On January 17th, Betty White would have celebrated her centennial birthday. As many tributes pour out for her, one prominent aspect of Betty White’s career that is receiving deserving accolades is her work advocating for animals. This reminded me of a recent meeting where I was surprised to learn that in 2020, around 347,000 dogs and cats were killed in our nation’s shelters just because they didn’t have safe places to call home.

In the Rio Grande Valley, of the more than 5,800 dogs and cats taken to a certain shelter in one of our cities, only 44% made it out alive. Although more detailed data is unavailable, it appears that cats impounded by this city were roughly twice as likely to be killed as impounded dogs. One reason for the large number of pets handled by this shelter, is that it has contracts with several neighboring communities. I imagine that most residents that live in these communities are unaware of these contracts or the fate of the animals taken to this shelter. Now that we know these statistics, it is time for us to step up and act.

We have two cities in Hidalgo County that have proven positive action is possible and are leading the way in saving lives. Edinburg and Mission were recently certified as part of Mars Petcare’s Better Cities for Pets program. Among the key factors required to be certified are collaborative partnerships aimed at maximizing lifesaving efforts, low-cost spay/neuter services for population management, and access to the resources necessary to keep people and pets together. For Edinburg and Mission to be recognized as Better Cities for Pets is a positive reflection on the leadership of their elected officials and the hard work, dedication, and commitment of their shelter staff. The residents of Edinburg and Mission should be proud of this accomplishment.

These success stories are a testament to the will of RGV residents to provide better outcomes for local dogs and cats. However, more needs to be done across many of our communities. Too many healthy dogs and cats are entering local shelters and never making it out alive to new homes. The no-kill percentages and adoption rates vary greatly between communities in the RGV. I know that shelter staff across the region work hard every day to provide for these homeless animals, but the sheer number of unwanted pets is overwhelming.

The good news is that many people in the RGV love their pets and some communities have proven that there are partnerships and policies that can be implemented to save lives. We need to increase our adoption rates from our local shelters. Prospective pet owners in the RGV should strongly consider adopting before buying a puppy or kitten. We also need to increase the number of spayed or neuter pets in our communities. Having your pet spayed or neutered helps control the pet homelessness crisis and decrease the number of animals in need of shelter. There are also medical and behavioral benefits to spaying and neutering our pets. Awareness, community support, and access to resources are the key factors in providing better outcomes.

I’ve been a longtime advocate for animal welfare. I have passed legislation that requires for the humane evacuation, transport, and shelter of household pets during a disaster. This past special legislative session, I co-authored legislation signed by the Governor that will protect dogs that are chained outside of a home. I’m now calling on our Valley residents to continue the momentum in animal welfare by acting at the local level to improve outcomes for our shelter dogs and cats.

It’s often said that all politics is local. That’s because so many of our challenges are felt more strongly at the local level. However, many of our very best solutions are also crafted at the local level. With over a million people in the Rio Grande Valley, we can save more cats and dogs from being euthanized. We should not only honor the legacy of Betty White to continue to care for these animals, but we also owe it to these innocent animals we love and do better by working with our public officials to find solutions.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by state Sen. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Hinojosa an be reached by email via: [email protected]

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

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