Harlingen gears up to take over animal shelter

A view of the facade of the Rio Grande Valley Humane Society in Harlingen in Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023. (Miguel Roberts | The Brownsville Herald)
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HARLINGEN — It looks like city officials are taking on the city-owned animal shelter’s operations.

By a 2:30 p.m. deadline, officials hadn’t received proposals from organizations in response to their requests to operate the shelter, Assistant City Manager Josh Ramirez said.

Officials had contacted the Laguna Madre Humane Society, Brownsville Animal Defense, the Palm Valley Humane Society and No Kill RGV, requesting the organizations consider operating the city shelter.

During a meeting Tuesday, officials are planning to request commissioners amend the city’s budget to allow them to hire an 11-member staff at a cost of $364,933.

”We are preparing for every possible scenario, whether we receive a qualified organization to run the shelter or if we need to operate it ourselves,” City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez stated Tuesday.

Last month, officials terminated the Rio Grande Valley Humane Society’s $400,000 annual contract after the agency, under its former name, the Harlingen Humane Society, had run the shelter since 1988.

The Humane Society’s contract runs through Jan. 18.

Months after requesting the Humane Society present detail financial information to determine its use of the city’s payment, officials argued the agency “breached” its agreement when it failed to accept Harlingen residents’ pets along with some animal control officers’ intake requests.

Now, officials are planning to hire an 11-member staff to operate the shelter.

“The shelter needs 11 positions to be able to function daily and have the animals cared for and re-homed as soon as possible,” Shannon Harvill, the city’s environmental health director, wrote in the meeting’s executive summary.

From 2006 to 2007, Harvill served as the shelter’s executive director, Ramirez said.

Under her proposal, an animal shelter manager, at a proposed annual salary of $53,910, would help run the operation.

The manager would be charged with “observation, care, treatment and euthanasia of dogs, cats and other wild and domestic animals,” a job description states. “General supervision is received from the environmental health director who evaluates performance based on result.”

Officials are also planning to hire a shelter supervisor at $45,195; an animal adoption coordinator at $36,968; an administrative secretary at $38,448; four full-time animal care technicians, each at $34,201; and three part-time animal care technicians at $18,202.

The city’s operation of the shelter would come months after officials began requesting the Humane Society present detailed financial information to determine it used the city’s $400,000 annual payment to help Harlingen residents.

When the Humane Society presented some information weeks after an October deadline, officials questioned whether nearly $1 million was spent on payroll.

The contract’s termination marked the end of a decades-long partnership between the city and the Humane Society, which operated under the name the Harlingen Humane Society until early this year, when the agency merged with Mission, becoming the Rio Grande Valley Humane Society.

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.

“Significant changes” within the Humane Society helped lead to its new policies, Mayor Norma Sepulveda has said.

“While it is true that the city has enjoyed a partnership with the Harlingen Humane Society for over 30 years, we have observed significant changes in the organizational structure and operations of the shelter over the last few years, including a complete overhaul of their board and operational methodologies, specifically becoming a limited-intake facility and closing their doors to residents wishing to rescue animals off our streets or surrendering a pet,” she stated.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Rene Perez has described the city’s stray population as “out of hand.”

In September, animal rights groups’ heated concerns surrounding a proposed agreement they argued would open the shelter’s doors to more animals, forcing more euthanasia, led commissioners to give the Humane Society a 120-day extension on its current contract, while Sepulveda called on the agency to help “negotiate” a new agreement.

In November, Quintanilla, under whom the Humane Society raised its “no-kill” banner, resigned after about four years on the job.