RGV Humane Society exec director resigns amid contract negotiations with Harlingen

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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)

HARLINGEN — Luis Quintanilla, the Rio Grande Valley Humane Society’s executive director who helped turn the agency into the region’s first “no-kill” shelter, has resigned as its board members work with city officials to negotiate a new contract.

Quintanilla, who along with animal rights groups expressed concern that the city commission planned to open the Humane Society’s shelter to more euthanasia, did not respond to a message requesting comment Wednesday.

On Facebook, he hailed the Humane Society’s success in becoming a no-kill shelter.

“For nearly four years, I have been fortunate enough to get to know some of the most incredibly compassionate, dedicated, funny and resilient people in my role as executive director of Rio Grande Valley Humane Society,” Quintanilla posted Tuesday. “Together, we have accomplished some great things.”

Under his directorship, the agency adopted 7,882 animals, transferred 3,888 animals, returned 2,358 cats to the field, reunited 1,520 pets with their families, placed 5,948 pets in foster homes, conducted 8,783 spay-neuter surgeries and served 15,725 pets through the shelter’s monthly wellness clinic while euthanizing no animals to make room, he stated.

“I owe an immense debt to my board of directors, my staff, our volunteers and our community of adopters, fosters, advocates and donors,” Quintanilla stated. “Each of you played an essential part in the success of RGVHS and thousands of tails are wagging at this very moment because of you.”

“As I prepare for the next chapter in my life, I am left with a profound sense of gratitude and happiness,” he stated. “So many thousands of individuals from all walks of life came together as a community of animal lovers for one purpose — to save homeless animals. A no-kill nation is inevitable — and I am honored to have played a small part in making the Rio Grande Valley a safer place for pets.”

On Wednesday, board President Lillian Kim said officials would work to expand on Quintanilla’s accomplishments.

“He did an exceptional job,” she said. “The legacy he left behind is still with us. Now we’re going to move it to the next level. He left us with an incredible operational team.”

Late Tuesday, the Humane Society’s officials described Quintanilla as the driver behind the push to turn the agency into the region’s first no-kill shelter.

“The Rio Grande Valley Humane Society board of directors regrets to announce the resignation of Mr. Luis Quintanilla from his position as executive director,” the agency’s officials stated in a press release. “Mr. Quintanilla has been an integral part of the organization, contributing significantly to its mission and achievements during his tenure. The board extends its deepest gratitude to Mr. Quintanilla for his dedicated service and wishes him the very best in his future endeavors.”

Now, Melissa Saldana will serve as the Humane Society’s interim executive director as they launch a search to fill Quintanilla’s position, officials stated.

“Ms. Saldana has been a valued member of the RGVHS team, bringing many years of experience and a profound commitment to the welfare of animals in the Rio Grande Valley,” they stated.

On Wednesday, Mayor Norma Sepulveda, who said she didn’t know about Quintanilla’s resignation until the board’s chairperson informed city management Tuesday, pointed to the city’s requests for the Humane Society’s financial information as the parties work to negotiate a new contract.

“It’s unfortunate that the documents requested of the RGVHS were not produced in their entirety prior to his departure,” she stated. “Nonetheless, the resignation will not disrupt the negotiations in place with the RGVHS. The city will continue to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars by requiring transparency and accountability of the RGVHS.”

Meanwhile, city officials are working to allow Harlingen residents to turn to the shelter for helping in finding homes for their pets, Sepulveda said.

“Additionally, the city remains committed to ensuring the Harlingen shelter 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,” she stated.

For weeks, officials have been requesting the Humane Society present detailed financial information to determine whether the agency is using the city’s $400,000 contribution to serve Harlingen residents.

After falling short of an Oct. 13 deadline, the Humane Society has presented monthly financial reports, an annual compliance report for 2022 and Internal Revenue Service 990 forms, Sepulveda said.

At City Hall, officials are 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 as well as each clinic’s revenue.

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

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 with their meeting dates and locations, along with lists of the shelter’s employees and salaries, with written adoption and fostering policies as well as the agency’s euthanasia policy.

In September, Quintanilla along with animal rights groups argued the city’s proposed contract would lead the shelter to accept more dogs and cats, forcing the agency priding itself as the region’s “no-kill” leader to euthanize more animals.

In response to heated concerns, commissioners agreed to grant the Humane Society a 120-day extension on its current contract giving the nonprofit $400,000 a year, while Sepulveda called on the parties to “negotiate” a new agreement.