EDITORIAL: Shelter skelter: Animal control centers right to seek regional cooperation

Families are adopting cats this weekend during Operation Panda, an event held at the Harlingen Humane Society’s Panda Sanctuary, across the from the animal shelter at 1021 Markowsky Ave.

The Rio Grande Valley has one of the worst animal control problems in the country. It not only results in hundreds of euthanized animals every year, but it also raises health risks that range from bites to diseases, not to mention the strain the problem places on tax-fed accounts — funds that otherwise could be used to improve infrastructure or provide public services.

The problem only gets worse when areas flood, as has been occurring with greater frequency in recent years. Flooded neighborhoods force wild and stray animals to move to drier areas, often crossing from one city’s jurisdiction to that of another. Thus, it becomes a regional problem.

So it’s good that officials across the Valley have started to join forces to determine the best way to address the problem.

The Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council recently formed a task force to establish regional strategies for animal control. The task force aims to develop a consensus on what procedures might be most effective and least expensive.

Currently those procedures vary from city to city and from shelter to shelter. Some strive to be no-kill facilities, although that can result in overcrowding that inhibits their ability to accept new animals. Some euthanize as they need to, although that has drawn the attention of national advocacy groups that have sent funding and personnel in hopes of addressing the problem. Best Friends Animal Society, a Utah-based advocacy group, has sent people to help manage Edinburg’s Palm Valley Animal Center and try to reduce the kill rate there.

Some shelters take excess animals to other cities such as San Antonio in hopes that they will be placed in permanent or at least foster homes, and some have undertaken catch-and-release programs in which they capture animals, spay or neuter them, then put them back on the streets.

Some Valley cities have enacted ordinances requiring all pet owners to spay or neuter their animals, although many residents ignore the mandate rather than bear the cost of the surgical procedure.

Shelters with spay-and-release programs consider the cost reasonable compared to the expenses they otherwise would face if the animals continued to propagate.

These are just the costs associated with handling healthy animals. While some stray pets might have been vaccinated, feral animals aren’t, and as they fill shelters they increase the chance that diseases and parasites, such as parvo or ringworm, might spread. This further raises treatment costs — and euthanasia rates.

Floods worsen the problem by exposing loose animals to standing water where diseases might flourish, and mosquitoes and other disease-carrying pests can breed.

Of course, these animal control problems, and the costs and health risks associated with them, could be alleviated if Valley residents were more responsible pet owners. That shouldn’t have to be said, but the sad truth is that if people were better stewards of their pets, we wouldn’t have such a great animal control problem.

This makes a regional effort to attack the problem justified.

Valley Morning Star