RGV Humane Society tries for no-kill status at Mission shelter

For the last three years, the Humane Society of Harlingen sustained a no-kill status for their shelter, the only shelter in the Rio Grande Valley to do so.

But now, the organization is expanding their footprint, renaming themselves to the Rio Grande Valley Humane Society and bringing their resources to the city of Mission.

Next month, the humane society will be taking over operations of the Mission Animal Shelter as part of a partnership that was approved by the Mission City Council on Monday.

The move from the city to approve a three-year contract with the humane society is part of an effort to achieve a no-kill status at the shelter.

“The end goal is to provide the best service that we can for our fur babies which is to, hopefully, have a no-kill shelter and to provide spay and neuter services to our community and the Harlingen Humane Society will do just that,” said Mission Mayor Norie Gonzalez Garza.

She added that under their management, which is tentatively scheduled to begin Feb. 1, the shelter will have veterinary services twice a week for the community at a reduced rate.

“That’s really the only way that I think they were going to be able to control the stray situation,” Gonzalez Garza said.

Luis Quintanilla, the executive director of the Rio Grande Valley Humane Society, said their takeover of the Mission shelter is part of their goal to spread the no-kill movement across the Valley to save as many animals as they possibly can.

“There’s a lot of different voices or a lot of misconceptions about the definition of what no-kill is but the fact of the matter is it boils down to saving as many animals as possibly can be saved,” Quintanilla said.

A widely accepted definition of a no-kill shelter is a shelter that has a 90% save rate for animals and that only euthanizes animals due to irreparable health or behavioral issues.

The RGV Humane Society achieved no-kill status in 2020 and has been able to maintain it since.

For years, Quintanilla said, their organization has provided vaccinations, other medication, preventatives and dewormer for the animals through their monthly wellness clinics which he estimated serve about 500 pets every month.

“We’ve done a really good job of keeping the community healthy and helping to remove some of those barriers to pet ownership because those preventatives and vaccines can be pretty expensive for some people,” he said.

Those clinics and the spay and neuter services they provide every week drew residents from all over the Valley, from Rio Grande City to Raymondville.

To reflect their reach outside of just Harlingen, they decided to rename themselves.

But while they intend to continue serving the entire Valley, the shelters will only take in animals from the two cities they are partnered with — Harlingen and now Mission.

“Number one reason is that we don’t have the space to accommodate the entire Valley’s stray animals within either one of those shelters,” Quintanilla said. “Number two is that we only have partnerships with those two cities so it would kind of be unfair to Harlingen taxpayers and to Mission taxpayers to be subsidizing the municipalities surrounding them that have not made the commitment to save lives the way those two cities have.”

He said they encouraged residents from other cities to contact their elected officials if they would like the humane society to partner with those cities as well.

In Mission, Quintanilla said they will be launching the same life-saving programs they currently have at their Harlingen shelter.

When they started these programs three years ago, he said they wanted to amplify the amount of adoptions they were doing and they created a foster program from the ground up by working with rescue partners and others in the community.

“And just really, really focusing on getting animals out and most importantly, keeping them out by offering those low-cost services,” Quintanilla said. “That is sort of the entire ecosystem that we have going in Harlingen and that’s what we fully intend on bringing to the city of Mission as soon as possible.”

At the Mission shelter, they will also be holding the vaccination clinics every month and their weekly spay and neuter clinics, making it easier for people in the Upper Valley to access those services from them.

Under the terms of the contract, the city of Mission will retain ownership of the animal shelter and its operations would continue to be under the supervision of Mission Health Director Daniel Garza.

The shelter will accept all animals impounded by Mission Animal Control who were found running around the city or impounded because of a bite report. They can also accept cats or dogs brought in by Mission residents.

Speaking to the city council on Monday as they were about to vote on the contract, Quintanilla said they had a goal of achieving no-kill status at the Mission shelter in 90 days.

“We think that with the team that we have in place, and our track record of proven programs, that within 90 days Mission will be a no-kill city,” Quintanilla said.

The contract was approved unanimously and has an initial length of three years. However, the city will have the option to extend it up to three times for 12-month terms.

For the humane society’s operation of the shelter, the city agreed to pay $400,000 per year.

“Staff did a really good job of analyzing the cost,” Gonzalez Garza, the Mission mayor, said. “They’re bringing in their employees, they’re paying for staff, they’re paying for supplies so, at the end of the day, it wasn’t going to be a big expense for us to let them handle the operations.”

With their presence in Mission, Quintanilla said they will be doubling their reach, expecting to take in the approximately 4,000 animals per year that the Harlingen shelter does.

“The biggest change is the fact that we are instantly doubling our impact and we hope to keep that going,” Quintanilla said. “We hope that Mission is only the first step on this journey and that we can soon partner with other cities who are looking to make a change.”

When it comes to what can be done to reduce the stray animal population, Quintanilla pointed out that many people like him who run shelters often talk about educating the community and the community needing to step up.

He wanted to turn that talk into action and said that’s what the RGV Humane Society has been doing over the last few years. It’s what they intend to do until every single city in the Valley is no-kill.

“There are a lot of people out there who think no-kill is unobtainable, that no-kill is impossible and I want to tell everyone in the Rio Grande Valley that not only is it possible, it’s the right thing to do,” Quintanilla said. “The Humane Society of Harlingen, now known as the Rio Grande Valley Humane Society, has proven that every single day for the last three years.”