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Commentary: Only PVAS could handle recent large animal hoarding cases

By Keely Lewis, PVAS Board Secretary

On March 30, McAllen police stopped by a nondescript house in north McAllen to investigate a report of a serious stench. Turns out it was live dogs, living in their own excrement, room after room full of them, 90 in all. The one cat on the property was the only one capable of grooming itself.

The officers immediately called in Palm Valley Animal Society, and for hours, their teams worked together to transfer all those ragged, neglected animals over to Trenton Center to begin the process of rehabilitation. A medical team assessed them, local groomers swooped in to free them from years of matted fur, so dense that some of them couldn’t even walk.

Fosters took some home and reported that being outdoors, even stepping on grass, was obviously new to them. They didn’t know what to do with a toy or a treat or how to run around a yard the way most dogs love to. Freed from pain and hunger, they had to learn that they were good dogs, deserving of love and care.

Once a judge OK’d their release, many were transported to rescues north of here, with teams ready to help them heal and get them into good homes. A few were adopted locally. All 90 of them survived their trauma to pursue the normal life they deserved. The cat did too.

Five days later, McAllen police called PVAS again. Not far from that first case, another investigation was playing out. This time, they found only six dogs but also 60 cats crammed into a hot porch. Some had missing teeth and fur, ringworm, scabies. One was missing its jaw.

Traumatized and weakened by their poor living conditions, they all needed intensive, quarantined care for several weeks until some were adopted and some tagged by rescues that could continue their treatment. A macaw and turtle were also rehomed from the same case. Three of the dogs and 28 of the cats still need homes to continue their socialization.

After these two serious hoarding cases came to the public’s attention, some Valley residents were wondering how situations like this could even happen in the middle of a neighborhood and if there were others out there. So it was no surprise in early June when Hidalgo County animal control officers discovered 63 dogs at a home, mostly small to medium-sized dogs outside in 100-degree temperatures, and called in PVAS for assistance.

Many were missing fur from demodectic mange. Some older chihuahuas had distended tongues and even dislocated jaws. Many of the females were pregnant, including one that gave birth to eight weak puppies soon after arriving at Trenton. Another had nine puppies a few days later.

Clearly, the Valley has more animal issues than do areas with more access to affordable spay/neuter services. This will not be the last hoarding case to make our news. Citizens need to appreciate that anytime serious cases like this come to light, PVAS is the only large-scale animal welfare organization in the Valley that can handle these large numbers and still offer significant lifesaving options. If these hoarded animals had been taken to any number of smaller intake facilities without the staff and experience to find live outcomes, most of these long-suffering dogs and cats would not have had a second chance.

For 50 years, PVAS has been the one to turn to when the going gets rough. Any entity that thinks cheaper options are acceptable doesn’t understand the best practices of animal welfare. Stray and neglected animals, even in the Valley, deserve a fighting chance.

Just a few years ago, these entities entrusted PVAS with their animal services: Alamo, Alton, Donna, Edcouch, Edinburg, Elsa, Hidalgo, La Joya, La Villa, McAllen, Mercedes, Mission, Palmhurst, Palmview, Peñitas, Pharr, San Juan, Weslaco and Hidalgo County. In 2018, PVAS shifted from a high-euthanasia model to a high-lifesaving model and subsequently lost most of those partners. Saving lives is way more expensive than ending them.

Today, PVAS works only with Edinburg, Hidalgo, McAllen, Palmhurst and half of Hidalgo County’s animals. Which begs the question: What would the other cities do if they encountered massive hoarding cases in their communities? Although some intake centers have made recent improvements in their save rates, they lack the infrastructure, manpower and rescue connections needed to face any level of crisis.

The city of McAllen has invited the county and other cities to help modernize PVAS’s outdated Trenton Center in Edinburg, connecting their communities with a non-profit capable of handling serious animal challenges. So far, McAllen and PVAS are going it alone. If nothing changes, when PVAS’s new state-of-the-art Pet Resource Center opens in 2026, only the citizens of McAllen will have access to PVAS’s services.

Hopefully, these recent hoarding cases will be a reminder that Valley cities need to work together to be prepared for the future of animal welfare, no matter what comes our way.

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