Pawsitively Humane

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Homeless Pets Depend on Your Kindness


Fellow pet lovers, since the pandemic,  we have never witnessed so many evictions and residents losing their home and their pets. Tragically many pets are left behind in the streets when shelters are full

The rate of homeless pets has not slowed down. Quite the opposite. The war continues on a daily basis in South Florida to rescue them, treat them, and find them homes.  This year has been the worst. 

Here is Tommy's story: a beautiful gray, green-eyed cat was abandoned. Thankfully one of our volunteers discovered him in a neighbor's backyard. Poor Tommy had a gash on the right side of his head. 


Tommy is only one of hundreds of similar cases.  There are more examples of our efforts on our cat site Riverfront Cats. We want to help them all but we can't do it alone.

Please consider making a one-time or monthly donation to help rescue more cats like Tommy.


to Pawsitively Humane, Inc.

We are a 501c3 designated nonprofit organization.


Saturday, October 21, 2023

Lolita, the facts surrounding the orca whale at Miami Seaquarium


For longtime residents, Lolita the Orca whale and performer at Seaquarium was not only synonymous with Miami, she was a beloved local mascot. Just like Mickey Mouse is the magical symbol of dreams in Orlando.  But Lolita was a real whale.  The news of her sudden passing on August 18, 2023, left everyone shocked and heartbroken-- fans, residents, trainers, staff, and animal activists.

orca whale amusement park


For the past several years, activists have protested that her tiny swimming tank (20 feet deep x 35 feet wide x 80 foot long) was inhumane and demanded that she be released to her native waters off Washington State and reunited with her "family".

So, did captivity kill her as claimed by PETA and other animal activists? We gathered all the facts.

1.  Lolita lived longer than the average female orca.  In the wild, the average lifespan of a female orca is 46 years, with a maximum of 90 years, according to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation. In comparison, the average lifespan of a male orca in the wild is 30 years, with a maximum of 60 years. Lolita was 57 years old.

2. Lolita thrived with interactions with other marine animals and human trainers.  Whales are social animals much like dolphins and other animals.  Their socialization with humans along with regular exercise and diet is believed to have led to her longer than average life. Lolita did not have to fight off attackers in the wild or face food scarcity from global climate change. 

3.  Conditions of her care were deterioratingA USDA report in September 2021 revealed a litany of disrepair and neglect in tank conditions, foul fish food, and major problems with water quality. According to a Miami New Times article
The feds noted that the facility failed to monitor and maintain the chlorine levels in Lolita's pool. It was a delicate balance  — too much chlorine could cause chemical injury, while not enough could allow harmful pathogens to flourish in the small tank. The tank had a recirculating water system, where disinfectants were essential to remove fecal contaminants and pathogens.  

4. Lolita was underfed leading to dehydration. Former longtime vets and trainers of Lolita strongly objected to the decrease in diet from 165 pounds daily to 120 pounds in 2021. 

A cut in Toki’s daily diet starting two years ago was likely a factor in her death from renal failure, said Wood, Wallace and Toki’s [Lolita] former vet of 23 years, Dr. Magdalena Rodriguez. Toki’s food intake was reduced from 160-165 pounds of fish per day to 120 pounds because Seaquarium’s new curator and head trainer at the time decided Toki was too fat. “Her food is where she gets her water and she wasn’t getting enough water,” Wallace said. “She had pre-existing renal disease, and she had elevated kidney enzymes in 2021, exacerbated by a decrease in her diet. When cetaceans become dehydrated, they can also become prone to illnesses such as pneumonia. I suspect she was chronically underfed and dehydrated over the last two years and never fully recovered and had the appetite she had previously.” (Miami Herald, August 25, 2023)

5. Former staff that cared for Lolita and disapproved of new procedures were fired.  
The longtime vet, Magdalena Rodriguez, was fired in June 2021 after alleged fallout from her relaying her safety concerns about Lolita and other marine mammals to the USDA. Dr. Jenna Wallace says she was pushed out of her job at the Seaquarium that summer after supporting Rodriguez and the USDA investigation. (New Times, August 22, 2023)

6.  The necropsy showed that Lolita died of old age and chronic illness

Dr. Judy St Leger, a veterinarian with 20 years of experience working with marine mammals, conducted the necropsy. She found Lolita suffered from “acute and chronic broncho interstitial pneumonia and renal degeneration, and a chronic condition of the heart implying the degeneration of the cardiac valves." 

