RGV Humane Society falls short of Harlingen’s deadline

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Staff members work at the Rio Grande Valley Humane Society at Harlingen delivering puppies to a foster family Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. (Miguel Roberts | The Brownsville Herald)

HARLINGEN — After falling short of a deadline stemming from a city request, the Rio Grande Valley Humane Society’s financial information is trickling into City Hall.

While commissioners consider revising the agency’s annual $400,000 contract, officials are requesting the Humane Society present detailed financial reports showing the money is being used to fund operations aimed at the Harlingen shelter, Mayor Norma Sepulveda said.

“We hold great appreciation for RGVHS’s dedicated efforts to find permanent homes for cats and dogs and our objective is to enhance the organizational structure to further our mission of saving animals and securing them forever, loving homes,” she stated, adding she’s “the dog mom” of Labrador retrievers named Gunner and Maverick.

“I believe that all dogs deserve a loving place to call home,” she stated. “The RGVHS and the city share a common objective of animal welfare. However, as Harlingen’s elected leaders, our primary focus is to ensure that every taxpayer dollar is allocated for animal welfare in Harlingen, rather than subsidizing other communities who do not fund the regional RGVHS.”

While the city contributes $400,000 a year to help fund the Humane Society’s operations, Mission is now matching that amount, Sepulveda said.

Officials say they’re doing their part to address the overall operation.

Following residents’ complaints regarding the conditions at the city’s old animal shelter, officials are planning to build a new shelter, Sepulveda said.

Meanwhile, the Rio Grande Valley Humane Society’s board of directors is considering the city’s request for financial information more than a week after falling short of an Oct. 13 deadline.

Now, the nonprofit’s information is trickling into City Hall.

On Oct. 20, the humane society presented its August and September 2023 financial reports, Assistant City Manager Josh Ramirez said.

As part of a city report, officials are compiling information showing the Human Society’s annual revenue stood at $1.4 million in 2022, $798,154 in 2021, $747,986 in 2020, $856,881 in 2019, $1 million in 2018 and $1.1 million in 2017.

“Earlier this year, city administration requested more extensive financial information than previously provided by the RGVHS, and to date, this information has not been provided to city management,” Sepulveda stated. “The financial information that city management has been sent lumps all operations and expenses into one, making it unclear to decipher the true operational cost of the Harlingen Shelter and the amount of resources they are providing directly to Harlingen residents. City administration requested that the RGVHS provide financial information broken down by municipality, since the RGVHS operates in at least one other city.”

Questioning absence

The city’s request comes as commissioners work to revise the Humane Society’s annual contract a month after they granted the agency a 120-day extension following animal rights groups’ heated concerns a city proposal that would force Harlingen’s “no-kill” shelter to euthanize dogs and cats.

On Oct. 17, Luis Quintanilla, the agency’s executive director, did not attend a city workshop in which officials had planned as a “discussion of the RGV Humane Society budget, policy and procedures.”

“City administration extended invitations to Mr. Luis Quintanilla with the genuine intent to engage in a meaningful public dialogue to promote transparency and accountability,” Sepulveda stated. “Unfortunately, Mr. Quintanilla was unable to join us and he did not send anyone in his place. It was disappointing to learn that Mr. Quintanilla held a fundraiser the following evening but was unable to carve out time to attend the city workshop and provide insight into where the city’s $400,000 annual contribution is being spent.”

Executive Director Luis Quintanilla at the Rio Grande Valley Humane Society holds a kitten ready for a forever home Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. (Miguel Roberts | The Brownsville Herald)

During the workshop, residents spoke out before commissioners.

“Numerous concerned members of the public were in attendance and several shared their first-hand experiences with the RGVHS structure,” Sepulveda stated. “We heard the concerns of a resident battling cancer that was turned away by the RGVHS when she attempted to return an aggressive pet that she adopted out of the shelter when she no longer had the strength to care for the pet. We heard from residents in District 2 concerned about aggressive homeless pets roaming the streets of their neighborhoods.”

Officials are requesting the Humane Society present the detailed financial information to determine whether the agency is using the city’s annual $400,000 contribution to serve Harlingen residents, Sepulveda said.

“As elected officials, it is our duty to ensure that taxpayer funds are allocated responsibly,” she stated. “The city subsidizes a significant portion of RGVHS’s operations, and in exchange, we seek transparency to guarantee responsible stewardship of these funds.”

Meanwhile, Quintanilla said he was meeting with the Humane Society’s “key” board members Wednesday night to discuss the city’s requests.

“I would love to provide a comment about the issue once I’ve been able to get the board on the same page,” he stated.

Requested information

At City Hall, officials are requesting a “comprehensive annual report for 2022,” financial information for August and September 2023, the 2024 budget along with Internal Revenue Service 990 forms covering 2020, 2021 and 2022.

The city’s also requesting lists of grants for the which the Humane Society applied in 2022 and 2023, lists of spay and neuter clinics the agency held during 2022 and 2023 along with lists of spay and neuter recipients, and the amount of revenue each clinic generated.

Officials are also requesting the Humane Society present dates of vaccination clinics it held during 2022 and 2023 along with a list of the services’ recipients and the amount of revenue each clinic generated.

The requests also include lists of the Humane Society’s veterinarians during 2022 and 2023, lists of animal rescues during 2022 and 2023, lists of its board members along with their meeting dates and locations and lists of the shelter’s employees and salaries, with written policies for adopting and fostering animals and the agency’s euthanasia policy.

As commissioners revise the agency’s proposed contract, officials are requesting the Humane Society acknowledge “the city animal shelter serves as an impoundment and holding facility for animals that have been involved in an animal bite and which are being held for observation and shall also conduct animal adoption procedures, animal sterilizations, educational programs and other programs and hold lost animals for recovery by owner.”

As part of the contract, officials are requesting the “society keep the shelter in a safe and sanitary condition at all times and accept all animals impounded by animal control officers found running at large in the city or impounded for observation following a dog bite.”

Kittens are seen at the Rio Grande Valley Humane Society at Harlingen on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, ready for adoption. (Miguel Roberts | The Brownsville Herald)

The “society may also accept dogs or cats brought by the shelter by citizens, provided, however, that it is in a condition of this contract that at no time shall society permit more than 92 dogs, 30 cats and 10 puppies (under three months) at the shelter without the written consent of the city manager,” officials stated.

“Furthermore, (the) society will assume the responsibility for all interior furniture and furnishings,” officials stated. “Failure of the society to pay the costs for parking and or furnish interior furniture and furnishings shall be cause to terminate this contract.”

Now, city officials are planning to build a new animal shelter on city-owned land near the public works center.

“City management has proposed the construction of a new animal shelter, acknowledging the condition of the current facility, which the city generously provides to RGVHS at no cost,” Sepulveda stated. “City staff and city management crafted a pragmatic solution that places the well-being of our community and its beloved animals at the core. It is important for the city to maintain a shelter that welcomes all breeds of cats and dogs, promotes adoptions and fosters, offers low cost spay and neuter clinics to Harlingen’s pet owners and places the well-being and safety of our community at the forefront.”

Since 2020, the Humane Society has prided itself as a “no-kill” shelter.

“The RGV Humane Society is the Rio Grande Valley’s only no-kill animal shelter and it is our mission to make the entire region a safer place for pets,” the organization states on its website.

“In the last two years, our work has saved the lives of over 10,000 homeless pets and has served over 15,000 additional pets through our low-cost spay/neuter and vaccination services,” the website states.