Moving the needle on lifesaving in south Texas

By Julie Castle

The focus of work for the Best Friends campaign to achieve no-kill nationwide is on five states that make up 50% of shelter killing in the United States. Number one on the list is Texas and when you drill down into what’s needed in the Lone Star State, four counties along the Rio Grande stand out.

Palm Valley Animal Center (PVAC) in Edinburg, Texas, serves one of those counties and one of the most challenging hot spots for homeless pets in the country.

Best Friends Animal Society began working with PVAC in May 2018 and since July of last year, Best Friends staff have been embedded there as acting executive director and operations manager, while Petco Foundation has provided financial support to the Palm Valley organization. In that brief time, lifesaving has increased from a 36% save rate to a 51% save rate. That 41.66% jump represents 6,848 more lives saved compared to the same period a year before.

That’s major progress and should be applauded by animal lovers everywhere. Is it enough? Not as long as shelter animals are still dying, but it’s impressive and a larger lifesaving improvement than the city of Los Angeles experienced during the first full year of the NKLA initiative, 2012. Killing in shelters there dropped from 23,000 in 2011 to 19,000 in 2012 — a difference of 4,000, or 2,400 fewer than Palm Valley. Today, Los Angeles is at a save rate of 89.7%.

In fact, it’s helpful to look at Los Angeles to get an idea of just how impressive the last 10 months of Palm Valley’s progress has been.

The operation provides animal services for 14 municipalities (about 750,000 people) in Hidalgo County, Texas, which is on the Texas-Mexico border. PVAC took in almost 30,000 dogs and cats last year, most of whom are dropped off by animal control trucks operated by each of those different municipalities, each with their own operating and sanitation protocols. That’s about four pets entering the shelter for every 100 residents in the communities served. The shelter is an antiquated collection of buildings and outdoor kennels dating from pre-1970. PVAC has two adoption outlets and the county has a 45% poverty rate.

As a comparison, the City of Los Angeles Department of Animal Services has six shelters and serves a population of four million residents and handled 53,000 dogs and cats in 2011. That’s 1.3 shelter pets per 100 city residents. Each shelter is newly built or renovated since 2002 and animal control vehicles are managed under the same protocols across the system. There were seven adoption outlets for city shelter animals in 2012 and the city poverty rate was about 25%.

Los Angeles has multiple vets in most neighborhoods, with notable resource deserts in low-income communities. However, access to low-cost or free spay/neuter services is widely available and there are several mobile low-cost spay/neuter clinics. There are no chronically endemic diseases across the city; canine parvo and upper respiratory disease can be found in the community and in the shelters, but not at an alarming or unmanageable level.

PVAC’s service area has a total of six veterinary offices in all of Hidalgo County. Heartworm and distemper are endemic, and vaccination and wellness services to the community are non-existent. Yet, in the first 10 months of a concerted effort to move PVAC toward no-kill status, the feisty shelter team operating in a resource desert out-performed the city of Los Angeles’ first year of its no-kill campaign back in 2012.

Best Friends staffer Mike Bricker, who was part of a leadership team that had turned around a similar shelter in his hometown of Camden, New Jersey, was sent in to create programming that would effect instant change. Within days, he became executive director of PVAC when the current director unexpectedly announced his immediate resignation. Mike was soon joined by another Best Friends embed, Jay Garrett, who had been doing incredible work in Houston.

With eager support and newfound optimism from the PVAC staff and board, the whole team is moving the needle on lifesaving in south Texas. But to get the no-kill job done as soon as possible, help is needed from the community, area rescue groups and partner groups across the country. Foster homes are a top priority and volunteers are needed to support the shelter and adoption programs.

Palm Valley Animal Center has turned a corner and is on its way to ending the killing in shelters in Hidalgo County. It is a remarkable story of strength, resilience and hope.

Together, we will Save Them All.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society