COMMENTARY: Cities should join no-kill pursuit

BY KEELY LEWISS

It’s that time of year again, when triple digits fade from the forecast, when the green parakeets winging back to Mexico stop to rest on the power lines around 10th and Trenton, when the cities of Hidalgo County make decisions about their animal welfare for the new fiscal year.

The decisions this year are especially crucial, given that the county’s only open intake shelter, Palm Valley Animal Center (PVAC), has started making strides toward becoming no-kill. PVAC is not alone in this effort. Nationally renowned organizations including Best Friends Animal Society, Austin Pets Alive!, Maddie’s Fund, and Petco Foundation are stepping up to the plate in a big way to help make it happen.

Why are so many people who don’t even live in the Rio Grande Valley willing to help? When it comes to the killing of shelter animals, Texas is by far the number one state in the nation. And when it comes to Texas facilities with the highest intake, PVAC tops the list. That makes the Valley ground zero when it comes to the state’s animal welfare.

Best Friends is working toward the entire nation being no-kill by 2025, and when they found out about an intake facility in deep South Texas taking in more than 100 animals every day, 365 days a year, they didn’t waste any time. Austin Pets Alive! and Maddie’s Lifesaving Academy got the ball rolling by sending some of their key people down for several months starting in March, and Best Friends continued the progress in many ways, bringing down experienced staff members to fill key leadership roles as well as veterinary assistance. Petco Foundation offered a sizable grant to help offset some of the increased expenses.

The results have already been transformative. The 2018 adoption numbers are more than double last year’s. Already this year, 6,000 animals have been sent out to rescue organizations, exceeding last year’s total in just eight months. Right now, more than half of the stray animals coming in are finding live outcomes.

To actually save thousands more Valley animals is an expensive, time-consuming process. It requires dozens more staff positions to take care of the animals plus tens of thousands more dollars to purchase additional food, vaccinations and medicine. Euthanizing an animal doesn’t cost much; getting a cat or dog healthy and into a forever home can take at minimum $100-150 per animal and sometimes several weeks of care and promotion for adoption or rescue.

PVAC has historically been one of the most severely underfunded animal intake facilities in the nation, working with an annual budget of just under $3 million. By comparison, the only shelter taking in more animals is in Los Angeles, with a budget of $23 million. Eighty-eight percent of LA shelter animals find their way out of their six city shelters; in 2017, only 33.7 percent of PVAC animals made it out into homes and rescues.

This is where the cities come in. For PVAC to stay viable, the cities of Hidalgo County need to do their part to make sure the shelter is adequately funded.

Having a central location where their Animal Control Officers and citizens can turn in stray and unwanted animals is only the beginning. PVAC and its sister entity, The Laurie P. Andrews PAWS Center, also offer a hands-on staff of more than 100: educators, foster coordinators, rescue connectors, adoption specialists and animal care technicians, as well as a full-time veterinarian and hundreds of dedicated volunteers and fosters. Only at PVAC are dogs and cats vaccinated and flea-treated as soon as they arrive. Before being adopted out, they are spayed and neutered to stop the vicious cycle of unwanted litters.

Cities considering alternatives for their stray animal needs should realize that no other option is going to offer their citizens or their animals a better solution than PVAC, especially now. Typically, cities that have set up their own makeshift centers to save money are faced with a severe lack of space and staffing, resulting in a majority of their animals having to be euthanized after a short state-mandated hold period. If an owner doesn’t claim their pet in time, that animal most likely will not go to foster, rescue or adoption. The city is saving money, but at what humane cost?

PVAC took in approximately 30,000 dogs and cats last year (plus more than 10,000 possums and other wildlife, but that’s a whole other story). They’ve got plenty of animals. They just need more funding to save more of them. Cities considering cheaper alternatives, even it means their citizens driving 30 miles to turn in a stray, are not looking at the big picture. There is no comparison between a city-run pound, which is literally a dead-end for most animals, and a professionally managed shelter with not one, but two adoption centers.

Sure, it would be faster and easier for PVAC to reach no-kill if fewer animals were coming in, if more cities jumped ship and established their own pounds or contracted with other inadequate facilities, but would it be better for public safety? Would it promote the Valley as a place that cares about its animal welfare? And does it offer the best and brightest future for the animals?

Keely Lewis is a retired journalism teacher and board vice-president of Palm Valley Animal Center and the Laurie P. Andrews PAWS Center. She writes for The Monitor’s Board of Contributors.