Yolanda Berkowitz , a seasoned philanthropist, is also a Founder & President of Friends of Miami Animals Foundation that is dedicated to the well-being of homeless animals. The mission of FoMA is to save and improve the lives of homeless pets and ensure the well being of animals in Miami Dade County through education, advocacy, financial support and increased awareness. Yolanda is known for her community involvement as a board member for foundations including Voices for Children, The United Way and as a sponsor for the Miami Children’s Museum annual gala and many more.
For many years you have been a prolific philanthropist, supporting many different causes. What inspired you to create your own organization?
When was is established? Advocating for an underserved population in our community is something that I have been doing since 1995, when I began volunteering with the Guardian ad Litem Program and advocating for abused and/or
neglected children in court. So, this is an area where I understand the impact one person can have. As I learned more about the demands on our public shelter system - Miami Dade Animal Services (“MDAS”) is the ONLY “open admission” shelter in all of our County, and takes in approximately 30,000 animals a year; while rescues and other shelters routinely turn animals and people away - it became clear that this is an area of need that our community does not know enough about. As I became involved and learned more about the needs not just of the shelter but of pets and pet owners, I realized that the most effective way to make a positive impact would be to engage the community, foundations, elected officials and community leaders through a non profit that would elevate the platform for animal
welfare issues in Miami Dade County
In what ways does Friends of Miami Animals Foundation help improve the lives of local animals?
Established in FoMA has funded thousands of free and low cost spay/neuter surgeries for owned pets of low income qualified pet owners, and of community cats. By helping to reduce pet population in the community, we begin to help
reduce the number of unwanted pets that suffer and die on the streets or end up homeless at our shelter. Additionally, by supporting volunteer and enrichment efforts at MDAS, in particular, we improve the lives of shelter pets and assist the shelter staff to better do their work by providing resources they would not otherwise have. FoMA also works to bring outside resources to our efforts by engaging groups like United Way of Miami Dade, Apple, The Underline, Ocean Drive and others we help to elevate the conversation and to make more friends for our shelter pets.
What are some milestones that you are particularly proud of since establishing FOMA?
FoMA established the first ever Volunteer Fair at MDAS and it is now an annual event, taking place the first Thursday in October. This year’s fair brought in over 300 new interested volunteers and over 130 of those completed orientation that evening and have begun the process to become official MDAS volunteers. Since we became involved with MDAS nearly four years ago, through MDAS efforts and ours, the volunteer hours have increased from approximately 1,500 to
the 3,500 and more they get annually from their volunteers. Additionally, FoMA has funded the construction of large play yards at the shelter so that big dogs (80% of shelter dog population is large dogs of apx. 50 pounds or more) are able to participate in play groups on a regular basis. Play groups help dogs to become better socialized, to learn doggy manners and expend energy from being crated 22+ hours daily as they wait weeks and sometimes months for their own forever families. Playgroups also help shelter staff get to know the dogs better so that as they are promoted
for adoption, etc. they have more knowledge about a dog’s play style, tolerance for other dogs, etc.,
What goals do you have for the future of FOMA?
Our primary and driving goal is to help create a more compassionate and informed culture around pet ownership and the needs of pets and pet owners in our community. Through increased awareness, advocacy, financial support and
education t we can significant improve the lives of homeless pets, in particular, and help our community provide better quality of life not just for people, but for pets, as well.
In what ways can we get involved to help your cause?
Adopt, Volunteer, Foster and Donate are the best ways to help animals in need. The shelter always needs volunteers to help with the 500-600 animals they have in their care pretty much at all times. Fosters save lives by providing a safe haven for pets in need of home care - whether puppies too young to be in a shelter environment; neonate kittens needing round the clock care, senior dogs that don’t do well at the shelter or dogs that are recuperating from injuries or medical care. Fostering saves lives not only by providing care for the pets going into foster care but also by making room for other pets in need at the shelter. Financial support is important to help further our work and for us to increase our efforts in the many areas in which we can be effective. Education, advocacy, and increased awareness all require
steady and targeted efforts that we fund through the foundation. FoMA also works closely with local and national organizations making a bigger impact in the work we do in Miami Dade County and by helping to support Miami Dade specific projects we increase our effectiveness. Donation of professional services such as photography, marketing and media support and other areas are critical. Supply drives for important shelter needs such as enrichment toys, supplies for neonate kitten fosters, blanket and towel drives and other items the shelter may not be able to provide as easily are also important. And, believe it or now, sharing social media content brings attention to the needs of shelter pets and the shelter, and goes a long way to increased awareness in our community.Visiting the shelter and taking an organized tour is a great way to see for yourself the great work being done on a daily basis to help homeless pets find forever families and I am always happy to assist in setting this up with shelter staff.