Updated: Jul 9, 2020
Palm Valley Animal Center (PVAC) seems to have every possible odd stacked against it. Our facility is ancient and our budget is microscopic relative to the number of animals we receive annually. Working at PVAC is tough. In 2018 PVAC received approximately thirty thousand cats and dogs. Housing space is finite, and with animals arriving every single day in large numbers, the work done here at PVAC always carries with it a very real sense of urgency. The pressure working in this environment is immense. Luckily for our animals and for ourselves the employees at PVAC are blessed to have each other to draw strength and inspiration from.
In honor of Women’s History Month, I want to highlight two sources of strength and inspiration for the employees at PVAC. These two sisters represent the two sides of lifesaving at PVAC. Yesenia “Yessy” Banda in rescue and Yobeli Banda in adoptions.
Yessy, Rescue Coordinator
Yessy is a rescue coordinator at PVAC. Her primary duties consist of taking photos and videos of the animals in our care and sending them out to our network of over 300 non-profit rescue organizations in the hope that they will save those animals. It is not uncommon for Yessy to get 20 animals networked and saved in a single day. At least once, Yessy managed to secure over 50 live outcomes in just 24 hours. On top of taking photos and videos of dozens of animals in a day, she must also gather vital information about the health, size, and demeanor of those animals. In the past, she used to also have to blood test those animals herself. Again, these tasks would be remarkable for just a handful of animals, but Yessy did this for dozens of animals daily. In 2018, over eight thousand dogs and cats were rescued out of PVAC. Those rescued animals are largely due to Yessy’s tireless obsession with saving lives.
Yessy started at PVAC in June 2014. Before joining the rescue team Yessy began her lifesaving journey in the suffocating heat of the kennels. Day after day she endured the heartbreaking and backbreaking labor of scrubbing kennels housing dogs who’s odds at a happy life were slim. She would leave work so physically exhausted that she could barely walk, and when she got home she would cry because as she put it, “everything hurt.”
The hardest part of those early days at PVAC was not performing the physical labor, but having to watch the carts full of healthy dogs getting wheeled off to the euthanasia room. In those days the carts seemed to roll all day. Those dogs just needed a home. Those dogs just needed a family. In those days the adoption numbers were low and the rescue numbers were basically non-existent.
When I asked her what kept her from leaving in those dark days, without hesitation she answered, “The dogs. It is pure enjoyment working with them. If my dog was here I would want someone to love him. Even if they don’t end up getting saved, they deserve love to the very end.”
Did you ever want to quit? “Never. Not really. I’ve been frustrated and sad but I had to stay. Who else would do it? I still have a lot to do here at PVAC. The dogs don’t have a voice and they need one.”
What do you think of your coworkers? “They are very strong emotionally. Very compassionate. I admire a lot of people who work here.”
What goes through your mind when you put on your PVAC t-shirt every morning? “I hope it’s clean”
You have changed PVAC in such positive ways, how has PVAC changed you? “I’m more compassionate toward animals and people than I was before I worked here.”
What was the best day at PVAC for you? “Every single day. We get to make a change for the animals every day. When we save an animal’s life it’s that animal’s best day so every day is the best day.”
What would you say to an audience of a thousand people, all cheering for you and your amazing rescue numbers? “Nothing. I just care about the animals. I would be annoyed that I wasn’t working.”
Who’s the better at saving animals, you or Yobeli? “Me, for sure.”
In case her work ethic and compassion were not inspiring enough, Yessy was going to school during her time in the kennels. She majored in Spanish and minored in English. She graduated from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in 2017.
Yobeli, Adoption Specialist
When I first met Yobeli, I remember thinking, “There’s no way she can be like Yessy. There has to be a boring or talentless sibling. They can’t both be interesting. That would be ridiculous.” I was utterly foolish to think that.
Yobeli is an adoption specialist at The Laurie P. Andrews PAWS Center (PAWS). PAWS is a second adoption floor for Palm Valley Animal Center. Yobeli started working at PVAC in February 2016. Like her sister, she began her life in animal welfare in the oppressive heat of the PVAC kennels. Eventually, she became an adoption specialist and today she leads her team with the most adoptions. In 2018, Yobeli adopted out 941 animals from PVAC/PAWS. Yobeli was responsible for finding forever homes for 1 out of 5 of the 4,651 animals adopted from PVAC/PAWS in 2018.
