Harlingen animal shelter reopens; focuses on adopting

Only have a minute? Listen instead
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...
The Harlingen animal shelter is seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy: Harlingen Animal Shelter/Facebook)

HARLINGEN — City Hall’s taking on a new line of business, reopening the Harlingen animal shelter with a fresh make-over while debuting new fees and policies aimed at adopting pets.

Since 1988, the Rio Grande Valley Humane Society, under its former name, the Harlingen Humane Society, had operated the city-owned shelter.

Then on Jan. 19, city officials took over operations a month after terminating the Humane Society’s $400,000 annual contract, claiming the “no-kill” agency breached its agreement when it refused to take in residents’ pets along with some animal control officers’ intake requests.

To jump-start the job, commissioners last month pulled $365,937 from the city’s general fund budget to foot the payroll for an 11-member staff running the shelter, with Shannon Harvill, the city’s environmental health director, overseeing the operation.

At City Hall, City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez was planning to reopen the shelter after about a week of maintenance and repairs.

But officials ran into “unexpected” conditions, leading to a month of repairs, Assistant City Manager Josh Ramirez said.

“There were a lot of expenses that were not considered,” he said. “The conditions of the building were deplorable.”

“Unsanitary” conditions sparked concern over the building’s working environment, Ramirez said.

“When the commissioners and mayor did a walk-through, they expressed concern about the horrible condition people had been working under,” he said.

“It looked like it was just abandoned. It seemed like an accumulation of dirt, grime and hair. There were holes in the walls and holes in the floor, so we had to patch those.”

The job forced “extensive” repairs, pushing new supply costs to about $20,000, Ramirez said.

“We cleaned the place from top to bottom,” he said. “We pressure-washed, scrubbed the entire building, from the bottom to the roof top. After cleaning, we repainted and fixed things that were broken and needed repair — lighting, electrical, plumbing, new fencing.”

By Feb. 19, Harvill and her staff were opening the shelter.

The city’s got the experience to take on the job, said Ramirez, Harlingen’s former environmental health director who previously served as Brownsville’s health director, helping to build the city’s animal shelter about 20 years ago.

“For the city, it’s something new,” he said. “But I’ve been exposed to this for a very long time. I’m very familiar with the whole operation.”

For Harvill, she’s coming back to the job she loves.

Nearly 20 years ago, she served as the shelter’s executive director while taking on the manager’s job and other work for about 10 years, she said.

Meanwhile, Jessica Lozano, who was working as a leading pet store’s manager, is now serving as the shelter’s new manager.

“We’re animal lovers,” Ramirez said.

Into the city’s second week of operations, the shelter’s caring for 23 dogs, 19 puppies and three cats, he said.

Now, its staff is working to build more kennels while buying new cages as part of a plan to boost the shelter’s capacity to about 60 dogs and 30 cats, he said.

So far, the shelter’s staff has found new homes for seven animals while owners have claimed seven, Ramirez said.

“We’re in the business of adopting pets — uniting pets,” he said. “We’re going to make every effort to adopt the animals.”

Ramirez said the shelter’s hasn’t euthanized any animals.

“We’re not in the business of euthanizing,” he said.

A veterinarian would determine whether to euthanize animals in “extreme cases,” Ramirez said.

“We would euthanize under extreme cases where the animal is suffering an incurable disease or is hurt,” he said.

As part of the shelter’s policy, officials are holding strays for three days to give owners a chance to claim them, Ramirez said

During the following 10-day period, they‘re aiming to adopt animals, working with rescue shelters including Houston-based Donna’s Love Rescue, he said, adding other rescue shelters are pending officials’ approval.

“They have to be registered,” Ramirez said. “We want to check their facilities. We want to make sure pets go to reputable and well-established agencies.”

Earlier this month, city commissioners set the shelter’s new adoption fees while hiring a veterinarian to oversee medical services.

While the shelter’s charging residents $58 to adopt dogs, commissioners set fees for cats at $46, planning to release animals after tests, vaccines and microchipping.

For residents taking animals to the shelter, officials are charging $20 for dogs and cats while boosting fees to $40 for litters.

Based on Harvill’s recommendations, commissioners set the shelter’s adoption fees below the Humane Society’s rates, which include $102 to adopt dogs and $76 for cats, along with those charged by Brownsville’s animal shelter and the Palm Valley Animal Society.

Meanwhile, commissioners entered into a six-month contract paying $1,248 monthly with Robert Kellogg, a retired Harlingen veterinarian who co-founded the Humane Society during his 40-year career.