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Saving Cats

The current reality for felines at Palm Valley Animal Center (PVAC) is more positive than it has ever been. The future for the cats in the entire Rio Grande Valley is about to become brighter than ever before. The numbers below reflect the progress we have made in our mission to become no kill. Feline Shelter Euthanasia 1/1/2017 - 5/15/2017 = 2,107 Feline Shelter Euthanasia 1/1/2018 - 5/15/2018 = 1,758 Feline Shelter Euthanasia 1/1/2019 - 5/15/2019 = 967 On April, 22 2019 PVAC’s Board of Directors voted to launch a trap-neuter-return (TNR) program in partnership with Best Friends Animal Society. The TNR program will directly impact the well-being of thousands of cats in the Rio Grand Valley. The program will translate into far fewer homeless and helpless cats and kittens wandering the streets of South Texas. It is a truly historic chapter in PVAC’s story.

The fight to reach no kill is far from over, but now the odds are not quite as against us as they were just 1 year ago. Long before the light ever flickered on the distant horizon, there have been remarkable individuals working through the darkness to save any and every homeless cat possible. 

People often find the truest version of themselves in animal welfare. It is a calling that is difficult to turn away from. Most people who dedicate their lives to saving animals can trace their journey to a single moment. The first step in the lifesaving journey often begins with a single animal.

Snow / Jessica Heller

In February 2018, a cat lover living in the Dallas/Fort Worth area saw a social media post from a shelter in deep South Texas. The social media post showed a beautiful grey and white cat in need of a forever home. “Snow” was the first cat that Jessica Heller helped network out of PVAC. The above picture is of Snow’s freedom ride out of the shelter and into the arms of a rescue organization. 

Jessica Heller had spent the previous 3 to 4 years helping to fundraise for animal shelters and rescue organizations in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. When Jessica saw Snow’s photo,  it ignited what would become a beacon for cats down in Edinburg. Jessica began calling and messaging cat rescues, sharing Snow’s photo in a desperate attempt to save him from the fate of so many thousands of cats in overcrowded shelters. 

Jessica’s efforts paid off. Snow was rescued, and since then, Jessica has helped to network hundreds of cats from PVAC and thousands more from other animal shelters across Texas. She is also a dog lover, but because the lifesaving gap is typically far wider with shelter cats than  with dogs, Jessica focuses her attention primarily on cats. On a daily basis, and seemingly around the clock, Jessica forwards the photos of our PVAC cats to rescue organizations and fosters. She then organizes the logistics involved with those cats getting either picked up from our facility or in San Antonio on one of PVAC’s bi-weekly rescue transports. Her passion has helped save countless lives. 

Ishmael - Keely Lewis

In September 2017, Keely Lewis received a call from a friend of hers who had found a stray kitten. Keely suggested turning in that stray to PVAC. Once the 1 pound kitten was turned in, Keely called  the intake staff at PVAC and requested an update on its status. After spending some time researching and absorbing the harsh live outcome statistics that cats faced at PVAC, she felt overcome with emotion. After seeing a photo of the cat, “Ishmael” taken by her friend who found him, she knew she had to take action. She knew she could not make an overnight change for all the cats at PVAC, but she could make a change for at least one. Ishmael was adopted by Keely and now rules her catio. The photo above shows Ishmael thriving in his forever home. Fully grown and free. 

Keely Lewis is the Board President at Palm Valley Animal Center. She is personally invested in the fight to reach no kill. With over 34 foster animals currently in her care, she is in the thick of it. In the spring and summer of 2018, Keely fostered nearly 100 cats who made their way to forever homes through adoption or rescue. 

In the fall of 2018, PVAC’s rescue team was onsite at midnight to coordinate an overnight rescue transport. Keely along with Barbara Guerra, one of our other board members, organized a transport for dozens of kittens that had been in their care for months. Keely and Barbara nursed them to healthy weights and continued to house them until their lifesaving ride came along. In the middle of the night, in the middle of the work week Keely was on property, seeing her foster kittens’ journeys all the way to the happy end. 

Animal welfare is a way of life. It is sometimes even a family calling. Keely’s husband is a full participant assembling cat condos, gathering financing for rescue organizations, and helping to bottle feed the vulnerable kittens his wife brings home. Keely’s daughter is an adoption counselor at the Laurie P. Andrews PAWS Center.

When the Board of Directors voted in favor of TNR, Keely’s joy nearly brought her to tears. When I spoke with her after the historic vote, one of her immediate thoughts was for our staff and the hope that TNR would bring. The bright future is a sharp contrast to the past. As Keely put it, “it was so hopeless back then, I don’t know where the staff finds their strength.” 

After I asked what it has been like to be such a prolific foster home for our cats, she said without skipping a beat, “It has increased the joy in my life incredibly.”

Izzy - Sarah Kowalski

Sarah Kowalski began her life in animal welfare as a volunteer for PVAC/PAWS. On March 17, 2018 when a job opened up at PVAC she pounced on it. She did not know where the job would lead, but she knew she loved animals. During her first week at PVAC, she walked through the cat rooms in the back of the facility. In one of the kennels she met a sad looking female cat with a mass on her belly. Initially the fear was that the mass was a tumor. After further examination, it was discovered that the mass was actually a pregnancy. Due to her fragile state, “Izzy” would not thrive in the shelter environment. Sarah could not bear the thought of Izzy staying at the shelter, so she offered to foster the poor stray. 

After Sarah brought Izzy home she took her to see a vet. It turned out that Izzy was pregnant with 4 kittens and was suffering with a hernia which made her shape very lopsided. Sarah paid for the hernia surgery, and then continued to foster Izzy and her 4 kittens for several months. When the kittens were old enough, Sarah took the family to the adoption floor at PAWS. Within a week, all of the kittens were adopted but Izzy was left behind.

Whenever Sarah went to PAWS she would see Izzy there, waiting for someone to take her to her forever home. On one of these visits to PAWS she noticed Izzy no longer on the adoption floor. Izzy had been moved to the medical isolation area with another suspected hernia. Sarah took Izzy home that day and paid for a second surgery. At that point she just could not give Izzy back. Izzy now lives a pampered life in her own sunroom.

Izzy began Sarah on her path in animal welfare. Sarah is a rescue coordinator at PVAC. Although her primary focus is on getting cats out of the shelter through rescue, she has also helped dozens of dogs find their second chance when all hope and all time seemed to have vanished entirely. Sarah networks, fosters, and transports cats out of PVAC. As a part of our rescue team, Sarah has also driven thousands of miles on rescue transports sending hundreds of cats and dogs to safety. 


From the Board of Directors, to the staff, to our rescue partners, there are dozens of people dedicating their lives to saving the homeless cats at PVAC. With TNR arriving, their dedication will soon be even more impactful than ever before.  In 2018 alone, over 11,000 cats entered our facility. This year PVAC has already received more than 3,000 cats and now that kitten season here, our intake will continue to rise significantly. We need adopters, rescues, volunteers, and fosters for our cats. Please contact us today to join in the effort to save these beautiful and innocent creatures.

-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.

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