It is because of Luisa Montalvo’s dedication to proving that humans are not the only ones who deserve to be treated with humanity that hundreds of local dogs have been rescued from kill shelters — one being Foxtrot, a Border Collie who was born with hydrocephalus, a condition that causes excess fluid to build up within her brain cavities.
Because of her condition, Foxtrot was unable to stand or walk and her breeders were planning to euthanize her. She was expected to never take a step in her life, and without Montalvo’s help, she would have never been able to defy that prediction.
Using a homemade sling made out of an old long-sleeve shirt that she cut four holes through, similar to a baby walker, Montalvo spent the next couple months teaching Foxtrot how to use her legs. After one month of training, Foxtrot was able to stand for more than two minutes, and a month later, she was running.
“They told me about what (condition) she had and the special attention she needed, and I didn’t care,” said Montalvo, a Pharr native. “She couldn’t get up or move on her own, but I just saw her for her, and had to take her in. All it took was determination and a little bit of extra love that got her to where she is at now.”
Over the past two years of volunteering for Ruff House Rescue, a nonprofit foster-based organization in Oceanside, New York, Montalvo has rescued over 500 dogs from local kill shelters.
Of all the dogs she has helped save, Montalvo has kept three — Foxtrot, who will turn 3 years old in May, Finn, a Terrier Shepherd who has a broken spine after being hit by a car, and Skeeter, a Miniature Schnauzer who was not wanted by his breeder because “his markings and colors were not what they wanted.”
According to the 2018 Palm Valley Animal Center animal count report, the shelter euthanized 6,212 canines in the past year and had a total live intake of 17,427 dogs.
“We are killing dogs – healthy dogs – for no reason other than that they have nowhere else to go, and that is bad because we (South Texas) are known for that,” Montalvo said. “People, other states and places, know us for that and that needs to change.”
Montalvo, who now resides in San Juan, moved from Austin to live with her mom seven years ago when her father passed away. She worked in the stock room of Abbott Laboratories in Austin, but retired after 28 years of working to care for her mom. Now, she devotes her time to volunteering for Ruff House Rescue, working alongside Diane Rose, who founded the organization in 2009.
Montalvo met Rose through Facebook and helps the New York nonprofit from here by collecting dogs from PVAC and taking them to the center. She makes trips almost weekly – just last Saturday, Montalvo took 28 rescue dogs to New York City and Kentucky.
Montalvo grew up in a household of many pets and wanted to study to become a veterinarian, but said that rescuing is what she was called to do and would not have it any other way.
“Maybe it was not so much that I needed to be a vet as much as it was me having the opportunity to help the animals,” Montalvo said, who will be turning 60 years old this May. “God gave me what I wanted, which was helping the animals. I just didn’t have to go through the eight years of school.
“My God wants me to help as many people and animals that I can, and that’s all I really want to do.
Montalvo moved back to the Valley from Austin in 2012 and said she was reluctant because she loved her job with the company. However, she said that if she had not made the decision to come back home, she would not have scheduled the doctor appointment that found the cancer in her breast that year.
Since the abnormality was identified early in development, Montalvo was declared with Stage 0 breast cancer — a very early stage in cancer in which non-invasive cells have not spread to breast tissue yet. She was diagnosed in May 2012, and after six months of radiation, was declared cancer-free on Nov. 12, 2012.
“I really did not want to quit my job; I did not want to leave Austin. I loved Austin,” Montalvo said. “I thought my mom was more important and had I not made that decision to give up, I would be dead right now. So, God is good.”
Montalvo also has a passion for public speaking. She joined the closed Toastmasters club at Abbott Laboratories in 1989 for three years, and when she returned to the Valley, joined the club in Pharr.
After dropping off the 28 dogs at New York on Saturday, Montalvo competed in the 2019 Toastmasters international club competition later that day, where she placed first in the area level. Montalvo has advanced to district five out of the six years that she has competed.
In her speech this year, Montalvo talked about the power of the phrase “I believe in you.” She told the story of when her father told her those words when she was 16 years old and took interest in photography, and how it got her to Mexico City, taking photos of the grand opening of a bullfighting ring.
Montalvo, with Finn, Foxtrot and Skeeter, goes to local schools and Boys and Girls Clubs to share her message about perseverance and kindness to students. Her favorite part is telling Foxtrot’s journey. Instead of talking about the progress of her recovery, Montalvo lets Foxtrot free at the end of her speech to run around, proving that compassion and determination are the legs of success.
“I tell the kids that if you are ever at a crossroads in your life; if there is a bullfight that you need to grab by the horns in your life, or if there is a mountain you need to race to the top of in your life, believe in yourself,” Montalvo said.
She also said that everyday, she tells herself “I have to be better than I was yesterday. Sometimes I have a really good day and think ‘I have to be better tomorrow.’”
And she stays true to this precept. Montalvo is currently in the process of donating a kidney and six months ago, saved a 7-year-old boy who was choking from a mint in Taco Palenque.
After performing the Heimlich Maneuver twice, she said that the candy flew out. The kid, who was seeing her face for the first time in his life, then turned around and told her “I love you.”
Montalvo was nominated for The Monitor’s 2019 list of Women We Love by her friend, Phyllis Allen, who said in the email that “Luisa’s life story could be put into a series of books.”