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  • Luis Quintanilla

2020: A Year of Lifesaving

Updated: Jan 6, 2021

2020 was a year unlike any other. The road blocks could have never been predicted, but that just made the successes all the more special. The Humane Society of Harlingen walked into 2020 with a save rate of 49%. To put that into perspective, more than half of the approximately 6,500 animals served each year would never go on to know the warmth of a home, or the love of family. With hard work, and the support of our community, HSH stepped out of 2020 with a save rate of over 92%!!! In early March, it became clear that COVID-19 was a very real threat. With Cameron County’s first stay-at-home order looming, the Humane Society of Harlingen feared that we would be one of many organizations forced to close our doors. At that point, we realized that we had to try to do the impossible... we had to clear out our shelter.

We created a Facebook post (pictures below), inviting people to adopt a homeless pet or, at least foster for the initial 2 week quarantine order. The community response was overwhelming. In a matter of 48 hours, every single cat and dog in our care had found a home. With an empty shelter and time still left until the quarantine began, our staff transferred in 20 dogs from an overflowing shelter in Edinburg, and an additional 5 dogs from La Feria. Again, within 48 hours HSH found homes for every single one of those homeless pets. Our facebook campaign to clear out our shelter even went viral, with the post reaching well over 1 million people! Seeing comments from people in Ireland congratulating our little shelter was awesome.

Harlingen’s achievement even caught national attention, with articles and interviews on NPR:

Upper Left: Our cat cages completely empty! Up to the point of our push to empty before quarantine, we were rapidly running out of space for our cats. Right: Our dog cages cleared out! The silence in the dog kennels was something we had never experienced before. It was an indescribable feeling knowing that each one of our dogs now had a warm place to call home.We decided to leave the kennel doors open so that staff coming in the next morning could enjoy the sight.

Lower Left: We cleared out our shelter 3 times prior to the first stay-at-home order taking effect in Cameron County. Every adoption, foster, rescue, and owner reclaim was done curbside. Sarah Cano, our Community Engagement Coordinator, affectionately borrowed H-E-B’s image to launch our curbside services.

The outlook at the beginning of March was bleak, but with the imagination, creativity, and hard work of the HSH staff, coupled with the generosity and support of our community, together we performed a miracle.

In the face of a global pandemic and economic insecurity, residents all over Harlingen, Cameron County, and the Rio Grande Valley showed us that compassion and love are never in short supply. March 2020 was the first no-kill month in the Humane Society of Harlingen’s history, with a save rate of 94%!!!

From Reactive to Proactive

With the pandemic a constant concern, we needed to figure out a way to help keep pets out of the shelter and with their families whenever possible. To that end, HSH established a Pet Food Pantry in early April. Generous individuals and businesses donate pet food to HSH to feed our shelter pets, and we pay that generosity forward by giving out the rest to families in need. The community's support allowed us to reinvest in our community, and today, upwards of 1,000 pounds of food is given out every week to keep pets out of the shelter and with their families. We are all in this together.

Pictured above: Partners from our local H-E-B stop by to drop off nearly 1,000lbs of food!

In May, HSH was awarded a $5,000 Foster Stimulus Grant from Maddie’s Fund. We used those funds to keep up the momentum we picked up during our initial push for fosters back in March. #ThanksToMaddie, HSH staff is able to offer toys, treats, food, kennels, crates, bottles, blankets, and medications to foster parents, making fostering accessible and

affordable to all families. These same funds have been used to empower good samaritans to find live outcomes for the pets they find on their own, rather than having to surrender them to the shelter. Hundreds of people have been able to find homes for pets by utilizing the information, tools, and resources provided by HSH. Thats thousands of pets kept out of the shelter!

By June, it had been 3 months since HSH had been able to safely host a vaccination clinic for the public. We had to reimagine how we could serve the pets in our community, so we decided to host our first ever drive-thru clinic.

Since then, rain or shine, we have held 3 drive thru vaccination clinics alongside Dr. Tony Vindell of Border Animal Hospital, and our countless volunteers. Each clinic has served over 250 pets! We are actively working to launch bi-monthly clinics with expanded services in 2021.

It Takes A Village

With all of our events cancelled due to COVID-19, we needed to figure out a different approach to fundraising. Luckily for us, we had the talent and creativity of Harlingen CISD students in our corner. On May 2, we hosted "An Evening of Purrrrfect Performances." Students of all ages were partnered with a pet and performed in a virtual talent show benefiting the Humane Society of Harlingen.

The work done within the 4 walls of our little shelter would be impossible without the support of countless, adopters, fosters, rescuers, various community partners, our friends at The City of Harlingen, and donors all over the country. No-kill sheltering takes a village, and we have a pretty incredible village here in Harlingen.

With adoption events no longer a viable option and our shelter transitioning to curbside-only service, we needed to get creative in getting the word out about the pets in our care. Stefano’s Brooklyn Pizza, Lucky Sushi Bar and Green Ceviche helped us find homes for our shelter pets by placing these fliers on their to-go orders. To-go food has never been better!

