Animal rescuers face dire challenges in Far West Texas. Now they’re forming a coalition to fight together.

FAR WEST TEXAS — For decades, small nonprofits, local governments, veterinarians and residents volunteering their time have each worked in Far West Texas to address the overpopulation of stray animals through sheltering, vaccinating, spay and neutering and transporting them to willing owners.

Despite all the effort, pet populations have stayed high, veterinary capacity is stretched, and costs of spay and neuter prove prohibitive to pet owners who want the procedure but just can’t afford it. In recent months, a couple organizations have brought “Big Bend Big Fix” events, spaying and neutering over 100 animals in a matter of days; still, the waiting list for the next event is so long that the event likely won’t need to be publicly advertised.

As the executive director of the Alpine Humane Society (AHS) and a friend to animals across West Texas, Fort Davis resident Jeanine Bishop was well informed on the challenges animal advocacy groups in the Big Bend are up against, and she was looking for a solution.

Bishop had already formed relationships with a handful of local women who have spearheaded efforts individually to rescue stray animals and find homes for them — even if it means shipping the animals on transport vans to far-off states like Oregon and Wisconsin.

One of the biggest challenges each faced was accessing affordable and timely spay and neuter services, sometimes coming up against a six-week wait time to get animals into the vet’s office for the procedure. When the only veterinarian in Terlingua retired, it left an even bigger hole in the animal safety net. The animal advocates needed more hands on deck.

Bishop had recently linked the Jeff Davis County’s Library Friends Group and food pantry together to help Jeff Davis County residents access healthcare, food and education resources under the banner of Mobile Comunidad, and she realized that uniting disparate groups toward the same effort was suddenly yielding a steady stream of grant funding.

With the nonprofit 501(c)3 status of the AHS, she set off to replicate the Mobile Comunidad’s success, but this time in the name of animal welfare. The Far West Texas Animal Coalition was born, connecting a stunning number of animal welfare groups together.

The coalition will range from Presidio County to Sanderson, up to Fort Stockton, over to Balmorhea and all in between, potentially also including the underserved areas of Van Horn and Pecos. Joining the coalition so far are Alpine Humane Society, Jethro Homeward Bound Pets, Terlingua’s The Underground Dog, the Friends of the Terrell County Animal Shelter, Cherished Pets Animal Rescue of Fort Stockton, the Marathon Animal Shelter, independent rescuers in Balmorhea, Municipal shelters in the region, Grand Companions in Fort Davis and Big Bend Pets of Alpine.

“Each one of us is bringing critical missions that need to be addressed and working together to collaborate to strive for a holistic solution,” said Laura Langham, the founder and executive director of Grand Companions.

The biggest challenge Grand Companions faces at the moment, Langham said, is that they simply aren’t equipped to handle the deluge of requests for help they receive on a daily basis. She said it is disheartening, overwhelming and mentally destabilizing to have people catching strays and calling her organization for help, only to have to say they don’t have any resources to assist them. When the animal ends up back on the street instead of being rescued, “It’s debilitating,” to organizations like hers, “because all of us are helping where we can, but none of us even make a dent in the need,” Langham said. “We only have so many resources and so much space. It’s soul-sucking.” 

She called animal control officers the unsung heroes, for taking up the cause, caring for animals, and then having to euthanize them when they get sick or the shelter fills up and there’s nowhere else for the animals to go. “Nobody sees it or understands the devastating effect it has on these people in rescue.”

It’s because of all the hardships mentioned that Langham is so optimistic about the new coalition. “From my perspective this is one of the most exciting things that’s happened in the Far West Texas area, in that I don’t think the public understands the critical need or what’s going on behind the scenes in the world of pet rescue, and this brings so many key players together to try and bring — as a whole — a solution to the table,” said Langham.

The new Far West Texas Animal Coalition wants to help subsidize spay and neuter costs to make it more affordable for anyone who wants it. They hope to get large sources of funding from organizations or foundations so they can buy animal medication, vaccines, vet care supplies and more in bulk. They’ve discussed mobile clinics, grants and ways to create additional shelter space. They’re also considering hiring their own veterinarian, perhaps a previously retired one, for pop-up clinics or a young college graduate with student debt that the coalition could help pay off in exchange for choosing to work in the area.

The group hopes to access better funding sources together than they can apart. “We need somebody that recognizes this problem on the scale it exists,” Bishop said.

With so many players on board, the group is now moving forward with a fundraising push, launching Monday, November 8, and leading up to the Far West Texas Rescue Giving Day on Friday, November 19. To learn more, visit the individual groups Facebook pages, Bishop said, or call 432-837-2532. 

Checks can be made out to Alpine Humane Society, which is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and donors can designate which rescue group they wish to support or write in “use my donation where needed most” in the memo line. They can also get a tax receipt from AHS for the donation. The mailing address is P.O. Box 1464, Alpine, TX 79831.