Lolita developed an infection in 2022, that Dr. Bain, a retired vet who was hired to monitor Lolita, could not pinpoint the cause. 

Monthly health reports issued by McBain call into question whether Lolita ever truly recovered. The infection persisted throughout 2022, and she had ups and downs, sometimes losing her appetite, appearing listless, and teetering on the verge of fatal illness. She took a turn for the worse in September 2022 but seemed to recover after a new antibiotic was added to her regimen. (New Times, August 22, 2023)
orca whale trainer
Marni Wood, head trainer, kisses Lolita


A group called Friends of Lolita in conjunction with the Whale Sanctuary Project reached an agreement with the new owners of Seaquarium (who took over in 2022) to release Lolita in a sea pen in Puget Sound. Funding was estimated at $15-$20 million with a pledge from NFL owner Jim Irsay for $5million. While plans were underway to prepare Lolita, there was still a major hurdle. This would require federal and state approval and the pen had not been built. Despite all the hype in the media after the news of Lolita's passing surrounding her impending release, that dream was still far from reality.

Lolita performing with her trainer Marni Wood


Staff that cared for Lolita for many years, including both veterinarians and trainers, disagreed with the cross-country transport idea and proposed she retire to Sea World with larger modern tanks and orca experts.
A group led by former trainers called Truth4Toki warned that a stressful move to an unfamiliar place after 53 years of dependency on humans was too dangerous for the whale, given her advanced age and health problems. They advocated for Toki to be removed from Seaquarium and relocated to SeaWorld in Orlando, where she could spend her last years in a much larger facility. (Miami Herald, Aug 25, 2023)


Despite her tiny quarters, Lolita received regular stimulation, exercise, attention and affection for a steady 54 years. This is better treatment than many pet owners of dogs and cats we see in Miami. Lolita did not lack for food or companionship. Her time at Seaquarium taught us about their intelligence and brought joy to many spectators young and old at the same time. 

In our assessment, the 1950's structure and 1970 whale bowl was not updated, and cost cutting measures lead to the rapid decline of Lolita's existing health condition the last two years. We concur that moving her cross country at an advanced age would likely have led to expedited death given the pathogens in open waters to which her body was not accustomed to.  Nor was there any guarantee she would be recognized or accepted by her mother and other orcas. Our blog post of March 2018 touched on the example of Keiko the whale, held in captivity in Mexico and later released into the wild. He was rejected by other whales and also developed pneumonia and died few years later. 

The golden rule is to think with our heads and not our hearts and to remember that whales, like stray cats we take indoors away from their natural habitat, learn to adapt to their new home environment after many years. We would never release a senior suffering cat outside to an unknown environment, nor should we do the same to a whale. Size does not matter. Age, health, and a known environment have the most impact.

Her passing away in Miami is bittersweet. There is relief that Lolita died at home in Miami but sadly was surrounded by strangers and not her longtime caretakers. 

Regardless, the overall lesson in today's society is that we have learned through this experience, that orca whales should not be captured, taken from their natural habitat and held in captivity. Unlike stray cats in city streets with no clean food options, and dogs dependent on humans, orca whales have plentiful food sources and can survive on their own. Rescuing injured or sick animals to treat them and release back into the wild is a separate cause. 

