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New city ordinance in Harlingen aims to improve stray cat population

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City leaders in Harlingen are changing a number of ordinances regarding cats and dogs. The recent changes to Harlingen’s animal code not only remove barriers to pet ownership, but also provide more animal services to the community.

The Humane Society of Harlingen partnered with the city of Harlingen to pass a set of revised ordinances that improve the city's animal code. The changes are the first step in proactively addressing the overpopulation of stray cats.

“What it really means is that the city of Harlingen is making the commitment to solve the problem and not just respond to it,” said HSH Executive Director Luis Quintanilla.

One of the main components is the establishment of the community cat program.

"A community cat program typically consists of two different aspects," Quintanilla said. "So, one of which is 'return to field.' So, those are animals who are already at our shelter, arrived one way or another. And, we vaccinate them, we sterilize them, and we put them right back where they were, if it's a safe place."

The other aspect of the community cat program is TNR, which stands for trap, neuter, and return. This is when animal shelters go out into the community, trap cats, sterilize them, and return them where they came from.

For now, shelters like the Humane Society of Harlingen are limited by the lack of access to veterinary care.

"We know if a cat comes in here healthy, it's clearly being cared for," Quintanilla said. "So we vaccinate it, we fix it, and we return it right to where it was found, and return it to the place where it was thriving."

Another big change in the city's animal code is the removal of legislation prohibiting pit bull type dogs from being adopted.

"That pit bull ban that, categorizing them as something special and more dangerous, I think just came from misinformation," Quintanilla said. "This is just really nice that the city kind of said, 'Well, yeah, we agree, that's stupid.' And so we're done with that."

Quintanilla says these changes will ultimately save more animals.

"Victories like this are are not saving one or two animals, they're tens of thousands of animals and it just means the world to us as the Humane Society of Harlingen that our community is stepping up for this," Quintanilla said. 

Only animals in Harlingen can benefit from these new ordinances, so Quintanilla encourages others to push for similar changes in their community.

To learn how, call the Harlingen Human Society at 956-425-7297 and ask for Luis Quintanilla.

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