The day I met Yobeli, she was sitting behind the front desk at PVAC. It was a Friday and I was there to pick up my paycheck. Before I could even begin saying hello, Yobeli greeted me with, “Hey what’s up? What do you need?” Her tone was exactly like her sister’s. No nonsense. Efficient down to the last second with no time or tolerance for prattle. Yobeli was in her element. Handling a call, two customers, and an annoying new employee who was trying to pick up his check. How did you first hear about PVAC? “From Yessy obviously! She told me to apply.” Did you go to school? “Yes, I majored in culinary arts at South Texas College.” Do you cook at home? “Yessy cooks. She cooks for her boyfriend.” she said with an eye-roll, “I only cook when I get paid.” How were your early days at PVAC? “The start wasn’t too bad. We wore scrubs back then. I didn’t mind cleaning the kennels, but seeing the dogs get taken to the back was hard.” What was the hardest day of your time here at PVAC/PAWS? “The first length of stay list at PAWS. About 6 dogs were on the list and had to be plead out and adopted or rescued or they’d be euthanized. That list was made on a Friday. We were out of space and the dogs were out of time.”
Did you ever want to quit? “Yes a bunch of times. It’s too stressful. I wanted to quit many times. I developed anxiety working here. It’s a hard job. People yell at us because they don’t understand. We cry over the animals that don’t get adopted. Many of our own employees adopt animals so they can keep them from getting euthanized simply because no one else wanted them. We don’t make a lot of money but we love our jobs and our animals so we save everything and everyone we can.”
What made you stay? “The love I have for animals is what keeps me going. We have to keep going. We have to be the voice for the voiceless and one day we will be a no kill shelter. Everything with a soul is worth saving.”
What was the best day at PVAC for you? “The next day after the length of stay list. On a Saturday, all the dogs on the list were adopted. The worst day and best day were back to back. All the dogs were saved.”
What do you think of your coworkers? "They’re jerks!” she answered through laughter. “A lot of them have degrees and could easily go find other opportunities and careers with much more pay, but they choose to stay here. I am proud to say that I love this organization and each and everyone who works here.”
What do you feel when you put on your PVAC shirt every morning? “A sense of purpose. My purpose. We have to make sure the animals go home to a loving, wonderful family. These pets have never experienced the love of a family before. Our job is to find them happiness.” You have changed PVAC in such positive ways, how has PVAC changed you? “I am more compassionate toward people and animals. Everything with a soul is worth saving.”
Who’s the best at saving lives, you or Yessy? “Me obviously! But no really, everyone here, every department here at PVAC saves lives.”
Yessy was my teacher, my source of strength during my time in the rescue department. She is fierce and resourceful. My first week in rescue I remember Yessy coming into the office with a slip lead around her neck, another tied onto her belt loop, and another in her hand. She was covered in sweat, fur, and her clothing looked as though it had just been soaked in one of the kennel drains. She threw one of the slip leads across the room against the wall and was trembling with anger and sadness. “How are we supposed to get them all out!?” She screamed out to the two of us already in the office. That was the summer of 2018 and the daily intake of animals was at its highest. When animals were down to their last hours of life they were housed directly in front of our rescue office. As we tried to network them out on our obsolete computers, on an internet connection that would have been slow by 1990’s standards, we could see them through the window, and we could hear them through the walls. Only once did I see her panic, and it lasted only a few short moments. Within a minute Yessy was walking out the door toward the kennels, with defiance replacing the tears in her eyes. She went back out to keep trying to the last second to get the animals out of the shelter. When I saw her perseverance that day, I knew I never had an excuse to quit or to lose heart. When I transitioned out of rescue and started working more out of PAWS, I felt homesick for the action of the PVAC kennels. Going from the transport van to a cubicle is such a rapid and uncomfortable decompression. Luckily, Yobeli can be found moving throughout PAWS with the same stubborn energy as her sister. One minute she will be answering a phone call, the next she’ll be taking dogs out to the play yard, the next she’ll be cleaning the cat rooms, and the next she’ll be finding a forever home for an animal who was about to run out of time. That kind of energy is infectious and it helps our entire organization become better by the day. What towering figures for so many to admire. Sometimes, I still cannot believe I am able to share my passion for animals with such unique and sincere individuals. Yessy and Yobeli are sources of light in a world full of so much darkness. With beautifully impatient attitude they are making The Rio Grande Valley, and Texas a safer place for homeless animals. If PVAC had only one of these women to lead us to a no kill future we would be lucky. The fact that we have both is a miracle. -Luis Emilio Quintanilla
Palm Valley Animal Society receives thousands of cats and dogs every year. Our daily efforts to save these homeless animals are made possible by the generosity of individuals and businesses in our community. Please click the link below to join us in our efforts to make The Rio Grande Valley a safer place for our animals.