(Photo by Leonardo DaSilva via Flickr)

Swim freely Lolita, swim freely and watch over us as we cross the ocean.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Political Animals, the Movie

Mayor of Miami ignores voters acceptance to increase property tax
 to aid funding programs for homeless pets

 Pet advocates, last Tuesday Christine had the opportunity to attend the premiere of a documentary film "Political Animals". It is a well researched film and captures the essence of failed or selective democracy surrounding a ballot issue to implement a Pets Trust, an initiative to reverse the trend of homeless pets county-wide.

Below is a message from Michael Rosenberg, and then the movie clip is below it for your viewing.
The fight for the Pets Trust continues. This movie is only the beginning.

 From Michael Rosenberg, Founder of Pets Trust:

On a first time visit to adopt a cat at Miami Dade Animal Services in 2011, I asked if “this is the building where the animals are killed”. I was told it was and that on average 20,000 animals, the majority healthy, were killed every year…for the past 30 years if not longer. It was unbearable to imagine that and I knew something needed to be done. With co-founder Rita Schwartz, the Pets’ Trust was born. We understood this was a community issue and we wanted to ask the community if they would be willing to tax themselves, a very minimal amount to invest in our animals lives. Our elected officials told us they would put this issue on the ballot and that they would honor the results of this non-binding ballot…with a caveat….they were convinced we would not win….that people would not vote to raise their taxes for “animals”. But, they challenged us to educate the community and “go for it”. Almost 500,000 people voted YES. A resounding 65% of the community! We won!!! And then we lost. The elected officials decided the people “didn’t really know what they were voting for" even though they wrote the ballot question. The results….the animals continue to die. Our story has become a movie, directed by award winning Joe Cardona, co-produced with the Miami Herald…and debuted on PBS.
 Below is that movie.

An average of $25 property tax increase would have provided the $20 million that MDAS said it needed to implement the programs and put a dent and start to reverse the rate of homeless pets.  A nominal $25.
Michael Rosenberg, Yatir, Christine Michaels, Rita Shwartz
Michael Rosenberg, Yatir Natizany, Christine Michaels, Rita Schwartz

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Scientists Agree Lolita the Whale is Safer at Seaquarium

In South Florida, where most of the year the weather is a perfect paradise, it also means many animals live here in the wild and in captivity at attractions.  One current hot issue is Lolita the killer whale at the Miami Seaquarium attraction. There is mounting pressure to release the whale to her "natural habitat" the open sea where she has more space to swim and roam. If only it were that simple. Animal rescuers/ pet advocates and scientists are at odds. Most scientists are against releasing Lolita except for marine biologist Ken Balcomb.

For 25 years, Balcomb has been lobbying for Lolita's release to reunite her with her family and restore balance in her native waters, with fisheries and other whales.  The problem for most other scientists, 25 years is much too late and poses great risks.

At Pawsitively Humane, we are reminded "think with your head, not just your heart". 

Most of us are not marine experts. But to begin to relate and comprehend, we turned to our own community of  long-time pet rescuers, especially those who work with feral cats, and posed this question  to understand the pros and cons of releasing the whale:

Would you release an indoor cat that has lived in your home for 10 years with food, attention, (albeit limited space) into a fenced off outdoor area to be with other cats?  

The answer was a resounding no. We know as cat educators that other community cats may not welcome your beloved indoor cat and may try to attack your Cleo. Even worse, Cleo's health is not resistant to fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and other pathogens.

Is this a fair comparison? Cats and Whales.

For long time pet rescuers many would say yes.  Cats are inherent hunters, the outdoors is their natural habitat. They need vertical (trees) and horizontal space to climb and run freely. Whether on farmland, in the countryside of places like Tuscany, Italy, the coastline of Mediterranean, or riding on ships in historic English times, cats are outdoor creatures. Yet many of us beg people to adopt them, to take them indoors where they are forced to live confined within walls with limited space to climb and run.  To rescue them from a new environment-- a rough life in city streets. City life and highways with few food sources is not ideal for cats. However, we also know cats adapt to the indoors and are generally happy.

