Harlingen commissioner: RGV Humane Society turning certain animals away

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HARLINGEN — The number of stray dogs and cats has climbed “out of hand” under the city’s contract with the Rio Grande Valley Humane Society, which prides itself as the region’s only “no-kill” shelter, City Commissioner Rene Perez said.

At the city-owned shelter, the nonprofit agency is refusing to accept Harlingen residents’ pets along with some animal control officers’ intake requests, he said.

“They’re still refusing to take animals from Harlingen residents and even refusing certain animals from animal control,” Perez said in an interview.

For two months, commissioners have been calling on the Humane Society to help revise a new contract after organizers claimed city officials planned to increase stray intakes, a move that would lead to more euthanasia.

In September, animal rights groups’ heated concerns led commissioners to give the Humane Society 120 days to help them revise the proposed contract.

The extension is set to expire Jan. 18 as city officials await the Humane Society’s overdue response to a request for detailed financial information.

Since about 2020, the Humane Society, under past Executive Director Luis Quintanilla, began operating as a “no-kill” shelter, slashing its number of euthanasia procedures.

Last month, Quintanilla resigned after about four years on the job.

Now, the city’s number of stray dogs and cats is growing out of control, Perez, a leader behind the commission’s push to revise the current contract, said.

“The stray population is out of hand in Harlingen,” he said in an interview. “All you’ve got to do is drive around Harlingen and see all the strays.”

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)

Perez said he’s seen a small pack of stray dogs roaming the streets while stray cats have formed a “colony” behind the Target store in the city’s main retail district off Dixieland Road.

“As elected officials, our primary responsibility is to fill the needs of the people of Harlingen,” Perez said. “We have a responsibility for the general public health and service of the community.”

The Humane Society’s refusal to accept some residents’ animals is boosting the number of strays, Assistant City Manager Josh Ramirez said.

“It is concerning,” he said. “There are instances where they have refused to accept animals because they’re at capacity.”

On Friday, Lillian Kim, president of the Humane Society’s board of director, referred questions to Melissa Saldana, the agency’s interim executive director.

At the shelter, the agency’s program aimed at spaying and neutering pets is “tackling the issue,” Saldana said, referring to the city’s strays.

”As far as the stray overpopulation, it is an issue across the entire Rio Grande Valley,” she stated. “The Rio Grande Valley Humane Society is the only animal shelter tackling the issue at the root of the problem — spay and neuter.”

So far this month, the shelter has performed more than 400 spay and neutering surgeries, Saldana said.

“Catching animals and euthanizing them has not solved the problem for the three shelters with the highest euthanasia rates in the Valley,” she stated. “These shelters euthanize thousands of animals each year yet continue to struggle with overpopulation.”

But Perez questioned the Humane Society’s program aimed at spaying and neutering pets.

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)

Early this year, the Harlingen Community Improvement Board set aside $180,000 to help pay for veterinary services aimed at helping provide spay and neutering services, Ramirez said.

Since the Humane Society hasn’t followed up on plans to hire a veterinarian, city officials are proposing tapping into the $180,000 cache to help fund those services, Perez said.

“There’s already a plan for that,” he said, declining to disclose details before officials take their proposal to the Community Improvement Board.

At the shelter, the Humane Society is working with Harlingen residents who are adopting and fostering animals to help save their lives, Saldana said.

Since last year, the agency’s adoption and fostering program has boosted the number of animals it has saved from 3,374 to 3,865, she said.

”It is unfortunate that the citizens of Harlingen are not being highlighted for their life-saving efforts,” she stated. “We have been able to save thousands of lives with the help of Harlingen residents. Due to collaboration with the citizens of Harlingen, we have managed to increase the number of animals saved through adoptions and fostering.”

“The Rio Grande Valley Humane Society in Harlingen is a resource and tool,” she stated. “It is the citizens of Harlingen who have made it possible to save over 90% of the animals coming in through our doors. For the few residents who don’t understand what we do and why we do it, we welcome them to contact us directly for more information on how to be a part of our life-saving programs.”

For weeks, city officials have been requesting the Humane Society present detailed financial information to help determine whether the agency is using the city’s $400,000 annual contribution to serve Harlingen residents, Mayor Norma Sepulveda said in an earlier interview.

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, she said.

At City Hall, officials continue 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.

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)

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 “no-kill” agency 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.