HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Harlingen City Commissioners proposed a new animal shelter for the city Tuesday night.
The announcement came at the end of a workshop commissioners had called to address issues they had with the Rio Grande Valley Humane Society.
The site for the new shelter would be on 10 acres of city-owned land near the transfer station and public works building. City Commissioner Rene Perez, who represents District 5 in the city, said he was very excited about the project.
He said it had been 27 years since the city built the current shelter for the Humane Society. Perez said at this point the shelter is still in the design phase.
Preliminary designs suggested the new facility could be 10,000 square feet or more.
Harlingen Mayor Norma Sepulveda said she wanted to get different stakeholders from the community to participate in the project.
“We can hopefully get the school district and the community college together in order to help build this animal shelter. It’ll be something that all people of Harlingen have an ownership of,” Sepulveda said.
The workshop, held at Harlingen City Hall, was meant to address concerns the city had about shelter operations.
On Sept. 20, the commission approved a 120-day extension to the current contract the city had with RGVHS.
The city said it proposed a new contract for the shelter, but the Humane Society said some of the proposed changes were unworkable for them.
Luis Quintanilla, Executive Director for the Rio Grande Valley Humane Society said Harlingen wanted to make the shelter an open-intake facility.
Quintanilla explained that would mean the shelter couldn’t say ‘no’ to anyone. He said the shelter doesn’t say no to anyone now.
But, he said the shelter provided resources to help people to re-home animals on their own if that was something they wanted to do, rather than leaving a pet at the shelter. Quintanilla said that policy would make it impossible to save lives..
“We always try to make it clear to the public that this is a life raft. And it’s not an animal’s best chance, it’s an animal’s last chance,” Quintanilla said. “If we overload it, all of our staff time is going to be utilized to just euthanize animals and intake them constantly.”
Quintanilla said another sticking point in the proposed contract was the issue of maintenance. The shelter and the city have a fundamental disagreement about this point.
He adds the city had always been in charge of maintenance for the facility and the new contract would make the Humane Society responsible for that job.
“We would now be responsible for maintaining the city-owned building. Which, contractually, is their obligation with the current setup,” Quintanilla said. “I deal with facts not feelings. And when you actually look at the contract, it specifically states that the Humane Society is responsible for any type of maintenance. We’re responsible for the structural well-being of it. But for things such as pest control, some work on kennels, and paint, that is stuff that the Humane Society is responsible for. And we do have the contract to prove it.”
Quintanilla said the city had been handling the dog kennel repairs, plumbing, door frames, and many other issues since before he arrived in 2020.
He said the shelter had emails showing all of the work requests submitted to the city. Perez said he appreciated Quintanilla recognizing the work Harlingen was doing.
However, he said that was an example of the city going above and beyond what the contract required.
Harlingen provides the shelter with $400,000 annually. Quintanilla said that amounted to about 40% of the group’s funding. He said the annual costs for the shelter exceeded $1 million.
Commissioners said they were just looking for transparency from the shelter. Perez said the city provided more funding to the Humane Society than any other non-profit it partnered with.
“They beat the Boys and Girls Club, Loaves and Fishes, Maggie’s House, and all these other organizations. The Humane Society gets more funding than they do. And with all that funding comes more responsibility,” said Perez.
“Every single month. At the least, every single quarter. They have all of our finances. They know where all of our money is being spent,” Quintanilla said.
In August, the city made allegations that his group was not being forthcoming in releasing their financials.
“I then pulled all of my emails. I literally printed all of them and I gave them to each Commissioner, the City Manager and Mayor Sepulveda showing them time stamps. I mean, email receipts, it’s all there. It’s all there,” Quintanilla said.
Quintanilla said some of the information the city requested fell far beyond the scope of a normal information request.
He said the shelter sees up to as many as 500 people a month, every month, at its vaccine drives. Quintanilla said.
Quintanilla added that the city had also requested the names of every veterinarian the group had worked with over the past two years, all the other non-profits it had worked with, as well as any information about grants the group had applied for.
The Humane Society took over operational control for the animal shelter in Mission earlier this year.
Commissioners said they were concerned that Harlingen taxpayer money was being spent on that facility.
Perez said that based on the financial records they had received from the Humane Society, he said he saw an increase in spending just before they took over in Mission.
Perez said he would like to see the finances for the two facilities separated for better transparency.
“They need to be able to separate both accounts. Because Harlingen money should stay in Harlingen, and Mission money should stay in Mission. The Harlingen taxpayer is not supposed to be subsidizing a shelter in Mission. Harlingen money for Harlingen pets and Harlingen residents,” Perez said.
The Humane Society said its Board of Directors had a meeting scheduled for Oct. 18 and requested the city postpone its workshop.
Harlingen declined and went ahead with its meeting. Quintanilla and members of the Rio Grande Valley Humane Society decided to not attend the meeting.