The point: the outdoor environment is evolving. It may be safe one day, and changes in nature, as well as human neglect, poses a dangerous environment. Returning a long-held captive animal to an environment with unfamiliar sights, sounds, temperatures, creatures,dangers and toxins or a whole new environment can be stressful for many animals.

Everyone Agrees Lolita Needs More Space

Scientists and animal activists on both sides of the Lolita issue agree that a bigger tank is the ideal situation for Lolita. However building one now is not feasible.  But is Lolita safer where she is now after all this time?

What is a "Suitable" Environment for a Whale in Long-Term Captivity?

Balcomb and the Lummi Tribe, a native American Indian tribe from the region where Lolita was captured, believe a sectioned off sea pen with plans to slowly rehabilitate her and reintroduce Lolita to natural whale sea life has to work.

The biggest risk according to scientists who oppose it say it is due to her age. For 43 of her 47 years she knows only one home, one environment, the tank at the Seaquarium with her constant roommates the dolphins and her daily caretakers, the feeders and trainers. Transplating to her native waters and surroundings would not be natural to the captive whale

The Tragic Case of Releasing Keiko the Killer Whale

Opposing scientists point to many cases and the famous case of releasing Keiko the killer whale inspired by the movie "Free Willy". Keiko,  living in a tank in an amusement park in Mexico, was released to his natural waters. Unfortunately the whale did not adapt and kept swimming back to his owner's boats. He missed his human. He missed home. More tragic, his body and immune system not accustomed to the pathogens in the ocean water, developed pneumonia and died within a year. Keiko was 26 years old.

Keiko in a sling about to be released in sea pen in Heimaey, Iceland

We see this human bond with our own outdoor pets whether it's cats, pigs, horses...Why would whales be any different? 

The Human Bond with Lolita the Killer Whale

It was late one night in 1989 when Craig Pelton, then a young whale trainer, snuck into the whale stadium at Miami Seaquarium after it closed and waded into the 50 degree water.
After-hours whale swims were categorically prohibited, so, naturally, the trainers did it from time to time, Pelton said. It was a time before “Blackfish,” before a trainer had been killed by a captive whale, before the “Free Lolita” movement started making waves. In the water, Pelton watched as Lolita swam over. The orca was in her mid-20s by then, about 20 feet long and 7,000 pounds. A full moon illuminated the stadium below. Lolita paused and put her pectoral fin under his body — then she snuggled to his side. On Pelton’s other side, Lolita’s tank mate Makani, a Pacific white-sided dolphin, did the same. “I laid there for about five, 10 minutes, all three [of us] at the surface,” Pelton said. “She was just a sweet animal that was just amazing to work with.”

Change and assimilation are at the heart of the argument against Lolita’s release.

 “You would have to be just so incredibly careful about how you approximate that change. You can’t control the heavy metal toxicity in the water that is prevalent in our coastal regions. You can’t control the pathogens, the bacteria; her immune system is not adept,” said Mark Simmons, director of husbandry on the Keiko project and also authored a book on Keiko’s death called “Killing Keiko.”

Read more here:
 The Miami Herald spoke to a dozen experts on killer whales around the nation. They included experts without a stake in Lolita’s case, some who worked on the Keiko release project, scientists currently working on seaside sanctuary projects for aquatic mammals and her caretakers at the Seaquarium. The vast majority said they would advise against moving Lolita to the Pacific Ocean or a seaside sanctuary. [Miami Herald November 2017]

Read more here:

Read more here:

What Went Wrong in the Campaign to Release Lolita?

Time and  Money. If this was 1995, timing was more optimal to transition Lolita back to sea life.  Unfortunately, it takes time to educate government and the public but also to collect money, donations.  If campaigning requires significant funding so does implementing the plan and overseeing it. The entire project of logistics (transportation) and constant care from a medical standpoint (veterinary) and her daily interaction with humans would amount to millions of dollars. 

