Palm Valley Animal Society Celebrates 50 Years  

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Palm Valley Animal Society (PVAS) will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2024, but only in recent years has the organization flourished in its mission to care for and save companion animals. PVAS has redefined its effort to protect animals in the Rio Grande Valley by partnering with city officials and embracing new organizational practices.

“I had a front-row seat to this transformation,” said Keely Lewis, who serves on the Palm Valley board and was its president for three years. “It was a complete metamorphosis.”

The recent success is a welcome chapter in the history of the storied organization, which opened in 1974 as the Upper Valley Humane Society. Key to the transformation was Best Friends Animal Society’s partnership, Petco Love’s generous investment through grants, and most recently, the city of McAllen’s new attitude toward animal welfare. City Manager Roy Rodriguez attended a 2022 seminar at PVAS’s Laurie P. Andrews Center and departed with a clear vision for McAllen’s animal services.

“He’s unlike anything they’ve seen in animal welfare,” Lewis said of Rodriguez. “We’re so lucky to have him and other key McAllen leaders as partners.”

Rodriguez, assistant city manager Michelle Rivera, and their staff began with a name change, redefining the Department of Animal Control Services as Animal Care Services. The department received new uniforms to signal a friendlier relationship with the surrounding community. Animal Care Officers now receive strategic neighborhood assignments, scanning for microchips in the field and allowing more animals to be returned to their owners before entering the shelter. The city’s goal is to get the majority of McAllen pets microchipped and relieve Palm Valley of the unmanageable burden seen in the past.

“For decades, the model was to pick up anything on four legs and bring it into the local shelter,” Lewis said. “It didn’t change anything. There were still just as many strays out on the streets.”

Equally challenging was the 24-hour availability of unlimited drop-offs. Palm Valley has since improved its lifesaving rate by limiting when and how many animals can be brought daily.

“Animal Control Officers were bringing animals in 24/7, about 100 a day every day,” Lewis said. “There were no holds barred for what was brought to us. We had to change that, too.” In 2017, more than 40,000 animals came through Palm Valley’s gates.

The organization has found success in its effort to avoid euthanasia with increased adoptions, foster homes, and rescue transport out of the Valley. Palm Valley remains at or near its goal of a 90-percent save rate and was awarded the Transformational Change Award from Best Friends in 2020, the only recipient with an intake exceeding 10,000 animals.

“We’ve always done the best we can,” Lewis said. “But it’s just in these last six or so years that we’ve actually been the shelter that we needed to be. The animals coming in now have a very high chance of getting out – either adopted, rescued, or back home.”

Palm Valley has benefited from changes in administration, with Suzette Cruz heading up the administrative and development sides and Faith Wright as its Director of Operations. Wright has played a key role in the organization’s lifesaving transformation.

“When I began consulting in 2018, the shelter was a pretty dismal place to end up as a pet,” Wright said. “We now have made it a commitment to humanely house animals, have daily enrichment, and create a full-service pet resource center to help keep pets in their homes.”

Wright encourages support from local citizens through adopting, donating, fostering, and volunteering. Palm Valley’s newly formed vision committee hopes to articulate plans for further civic participation.

“Our vision includes involving the community more,” Lewis said.

To further their mission to change the equation for Valley animals, Palm Valley and McAllen are exploring the possibility of upgrading the Trenton Center, one of Palm Valley’s two shelters in Edinburg. After 40 years of hard use, the Trenton location desperately needs new facilities and kennels. They are hopeful the city of Edinburg will also partner in the project.

“We haven’t done this alone,” said Lewis. “We’ve had wonderful partners along the way, and we still have a lot of partners helping us. At 50 years, we’re in a good place.”

 

Bill Hill