Bone-thin, Nellie had lost nearly all of her fur to malnutrition. Her bare skin was mottled. She shivered with sickness and infection.
The mixed-breed cattle dog, estimated to be about 12 years old, was in such horribly neglected condition that when Kansas City, Kan., animal control officers carried her into the offices of the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City on Oct. 6, no one on staff was quite sure what kind of dog she was.
“At any other time,” said Kate Fields, the chief operating officer of the Humane Society, 5445 Parallel Parkway, “she would have been euthanized.”
But because of a contract agreed upon in 2013 between the Animal Control Division of the Kansas City, Kan., Police Department and the Humane Society to make the society the city’s official veterinarian, hundreds of abandoned, neglected or abused animals like Nellie are now being saved and adopted out. Nellie is going to a rescue shelter in Manitoba, Canada.
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Problem is, the contract the Humane Society agreed upon with the Police Department covers only preventive and basic medical care, such as exams, shots and spaying or neutering for 1,300 to 1,800 dogs and cats collected by animal control within the city’s limits each year. In 2014, the society billed the city about $50,000 for that care.
But the cost to provide extraordinary, life-saving care to about 140 severely sick or neglected, abused or injured animals like Nellie is one that the local Humane Society voluntarily has chosen to bear itself. It costs the organization an added $80,000 or so each year from a budget already running in the red.
As financial deals go, it has not been a great one, conceded Fields, who took over as the organization’s leader last year. The society plans to continue providing such care.
“We made a commitment. It’s the right thing to do,” Fields said, but she also added: “At some point we might have to say, ‘We can’t do it.’ But we don’t want to have to make that decision based solely on finances.”
So the Humane Society is seeking extra donations to keep afloat the life-saving aspect of its animal control work. That includes dogs such as Dylan, a pit bull whom Kansas City, Kan., animal control officers found with a contorted femur and a cracked pelvis. He needed about $4,000 worth of surgery.
Nearby was Porter, a white-and-cream husky mix who had been tied to a backyard tree for so long that the skin of his neck had grown over the wire that surrounded his throat. Surgeons using general anesthesia sliced through the dog’s skin to peel the restraint away.
“This one was tied to a tree and left to starve. She was a skeleton weighing 60 pounds,” Fields said, showing Gia, a white American bulldog whom animal control had brought to the society. After 10 months, she was almost at her expected weight of 110 pounds.
Police Capt. Michelle Angell, director of Kansas City, Kan., animal control over the last three years, said that the city’s rate of euthanasia for neglected, abandoned, abused or even feral animals probably will never be zero.
“Animal control is kind of unique in terms of the animal welfare world,” Angell said. “We’re here to protect people. We’re here to protect citizens.… animal control will never get away from euthanizing. We take in dangerous dogs. We take in dogs that have contagious diseases that can’t be transferred. We take in dogs that have been hit by cars and need to be euthanized for their best interest.”
But ever since about 2010, when the Humane Society started to work more closely with animal control, the city’s euthanization rate has dropped drastically, from as high as 60 percent of animals to 15 percent and below.
In 2010, the Humane Society began its Ray of Hope program by choosing appropriate animal control kittens and cats to put up for adoption. In 2011 and 2012, that program broadened to include dogs. The society officially signed on to provide veterinary care for animal control in April 2013, replacing a private veterinarian who retired.
Every Saturday and Sunday, Humane Society volunteers offer up animals for adoption at PetSmart in Olathe, 15255 W. 119th St. If the society can’t adopt out an animal, it works to find it a home through rescue groups, such as Unleashed Pet Rescue and Adoption in Mission, which also works to find homes for cats and dogs.
There are some animals that even the Humane Society can’t help. Even as Fields brought out Nellie and Gia and others restored to health, an animal control officer arrived with a small white dog thought to have been attacked by a coyote. The dog, frightened and in shock, had a gaping wound in its side, exposing its internal organs.
“I hate to see any animal suffer,” Fields said.
The veterinarian injected anesthesia, followed by a euthanasia solution that gently put the animal down.