HSH welcomes more than 6,500 cats and dogs into the shelter every year... so it's no surprise that our building has taken on quite a bit of wear and tear over the decades. A few of our shelter staff tried to spruce up our walls with a fresh coat of paint. (It turns out that although we are animal care professionals, we are not very skilled painters.) Fortunately, our friends over at SpawGlass volunteered their time to give our shelter a much-needed facelift. We can't wait to invite you all in to see it!

A new generation of animal lovers is already making a big impact! St. Alban’s Episcopal Day School in Harlingen held multiple donation drives to benefit the Humane Society of Harlingen, providing food, pet shampoo, toys, and blankets to shelter pets. Prior to COVID-19, HSH partnered with Ms. Swanberg's kindergarten class to help teach our youngest community members the importance of responsible pet-parenting, pet safety, and how to be a part of the lifesaving changes happening at HSH. The painting they made for us still hangs in our office today.

Not all heroes wear capes! The Harlingen Fire Department found and rescued 4 kittens while they were training right next door to the shelter. These adorable kittens were all saved and adopted into loving forever homes thanks to our fire department.

Left: A Harlingen police officer helps us show off one of our puppies at Harlingen Rotary Club’s Dog On Music Fest and Ales & Tails at the Harlingen Bark Park. (All of the puppies we took to the event were adopted!) Top Right: In November, Harlingen Police Department held a fundraiser for HSH and raised over $1,800. Our streets and our shelter pets are safer thanks to these heroes.

Bottom Right: Officers from the San Benito Police Department dropped off hundreds of toys for our shelter pets just in time for Christmas!

Thank you to all of our first responders for their service and for their big hearts.

Throughout 2020, HSH has relied on the generosity and compassion of donors to keep our lifesaving work going. Our animals are blessed to have such amazing people eager to champion their cause. When Charles and Melissa Shofner read about our goal to raise $10,000 in August, and saw that the campaign had only raised $80, they made the gracious decision to donate the remainder! Since then, they've remained steadfast supporters, championing for lost & homeless pets in the shelter, and stopping to provide food & water for pets they find along their daily routes. We are so blessed to have Mr. and Mrs. Shofner in our corner!

2020 was the first time the Humane Society of Harlingen participated in Giving Tuesday. Thanks to our Giving Tuesday Ambassador, Leah Wise, and so many incredible individuals throughout the Rio Grande Valley, we were able to raise just over $17,000! Compassion for homeless pets is such a uniting and motivating force. We are so grateful to our ever-growing community supporters who have joined our lifesaving team.

Ahead of New Years Eve, one of the busiest days for lost pets, the Humane Society of Harlingen hosted a three day, drive-thru microchip rally, providing free or at-cost microchips to the community. Together with your support in helping spread the word, more than 300 pets were able to receive a permanent form of identification and hundreds more received vouchers, ensuring that pet safety remains accessible to all.

Investing in Our Future

Best Friends Animal Society has been an invaluable source of support for HSH. Among so many other impactful contributions they have made toward our cause, this summer, BFAS purchased new medical equipment for our shelter, converting what used to be our euthanasia room into a surgery space.

"Room 2" has enabled us to host spay/neuter rallies with organizations such as Animal Balance. Since August, well over 500 surgeries have been performed in our clinic. Visiting veterinarians have even been able to offer treatment, like amputations and hernia repairs, for some of our more difficult medical cases.

2020 also marked the end of our tenure with Maddie's Shelter Embed Project. In July of 2019, Terran Tull, an employee of Best Friends Animal Society, was embedded as a temporary employee at HSH, serving as Operations manager. Terran provided valuable insight and implemented tried and true, science-based best practices to help turn improve the lives of lost and homeless pets in the RGV. We've truly enjoyed our time with Terran and can't wait to cheer her on as she continues on to her next great adventure. We are also thankful to Maddie's Fund and Best Friends Animal Society for this incredible opportunity!

This is Only the Beginning

Building a sustainable no-kill shelter requires a strong foundation. The lifesaving work done at The Humane Society of Harlingen would not be possible without our Board of Directors: Colleen Willis (President), Robert Farris (Vice President), Lillian Kim (Treasurer), John Pearcy (Secretary), Maria De Ford, Sylvia Marroquin, Heriberto “Eddie” Medrano, and Matt Wolthoff. Our board of directors are some of our most impactful volunteers, leading HSH over every new and exciting horizon and paving the way for the lifesaving work so important to our community.

At the Humane Society of Harlingen, the proof is in the pudding. March was the first time that HSH surpassed a 90% save rate. Thanks to support from incredible members of the community, just like you, HSH has maintained a save rate above 90% every month since then. The save rate for 2019 was 49%. The overall save rate for 2020 is an incredible 92%!!!

In 2020, you helped ignite hope for thousands of homeless pets. Through a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, and a hurricane, a staff of 9 at the Humane Society of Harlingen has kept that hope alive. Even with curbside-only service, 2020 has represented HSH’s most open, transparent, and effective year to date. Our work is ongoing, urgent, exhausting, and rewarding. So long as there is a lost or homeless pet, our work is not finished. We cannot wait to see what we can do together in 2021. Your support has made Harlingen a safe place for pets. We could never thank you enough.

Luis Quintanilla

Executive Director

Humane Society of Harlingen

Looking to join our lifesaving team as an adopter, foster, volunteer or donor in 2021? Please join our mailing list for monthly updates from the Humane Society of Harlingen!

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