Brownsville animal lovers form nonprofit to support shelter

Members of the newly formed nonprofit Amigos of BARCC are shown at their first board meeting, held May 2 at Main Event Brownsville. From left: Dr. Crystal Villarreall Nunez, secretary; Gilda Lire-Caldwell, vice president; Anabel Garcia-Soto, president; Dr. Adriana Martinez-Pena, board member; Dr. Denisa Lopez, treasurer; and Jack Soto, board member. Board members not shown: Dr. Adan Narvaez, Dr. Humberto Nunez and Avi Schwarcz. (Courtesy photo)
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The Brownsville Animal Regulation and Care Center is getting some help from a new nonprofit group, Amigos of BARCC, toward its goal of becoming a zero-kill animal shelter.

It’s the first time BARCC has gotten support from a citizen-founded nonprofit organization. Anabel Garcia-Soto, president of Amigos, said that in addition to her position the board consists of a vice president, secretary, treasurer and regular board members. The group finalized its nonprofit-status paperwork with the IRS and the state comptroller’s office in mid-April and held its first meeting May 2, she said.

Garcia-Soto said forming Amigos was a “collective idea” among a group of individuals, animal lovers all, who had already been donating money or supplies to BARCC.

“We all kind of just put our brains together and really thought about how we can really bridge the gap between our community and BARCC, and how we can better help save more animals, provide better medical help to BARCC and really trying to figure out how we can do more,” she said.

Garcia-Soto credited Dr. Antonio L. Caldwell, BARCC’s deputy director of Health, Wellness and Animal Services, with inspiring her and the other board members to form Amigos. Caldwell has helped shepherd through a number of positive changes at the animal shelter since coming aboard over a year ago, such as helping dramatically increase BARCC’s save rate — from 20 to 30% historically to 90% in March, she said.

“He’s a driving force and he was really an inspiration to all of us,” Garcia-Soto said. “I think when he went into his position at BARCC, you really saw the difference in that facility. I think all of us just got inspired by him and went marching forward and figured out what we can do to help.”

The Amigos board, which held its first meeting on May 2, is in the process of planning how to help BARCC in its mission and close the save-rate gap even more, she said, adding that fundraising events will be part of it. Already, Amigos and BARCC have teamed up with the Rio Grande Valley Humane Society at Harlingen to offer low-cost spaying and neutering services, and other services such as heartworm testing and microchipping (visit the BARCC or Amigos Facebook page for more details or to sign up).

Garcia-Soto said the cost of spaying and neutering is the primary reason Brownsville has so many unwanted cats and dogs, and why the animal shelter has its hands so full. Subsidizing those costs so more people can afford proper care for their animals is key to driving down those population numbers, she said.

In addition to helping make it more affordable for residents to care for their pets — and prevent unwanted litters from being born — it’s important to change the community’s mindset toward animals, Garcia-Soto said, adding that she believes such a thing is doable through education, especially with younger generations.

“We can make a difference,” Garcia-Soto said. “We can spay and neuter, and you know we don’t have to abandon these animals. We can care for them. They can be fostered. I’ve heard always that it takes six weeks to create a habit. I think with teaching and just being in people’s faces is going to change that. We can only do it as a community.”

Caldwell said BARCC is “thrilled and fortunate to have a group of caring community members” supporting BARCC’s mission. He called it a “game changer” because it opens doors to many more grant opportunities — state and federal — to meet the shelter’s needs in terms of medical equipment, supplies and operational support.

Animal shelters and rescue groups everywhere face lack of funding and resources, and limited staffing, though working with partners such as Amigos and the Humane Society “can help expand the reach and amplify messaging,” Caldwell said.

“We hope to also create community programs such as vaccine clinics, spay/neuter clinics, microchip drives and a community pet food pantry,” he said. “This is only the beginning. There is much more to come.”