One Silver Lining, Lolita the Ambassador

While Lolita may never be released, one result both sides can agree on is that Lolita continues her role as the ambassador for releasing captive whales.  The trend is declining with new fervor and enacted laws prohibiting the captivity of orca whales or any ocean mammals. Lolita remains one of three killer whales still housed in amusement attractions in the U.S.

A Future Marine Scientist

Upon visiting the Seaquarium  to talk to protestors, I overhead a young boy ask his mother "Are we going to see Lolita again?". "Of course," replied the mother. Then he asked "Who were those people with whale costumes and signs?" The mother explained they wanted to see Lolita the whale returned to her home. That she was taken from her home years ago, from her family.  The boy then asked how long has Lolita been here? "A long time," replied the mother."  "Longer than the other place?" he continued.  "Yes many more years," answered the mother. "Well he has friends, the dolphins and his teachers here and plenty of fish food. Why would they take her away from home again?"  Aaah the innocence and clarity of a child's mind. Maybe this is the confirmation we need to accept Lolita's fate with some ease.

Miami Seaquarium
Christine Michaels with her nephew Gabriel in 2014 visiting Miami Seaquarium

by Christine Michaels

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Over 100 Dogs Abandoned in Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma has come and gone. Her path of havoc was not limited to land and trees and buildings. Natural disasters are a litmus test for pet owners. Do they have a disaster plan for their pets? Sadly we learn about pets, especially dogs, tied up in backyards or homes while their owners flee. Dozens were spotted and taken in temporarily by county animals services in all three counties in South Florida. In this video, a German shepherd, with evident fresh cuts and injuries still bloody, lying lifeless in the hurricane aftermath. A passerby thought he was dead although eyes were open. He approached the dog to see it was still breathing and called for help. Angels indeed came in the form of Guardians to the Rescue, a nonprofit animal rescue organization. See the video below. At Pawsitively Humane, Inc. we are collecting donations to help many pets left behind in the hurricane. These donations will be used to mostly pay vet bills and supplies such as pet food, beds, cat litter and leashes. Click on the donation button to the right. Remember no amount is too small.

It is time for authorities to enforce laws and pursue felony charges if possible.
We will be following all cases.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Check Out America's 3rd Cat Cafe

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Grand Opening of the New Miami Dade Animal Services & Adoption Center

by Christine Michaels, Founder & President

Yesterday was a paw forward for pet advocates in Miami. With great fanfare, June 23, 2016 marked the grand opening of the new Miami-Dade Animal Services Pet Adoption & Protection Center.

pet shelter county animal shelter MDAS
Christine Michaels attends the Grand Opening of the Miami Dade county new animal services shelter

To a crowd of several hundred attendees, city and county dignitaries, pet advocate leaders and local residents, Director Alex Munoz made opening remarks for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Munoz touted the largest pet facility in the county and the collaborative efforts to retrofit an existing building into one of the most advanced pet shelter in the country.

Alex Munoz speaking at new MDAS shelter
MDAS Director Alex Munoz

Walking through the front doors and scanning above and around, I felt I was walking into a modern mall/museum. The double-story foyer entrance led your gaze to a hanging pet-inspired mobile.

Blue spaceship-like neon lights emanated from the main desk off to the left. An all glass enclosure with six kittens and catwalk to the right, and a main corridor down the center with high soffit-lit ceilings gave the sense of a futuristic walkway.

The center was designed to provide the pleasure of a discovery experience with the comforts of home. The homey details are forthcoming in this post. The focus is a relaxed environment for the pets and adopters to enhance the customer experience.

