Guided by a mission to raise awareness about responsible pet ownership, the staff and volunteers at Lee’s Summit Municipal Animal Shelter have helped thousands of its city’s residents become the best possible pet parents to their furry, feathered, and scaly friends.
Since 2007, Animal Control Supervisor Rodney Wagner, has led the shelter’s team of 14 employees, including five animal control officers and a six-person shelter and administrative staff, in the care of approximately 4,000 animals each year.
That figure includes 2,100 cats and dogs, many which are happily returned to their owners. Others are adopted, while some go on to rescue groups.
At 30,000 square feet, the Lee’s Summit facility, located at 1991 S.E. Hamblen Road, is one of the largest municipal animal shelters in the metro area and can accommodate 73 dogs and 72 cats at any one time. They also have 15 kennels in the receiving area for other animal breeds.
“We’ve taken in raccoons, rattlesnakes, geese, horses, iguanas, and emus—you name it,” Wagner said. “If it’s an animal on the earth somewhere, someone will want it as a pet in their home. We’ve seen it all and handled it all.”
The shelter once dealt with a macaw who wouldn’t come down from a tree, so Wagner had to contract with a tree-climbing service to get the bird down from its outdoor perch.
“You modify the job to get the job done,” he said.
Then there was the time Wagner received a frantic call from a resident reporting that his neighbor was washing two 15-foot pythons with a garden hose in his front yard.
“They weren’t 15 feet (long),” Wagner said. “They were 12 feet, but we convinced the owner that the snakes, at that size, could be dangerous if they got loose. He agreed and gave them up to a snake habitat.”
Every animal that arrives at the shelter is considered an impound. If the animal has identification, such as a tag or microchip, the first goal of the shelter team is immediately to reunite the pet with its owner.
Once owners are located and the animals are safely returned, animal control officers work with them and find solutions to any problems that might have brought the pets to the shelter in the first place.
“Education is our first goal,” Wagner said. “We try to help owners take care of their pets better so they can have a happier life together. We educate with everything, whether its vaccinations, nutrition, or keeping pets from getting out and running away.”
The shelter also receives quite a few neglect calls, including reports that animals that have been tied up outside for long periods of time or in extreme conditions. Even under these circumstances, the shelter’s animal control officers work with owners to raise awareness about proper care for their pets.
“The last thing we do is on a criminal level,” Wagner said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, people are happy we are there.”
The first day an animal arrives at the shelter, they are looked at by one of the veterinarians from Lee’s Summit Animal Hospital, who the shelter contracts with for vet services. After they receive medical care, the animals go on either a five- or 10-day hold, depending on if they have identification.
Once the hold time expires, if an animal has not been claimed by its owner, the animal goes up for adoption.
According to Wagner, community need for the animal shelter continues to increase each year. They frequently accept animals from other area shelters that are filled to capacity, because of the Lee’s Summit municipal shelter’s large capacity.
The property on which the Lee’s Summit shelter is located should allow the shelter to expand and double its current size, if and when demand increases.
“No matter how big you become, you can always fill animal shelters,” Wagner said. “The big challenge is getting the animals adopted out.”
Among the many challenges the animal control team faces are tough situations with animals that have been abused and neglected. One particular dog brings back memories for Lee’s Summit Animal Control Field Supervisor Kevin Meyerhoff.
Last year, while on duty and driving along Interstate 470 East near View High Drive, he noticed a dog walking in the ditch on the side of the highway.
“He was skin and bones and about half the weight he should have been,” Meyerhoff said. “Somebody probably dumped him out there. We caught him and got his weight back up. A family adopted him and just recently sent us pictures of him lying on a couch in their home. It’s great to see these pictures where the dog now has a happy life.”
For Wagner, Buddy is that special dog. Wagner said Buddy, a yellow Labrador retriever, was living in a home with chronic drug abusers. In the space of less than a year, animal control caught him at large more than 20 times before he finally came to live at the shelter.
“Buddy loved everyone,” Wagner said. “He never knew a stranger.”
One of the many reasons Buddy was so special to Wagner is because he was a senior dog. Wagner has a soft spot for older dogs and says he will never adopt anything but senior dogs in the future.
“Years ago, senior dogs didn’t have a chance of being adopted,” he said. “Now, they have as good a chance as any other dog.”
After Buddy regained his health, he was added to Pet Harbor, the shelter’s adoption database, where he was discovered and adopted by a family from Vail, Colo.
The lucky and deserving dog was then flown to his new forever family in a private airplane, one of many private planes in a national network that transports adopted pets around the country.
“That dog’s living the life now — a rich life in Vail, Colorado,” Wagner said.
Further information about the Lee’s Summit Municipal Animal Shelter and animals for adoption there, visit the shelter’s website at https://www.cityofls.net/Police/Programs-and-Services/Animal-Control/Adopt-a-Pet.