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Two Plus Two Makes Four

George Orwell once wrote, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.” Right now, there are shelter leaders who, rather than taking a hard look at their own philosophy, policies, or leadership ability, resort to attacking the language of no-kill. This strategy is an attempt to move the goal post. 


Rather than saying no-kill is not possible in the Rio Grande Valley (since the Humane Society of Harlingen has proven otherwise), they now say that no-kill language should not be used. They say that no-kill language focuses “too much on numbers”, or that categorizing shelters as either no-kill or not makes those kill-shelters targets of unfair expectations.


Those concerns are neither valid nor sincere. Those concerns are calculated attempts to equivocate a very clear set of terms and definitions in order to avoid transparency and accountability.


Put simply, reality has defeated those anti-no-kill individuals, and they now must retreat in the hope that linguistic distortions will shield them from the community’s gaze. This strategy however enraging, is actually a positive sign. It is a sign that the old guard is cornered, and that with a continued push for transparency, will be defeated once and for all.




It’s All About The Numbers


For HSH and for any other animal shelter or rescue group, it should be all about the numbers because those numbers represent the lives of cats and dogs. If the focus of an animal welfare organization is not maximizing the number of animals it can save, then what exactly should their focus be? 


Three years ago, more animals were killed in shelters in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) than anywhere else in the country. There was no hope of ever achieving let alone maintaining a no-kill shelter. The phrases were repeated like cynical and sometimes sinister mantras:


“It can never be done.” “It will never work in the Valley.” “You can’t save them all.”


Those voices were many. Those voices were loud. Fortunately for tens of thousands of animals, those voices were wrong. 


Now, it is 2022, and the Humane Society of Harlingen (HSH) has been a no-kill shelter for two years. Thanks to data-driven, numbers-obsessed decision making, the save rate at HSH climbed to 92% in 2020, and 93% in 2021. Those percentages represent approximately ten thousand cats and dogs who are alive and sharing their unconditional love with the world today. 


We at HSH view every dollar of every donation we receive as an investment. Each dollar represents a hope that a positive difference can be made. We focus on numbers because we want our supporters to see the return on their investment. Our numbers speak for themselves.


The skeptical voices are now much quieter than they were a few years ago, especially when they see HSH burning brightly in defiance. Still, the memory remains of those who were so adamant about the impossibility of building and sustaining a no-kill community in the Valley. Did they actually believe their own words, or did they simply need other people to disbelieve in no-kill? Truer pronouncements from those skeptics would have been:


“We could never get it done.” "We would never make it work in the Valley.” “We couldn’t save them all.” “We need you to believe our excuses.”


Similarly, individuals, organizations, and local governments who condemn the no-kill movement as simply “numbers-obsessed” do not actually believe that those numbers are insignificant. They merely want you to believe that numbers do not matter. Those people know the unambiguous meaning of the numbers, but need you to believe they are of no consequence so that they might maintain their position, reputation, and the status quo. What those people now desperately seek by any means available to them, is refuge from an objective standard. 


Let us keep them on the run. We must not allow them any rest. We must never allow them any shelter, as they offer none to the countless animals they needlessly euthanize. We have to fight  them and that fight begins by using objective language.





You Are Not Alone


Although the Humane Society of Harlingen is the Rio Grande Valley’s only no-kill shelter, we are not alone. HSH stands alongside thousands of animal lovers scattered across Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy, and Starr County. In the face of such seemingly impossible odds, these fosters, rescuers, transporters, volunteers, and advocates do everything in their power to keep hope alive for the over 100,000 stray animals roaming the streets of the RGV each year. 


Many of them face the same skeptical, cynical, and sinister voices who have been proven wrong for the last two years. Many of them do not yet realize the power they have to make radical and permanent change for the entirety of the RGV. 


To you who pull over on the side of the highway to save a stranded kitten;


To you who take in the puppy you nursed back from the brink;


To you who care for a colony of cats and spend your limited resources on fixing them one by one;


To you who watch the forecasts and worry about the pack of abandoned dogs you pass on your commute each day; and


To you who feel as though there is no end in sight,


We are here to tell you that you are not alone. We stand with you, and together we represent the light from the new era that is dawning in the RGV.




The RGV Deserves Better…


HSH has earned a save rate of over 90% for two years now. That number is not static. That number is dynamic and has the potential to change with each day. Those private shelter and municipal pound leaders who now try to attack the 90% benchmark are unable or unwilling to be truly transparent. If there ever comes a time when HSH dips below a 90% save rate, we will have long been sounding the alarm asking for help. 


At HSH when animals are at risk of euthanasia, we do not keep it a secret, nor do we simply announce it after the euthanasia has already been performed as some shelters choose to do. Instead, HSH proactively warns of the possibility of euthanasia and pleas for help before that last resort is taken. What good is a fire alarm that sounds only after a structure has burned to the ground? 


What animal lovers in the RGV face now is not the uncertainty of the unproven possibility of no-kill. What the RGV faces today is the house of cards built by private shelters, and municipalities who are incapable building and sustaining no-kill. Why are taxpayer dollars and private donations going to shelters who kill so many animals and have neither the desire nor ability to make a change? What are they waiting for? Animal lovers throughout the RGV deserve better than what is currently on offer.


Two plus two make four. Similarly:


HSH is a no-kill shelter.


HSH is the ONLY no-kill shelter in the RGV today.


No-kill means saving every animal that can be saved.


No-kill means being transparent with the community in real-time.


No-kill is not merely a number, but rather a series of decisions made each day to maximize live outcomes.


No-kill does not mean warehousing animals in cages indefinitely.


Reaching 90% is not an excuse to stop pushing forward.


Reaching 90% is merely the signal that an organization can begin to truly serve the community rather than merely breaking even. 


No-kill terminology is feared by high-kill government-run pounds and private non-profit shelters who do not believe in transparency or accountability. 


Being an overwhelmed shelter that has to make heartbreaking euthanasia decisions based on space, does not necessarily indicate a lack of effort or compassion on the part of that shelter.  


Being an animal welfare organization that turns on no-kill language indicates something sinister. 


Every single year, tens of thousands of animals in the RGV are killed needlessly because of the cosigning complacency of local elected officials and private shelter leaders. 


It is only a matter of time before animal lovers across the RGV demand answers from their local shelters and local governments.


Harlingen is a safe place for pets, and this is just the beginning. 



Luis Emilio Quintanilla

Executive Director

Humane Society of Harlingen

January 16, 2022

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