Feline Friendly

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It’s a common sight in several Valley neighborhoods: stray cats roaming the streets. Sometimes they are friendly and cared for by neighborhood residents sharing the outdoor cats. Other times, they’re scraping by for survival.

However, thanks to a recently implemented program at the newly branded Palm Valley Animal Society, neighborhoods will see less stray cats.

Last summer, PVAS implemented the Community Cats Program, which spays and neuters stray cats before releasing them back out onto the streets. This program was made possible through a partnership between the Best Friends Animal Society, PVAS, and the Best Friends/Maddie’s Fund Embed Program. This program serves the cities of Edinburg, McAllen, Hidalgo, Palmview, Palmhurst, La Joya, and addresses in Hidalgo County that are outside of Pharr and Mission city limits.

“Instead of kidnapping cats from the street and keeping them here, we spay and neuter them and put them back in the street where more than likely, someone who already lives there and is taking care of them can continue to do so,” PVAS Board Director Keely Lewis said. “The difference is they’re not going to have kittens next spring. Our live release record for cats was at 10 percent two years ago. It’s now at 70 percent.”

According to Community Cat Program Coordinator Sarah Kowalski, the program is a success and has on staff one veterinarian who performs spaying and neutering surgeries on cats. The program is looking into hiring a second veteran to continue the success of the program.

“The cats that come in are accepted as long as they are eligible and healthy and of age and come from a neighborhood where they are thriving so they can get spayed and neutered and microchipped. We want to help fix those colonies overflowing with cats,” Kowalski said. “Before this program started, we had five rooms at our second location dedicated to cats that were full. Today, there are just three almost empty rooms. We never thought we’d see so many empty kennels.”

The “Community” in the program name comes from the amount of support PVAS is hoping to receive from the public.

“These are cats living in the community. Maybe they do have someone who is a member of the community taking care of them while the cats live in the streets so we see them as members of the community,” Kowalksi said. “The public is being made aware of so much more of the program and I hope it spreads like wildfire. We hope to continue to keep the shelter at a much lower population.”

Lewis agreed with Kowalski and emphasized the need for community support for PVAS.

“We cannot do this alone — we need help from outside organizations and people in our community,” Lewis said. “We’re kicking off a new chapter in animal welfare in Hidalgo County and will need everyone on board.”

As part of this new chapter, PVAS took on a new identity last December when it announced a name change from the Palm Valley Animal Center to the Palm Valley Animal Society. The organization’s two facilities, located on Trenton Road and Expressway 281 in Edinburg, will now be known as PVAS Trenton Center and PVAS Laurie P Andrews Center.

“The name change for our second location (formerly the Laurie P. Andrews PAWS Center) was confusing people. Now, we’re more unified,” Lewis said.

In July 2019 PVAC entered into a formal partnership agreement with Best Friends Animal Society. Supported by funding provided by Maddie’s Shelter Embed Project in the Rio Grande Valley, the partnership provides staffing, equipment, and supplies for the organization to advance its mission to reach a 90 percent live-release rate, or “no-kill.” Efforts have been informally underway with Best Friends staff working on-site in Edinburg since 2017 and will continue through 2020. PVAS’s live release rate has grown from 34 percent to 69 percent since Best Friends’ arrival, one of the highest increases in the nation.

“Two years ago we were the number one in the entire country with the most animals euthanized due to many reasons from lack of space and illness,” Lewis said. “As the only open intake shelter in the county, we were taking more than 100 animals a day every day and only 34 percent of our animals had live outcomes. Last year, instead of euthanizing 20,000 animals, we saved them. We’re very proud of our team.”

To take part in the Community Cats Program, contact the PVAS CCP Team by phone/text at (956) 249-0117, or by email at cats@pvactx.org.

Do you or someone you know care for a feral cat colony? #JoinTheConversation at facebook.com/rgvisionmagazine.