not a shelter — we don’t take in animals and we don’t house them,” says President & Founder Yolanda Berkowitz. “Our work is centered on at-risk and homeless pets in Miami-Dade County only, and we build on collaborative relationships to help us bring resources to help our community and our community’s pets.”
The one thing that she’s learned that applies to FoMA’s work is that one person and one action can make a difference and have a positive impact. “In January alone, we are doing a pet food distribution event to provide hundreds of pounds of free pet food to pet families,” she says. “We hope to be doing more of this in the months to come.” They are also working with partners on adoption events to help feature adoptable pets and help find pet families, while working to raise awareness about the need for the community as a whole to foster and adopt. Starting in March, PAWS (Promoting Animal Welfare Saturdays) at The Underline kicks off with activations on the first Saturday of the month to engage the community and provide services and much-needed resources to pet owners. “The most unique aspect about FoMA is that we are the only organization throughout Miami-Dade County doing this broad work, and focusing on our county shelter as the cornerstone in animal welfare,” she says. “Supporting responsible, informed and impactful work at our county shelter is key to our success as a community.”
While FoMA does not do any rescue work, Berkowitz is personally involved in rescue and has helped some amazing animals throughout the years. This includes Gigi, a shelter medical rescue, brought in as a stray with traumatic injuries, and unable to walk. “After extensive diagnostics, we determined Gigi was paralyzed and I was concerned about who would take in a dog that couldn’t walk and needed help to express her bladder,” she says. Fortunately, one of FoMA’s transport partners agreed to take her in and help find her a forever family. Through networking by another colleague and friend, a family saw her story and decided she was the pup for them. Gigi, now named Rumble, still has limited mobility but lives on a beautiful large piece of property in Pennsylvania with her family, several doggy siblings, a pig sibling and other pets.“This amazing dog was always loving, sweet and forgiving as I fumbled trying to figure out how to help her, and she has remained that way ever since,” says Berkowitz.
Her personal rescue dog, Janko, is one of the first at-risk dogs she pulled from Miami-Dade County Animal Services after he had been shot thrice by the police. “He was hospitalized for months, required multiple surgeries and extensive rehabilitation, including behavior modification work,” she says. “We’ve had him for over 6 years now and he’s taught me so much about special needs behavior dogs and about the ability to help pets deal with their traumatic past and to give them the tools they need to succeed.”
Berkowitz has been involved in non-profit work as a volunteer since 1995 through various organizations. After advocating for kids in the dependency system as a Guardian Ad Litem for over 20 years, she wanted a change and to make room at Voices For Children for new leadership. “Seeing the extraordinary needs of pets and pet families in our community and so many animals at risk in our shelters and streets, I knew that my experience in advocating for underserved kids would serve me well in being an advocate in animal welfare,” she says. “As Founder & President, I run the day-to-day operations of FoMA and rely on our remarkable board, as well as our marketing and web team to help drive our work. We are currently looking to fill an administrative position as our work has expanded so much that we need the backup support now.”
While FoMA’s mission to date has been primarily centered on Miami-Dade County Animal Services, and they have been the largest benefactor of their investments in animal welfare, FoMA is growing its reach and has expanded to support other groups and programs that are having a positive impact on animal welfare. “The resiliency of animals, the human/animal bond and the commitment and the love most pet families have for their animals is inspiring and motivating for me to never give up on creating a more equitable and kind community for people and pets,” she says. “Together, we can save and improve the lives of at-risk pets and the people who love them if we all do what we can.”; FoMAPets.org.