There are many ways outside of adopting that you can make a lifesaving difference for local stray dogs and cats. Texas, and the nation as a whole, is experiencing a veterinarian shortage. And in the Rio Grande Valley, this problem is even greater.
Edinburg-based nonprofit Palm Valley Animal Society is one of the largest animal intake facilities in the country, with an average annual intake of 15,000 companion animals. Its goal is to save every animal that can be saved, which is accomplished through providing foster, rescue, and transportation services, along with wellness and educational programs all across Hidalgo County.
According to PVAS Director of Development Alana Larson, the shelter’s intake level is extremely high in relation to the region’s population. She said this is due to many factors, but most notably the critical vet shortage.
“We’re kind of like a veterinary desert,” she said. “We have maybe 30 to 40 veterinarians when we probably need, according to studies, 200 to 300 to help control our animal population.
“We do really well with adoptions and try to get as many out, but it’s just ongoing. We’ll send 100 out, and we get 100 coming back in almost immediately.”
Having your animals neutered and/or spayed is extremely important, but it’s not unusual to wait six months or longer for an appointment. A larger goal that would drive the most impact, Larson said, is to make the RGV an area where veterinarians want to come and practice.
Other reasons she shared that contribute to the stray population include financial burden and the lack of education.
“It’s very important to really understand what it is to have a pet so that at the end of the day, you’re not saying, ‘oh, I can’t do that,’” Larson said. “Having a pet is a long-term commitment. They live for a decade or more; they are a living, breathing animal that you have to care for every day.
“You’re the one they look to for help and for survival.”
Potential pet parents understanding the full responsibility of having an animal — keeping them healthy, fed, exercised, and up to date on vaccines, as well as spaying/neutering — she said, is key for preventing more animal abandonment, and ultimately euthanasia.
“You have to really sit down and consider it,” Larson said. “It is a huge responsibility, but I think the pros outweigh the cons. They’re wonderful companions.”
Through PVAS’ foster programs, those considering welcoming a new member into their household can experience firsthand whether being a pet owner works for their lifestyle. Larson said someone can take an animal for a weekend or designated period of time and figure out whether they are a good fit.
Often, this will lead into adoption and another lifesaving outcome.
And for those who would like to help but cannot for any reason become a full-time pet owner, PVAS also has “Tails Around Town,” a program allowing volunteers to take a pet for the day.
“Through this, people can take them to the park to walk for a little bit to give them a rest from the shelter for just the day,” she said.
Whatever level of commitment a person may be able to offer helps. Larson explained longer-term fosters (of at least two weeks) help give the animal a better chance for adoption.
“We ask our fosters to document what the animal likes and doesn’t like, and that helps us find a match for them,” she said. “We’re able to send the animal out all over the country. We’ve sent them as far as Canada, and we’ll get pictures and letters back showing how the pet is doing great and thriving.”
PVAS has a list of animals available for adoption on its website, pvastx.org, that displays their photos and information about them. This is another way they encourage adopting, rather than “shopping” for a pet.
Apart from strays, Larson said people’s pets also frequently end up at the shelter. The best way pet owners can avoid this is to have their pet microchipped.
PVAS offers monthly clinics for people to take their pet to get microchipped, as well as receive their vaccines, at a low cost.
“Most animals, when they get loose, are within a mile of their home,” she said. “If you see an animal in your neighborhood, ask your neighbors or on social media. And you can go to a fire department, police department, or a local municipality organization to get that dog or cat scanned, so it can return to its owner that much faster.”
The organization also greatly relies on donors. Whether you may be able to donate out of pocket or team up with an organization to host a fundraiser, this support ensures the pets in the shelter are well taken care of and that PVAS can continue its lifesaving programs.
For those drawn to help, Larson recommends people sit and contemplate on how they can best provide value — whether by donating, fostering, adopting, or volunteering.
“Volunteering is super important; we really depend on our volunteers on a daily basis,” she said. “If you’re with an organization and want to volunteer together as a group, we can accommodate that. Or if you’re a student that needs hours, we can help you with that as well.
“We have over 1,000 animals here at any time, so we are trying to do everything that we possibly can to ensure a lifesaving outcome.”
For more information and to stay up to date on PVAS’ lifesaving work and events, follow its social media pages @pvastx.