Before I take you on the grand tour, keep in mind a number of improvements were designed compared to the previous facility.
  1. 25% increase in shelter space for pets. 249 dog spaces old shelter vs. 350+ at the new shelter; 60 cages for cats at the old shelter; now 80
  2. Air condition quarters for all pets!
  3. Three surgery rooms for public pets (when a local resident brings their pet in for health issue); Two surgery rooms for shelter pets
  4. Advanced medical technology and equipment complement the skilled surgeons and staff
  5. High tech filtration system where air filtration is changed 6 times DAILY???
  6. Separate "pods" for dog and cat sections to minimize the spread of airborne illness.
  7. Computer kiosks for residents to search through available pets while they wait to have their pets attended to by shelter vet.
  8. A conference/training room for seminars, workshops, training sessions, and presentations.

Now for the grand tour.

Upon entering, to the immediate right is the cat section. The eye-catching glass cage with six bouncing kittens lured you in to watch the kittens climb, jump, play, and even paw fight within the modern maze-like catwalk. It was pure TV entertainment for all humans. All six kittens are siblings. Please click here to our cat website, Riverfront Cats, to see more photos of the cat/kitten section.

Passing the cat section, on the right is a staged living room with a sofa, recliner, pet photos on the wall, all designed to look and feel like your living room. The room was enclosed by glass walls. Walking up to the wall was a beautiful white pitbull wearing a bright pink bandana around her neck.

 I turned the corner to find the entrance. Staff workers greeted me with smiles and introduced me to Esmeralda, the pit bull. I was the first nonstaff visitor to enter the "living room" and sit and interact with Esmeralda. I felt honored.

pitbull mix, Miami Dade animal shelter

Esmeralda was overjoyed to have company and pawed my lap and offered me endless licks.  The living room concept was obvious--to help the homeless pet acclimate to home environment before adoption. Esmeralda was so enthusiastic she did not want me to leave. Of course I fell in love. But alas it was not meant for me to adopt her but I knew she would get adopted soon. (Note: it is against the law for Miami-Dade county residents to have pitbulls as pets; Residents from neighboring counties, however, can adopt from this shelter to take home to their counties which do permit pitbull breeds. There are ongoing efforts to overturn this anti-breed specific law in Miami).

Christine Michaels pit bulls MDAS animal shelter

Once my love fest with Esmeralda winded down, I ventured back into the hallways of peculiar two-legged creatures called Politicians.  I ran into Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Commissioner Diaz.  I was well aware of the failed or selective democracy process where the mayor reneged on his support of the Pets Trust and decided against implementing it.  But this was a special occasion that was still an improvement to the old facility. It was still a step forward. A tiny step but a forward step.

Christine Michaels Miami Mayor Carlos Diaz Miami County Commissioner Pepe Diaz MDAS

Outside the living room were cages for small to medium size dogs with ample room to walk and sit.

The doors facing the outdoors led to an outside area with covered astroturf for walking and training the dogs.

Back inside the main corridor, on the opposite side were quarters for the larger dog breeds.  Down the center of the corridor,the walk way split around the Ellipse room--and elliptical-shaped conference room to host presentations and workshops to the public as well as internally.

Following the walkway around either side of the Ellipse, walls are adorned with artwork created by local students.  On the right are dog inspired art pieces and on the left side is the cat art. These students are truly talented.

Parked outside the facility were two spay/neuter trailers for mobile surgeries.

The center is impressive--clean, bright, pleasant, comfortable-- and will no doubt encourage more locals to visit and adopt or to get involved as a volunteer in caring and/or promoting these pets.

The goal of MDAS is a no-kill shelter and the new center is a small paw forward.
Much more work is needed to reach that goal in terms of education and PSA programs to reach the masses.

In addition, county-established feral cat trapping teams is the biggest critical need yet to begin reversing the rate of continuous growing rate of homeless cats.

We are grateful for this progress and invite any reader to contact us for ways to help your city and county reach these goals.


Miami Dade Animal Services
3599 NW 79th Avenue
Doral, Fl  33122

The center is open Monday through Friday 10am-6pm; Saturday & Sundays 10am-4pm

We encourage locals to follow MDAS on Facebook and Instragram.
For  @urgentdogsofmiami and @urgentcatsofmiami for all

We are all in this together. And together we can make a difference.


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