Big help: Humane Society not shutting down anytime soon

HARLINGEN — For years, Isabel Kirk has found homes for stray dogs.

The school nurse’s car operates like a mobile rescue unit, equipped with a carrier and dog and cat food.

Now, she is donating money to challenge other school nurses to help the Harlingen Humane Society.

“I thought that would encourage another nurse to do the same,” Kirk said yesterday.

At the humane society, President Pat Turman-White calls the community’s fundraising drive the biggest the organization has seen.

“It’s phenomenal,” she said. “We’ve never had an outpouring like this. It’s helping us pay our bills.”

Two weeks ago, Turman-White announced the humane society was “broke” — out of cash reserves.

But she wants to dispel rumors the organization is at the brink of shutting its doors.

“We have been receiving tons of phone calls regarding the possibility of the shelter closing,” she said. “Please let me assure you that we are not going to be closing — not now and not ever.”

But she wants the community to know the organization needs its help year-round.

“We need the help all the time, not just when we’re in the news,” she said.

Kirk is counting on her $1,000 donation to challenge other school nurses to help out.

“Maybe this will get other nurses involved,” said Kirk, a nurse at Judge Oscar De La Fuente Elementary School in San Benito.

Kirk said the humane society’s financial crisis has cut into its program aimed to spay and neutering dogs and cats.

“To parents, I always emphasize the importance of getting your pet neutered or spayed,” she said. “When the kids see a dog in the parking lot, they say, ‘Call the nurse,’ and I’ll bring it home and try to find a home for it — and sometimes I’ll keep it. At one time I had eight dogs. In my trunk, there’s dog food and cat food, bowls and a carrier.”

On Facebook, Bloomers Flowers and Gifts helped launch the fundraising drive, challenging Cita’s Boutique to match its $50 donation.

Soon, other businesses helped raise more than $1,000, Debbie Groves said at the flower shop.

“We’re still having money come in,” she said.

Groves said the organization’s financial crisis stunned many in the community.

“This has been an eye-opener,” she said.

Now, local leaders are planning the community’s biggest fundraiser.

On June 17, organizers plan to hold the event at the Jackson Street Event Center.

“A lot of people from the medical and business community are getting together,” said Norma Colwell of Golden Palms Retirement Center. “I’m an animal lover. I go to the humane society just to visit the animals. We don’t want it to become a pound. We want to do whatever we can to save it.”

Monday, Turman-White is expected to meet with Harlingen city officials to discuss the organization’s funding.

Last week, city commissioners approved a $25,000 payment to help the humane society through the end of the fiscal year which closes in September.

Mayor Chris Boswell also said commissioners will consider increasing the city’s annual contribution of $131,505.

But the financial crisis has led the humane society to cut back on key programs such as spay and neutering services.

Turman-White said an estimated 50 percent of the humane society’s subsidized spay and neutering services are performed on dogs and cats from outside Harlingen.

But neighboring cities have refused to help share those costs.

Now, the humane society cannot afford to continue to subsidize costs for residents outside Harlingen, she said.

So the organization has been forced to increase costs of spaying and neutering services for dogs and cats from outside Harlingen, Turman-White said.

The program offering subsidized spay and neutering services has dramatically slashed the number of stray dogs and cats euthanized at the shelter.

In 2007, the humane society euthanized 8,100 dogs and cats.

Last year, that number dropped to 5,041.

Who funds the Harlingen Humane Society?

Private donations average $150,000 a year

• 50 percent from Harlingen

• 45 percent from surrounding cities

• 5 percent from former area residents and Winter Texans

Cost of providing subsidized spay and neuter services:

• Harlingen $88,575 for 1,181 vouchers

• San Benito $34,500 for 460 vouchers

•Raymondville $20,225 for 403 vouchers

• La Feria $8,500 for 114 vouchers