BY KEELY LEWIS
The future for the homeless companion animals of Hidalgo County has never looked brighter. The large influx coming through the gates at Palm Valley Animal Center (still almost 100 per day) hasn’t changed, but what happens once they get there has.
To minimize the spread of disease, dogs and cats are now vaccinated immediately upon arrival. They’re medically evaluated, flea treated, checked for a microchip and reconnected with their owners if possible. If not, they’re photographed and posted to a website for rescue organizations to pull from. Foster homes are found for some of the ones needing special treatment or time to grow. If they’re old enough, they’re spayed or neutered. The healthy and treatable ones not put on a rescue run or into a foster home are made available for adoption at PVAC or The Laurie P. Andrews PAWS Center. Instead of potentially spending weeks at PVAC, the goal is for the animals move through within 4 to 5 days, minimizing their chance of getting sick.
During and following this restructuring of PVAC in March, the number of cats and dogs adopted or sent to rescue jumped from 33.3 percent to 47.65 percent. This improvement came about after Austin Pets Alive! with support from Best Friends Animal Society, and Maddie’s Fund, helped with boots on the ground and a battalion of volunteers who burned up the highway between Edinburg and Austin. Their mission: Help PVAC move toward a no-kill status (90 percent live release rate). With the community’s active support, they believe this can be achieved within two years.
Reopening PVAC as a full adoption center has already had a positive impact on the numbers going out the door. So have specials like the current one offering all dogs and cats for $25 through the end of April. PAWS now offers 120-200 dogs on site, and the cat rooms are filled with more than 100 cats and kittens. But adoptions are only the beginning.
The feral cats that faced certain euthanasia can now be part of the Barn Cat program. Many of these cats are housed in new open-air enclosures, and anyone looking for a couple of good mousers can stop by PVAC and take them home for free.
Foster homes were formerly the only way out for mother cats with nursing kittens. Now some can go to the new Kitten Nursery at PAWS, with the kittens (and their mama) going straight to adoptions as soon as they’re weaned. Kittens have always been in short supply at PAWS, but starting in April, visitors should be able to check out dozens of them ready for a good home.
Dogs and puppies with heartworm disease, skin conditions and other treatable conditions will now have a chance to go home with someone willing to make the extra effort to save a life that once wouldn’t have been considered viable.
Even the possums turned in to PVAC now have some rescues picking them up for release in wildlife preserves in Central Texas. (Although the mission of PVAC is to save companion animals, many cities still turn in hundreds of animals classified as wildlife.)
The biggest change of all: The euthanasia room isn’t in constant use. In fact, some days, zero animals go there. An interim operations manager from APA! spent a large part of her first day on the job making sure that was the case last Wednesday. Thank goodness this tide is turning.
This endeavor, to get as many animals as possible out alive, comes with a high price tag. Dozens more staffers at both locations are needed to move them through more quickly. The rescue team needs to be delivering van loads of dogs and cats to San Antonio and Austin several times a week to outrun the pace of intake. Many more foster families are needed, especially during the high-volume kitten season starting now.
Municipalities need to enact/enforce ordinances banning sales of dogs along the roadsides and at flea markets. Our elected leaders need to have the courage to not only require, but to enforce, spaying, neutering, vaccinating, and microchipping. All residents need to embrace the importance of these fundamental responsibilities, which will require increased education and marketing to help make these basics the new normal for all pet owners. Fewer animals born means more animals saved. Becoming a no-kill county will require everyone doing their part.
No dog should ever have to lose its life just to make room for another. No pregnant cat should be doomed just because there’s no room for more babies. Thanks to the lifesaving changes going on at these two shelters, more and more animals are finding their way to forever homes. It’s a new day for Hidalgo County and the cities that contract with PVAC — a welcome change sure to translate into positive economic development for the entire area. But most importantly, it’s a bright new day for the lost and abandoned animals that deserve a second chance.