“The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
For the last several years, animal shelters, rescue groups and individuals across the country have discovered the benefits of uniting their energy, focus and resources for the good of homeless animals.
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Throughout Lee’s Summit and Cass County, animal advocates are working together as part of this network. Through their partnerships, they’re ensuring that some of the area’s most vulnerable animals find forever homes.
Alyssa Severn has not only discovered the value of these partnerships, she has transformed that collaborative energy into action.
Severn works as a liaison between rescue groups and shelters. From her home in Lee’s Summit, she networks across the country to place dogs in foster homes or with their forever families.
“I’ve always had a very big soft spot for dogs that are overlooked for one reason or another. Not all animals get a fair shake, and certain breeds are unjustly maligned, including pit bulls,” she said.
When Severn moved to Lee’s Summit a few years ago, she brought a lifelong passion for overlooked animals with her.
“I wanted to get involved here but had to set boundaries with a new child and work. So I tried to figure out what I could do, instead of what I couldn’t. I was only one person and hoped I could find a way to do enough to make a difference.”
In June 2017, Severn began that mission to make a difference with her first visit to the Lee’s Summit Animal Shelter.
“There was a pit bull there who caught my eye,” she said. “Gidget was very social and playful, and I thought maybe I could find a group who would help her.”
Severn started networking with animal groups in and outside of the Kansas City area. In just a few weeks, Gidget was adopted and headed to her new family in Manitoba, Canada.
Connected to cats
Cyndi Dill, director of HELP Humane in Belton, shares Severn’s heart for underserved, vulnerable animals. But while Severn’s soft spot is for dogs, Dill’s is for cats.
“I’ve been a cat person all of my life and have always been extremely connected to cats,” Dill said. “When I was a child, I rescued cats. If my parents didn’t want them in the house, I found them homes.”
Dill has been finding homes for cats for 22 years.
Like Severn, who works closely with Lee’s Summit Animal Shelter, Dill has developed HELP Humane’s partnerships with individuals and groups throughout the area’s animal community to ensure her mission succeeds. Some of those partners help care for the organization’s animals; others receive support from HELP Humane.
Of the more than 250 cats the group takes in annually, many are seniors, disabled, diabetic or have other special needs. Several shelters and rescue groups in the metro area look to HELP Humane for assistance with their most vulnerable animals.
“We have a lot of people who call from other shelters with animals that have medical issues or other special needs. Many of them have the types of problems that would forestall their adoptions. We give them time to recover here.”
Comfort for ailing kitties
Founded in 1996, HELP Humane serves dogs too, although its primary focus is on cats.
“When we were preparing to open our own facility, we learned that cats are underserved in our area,” Dill said. “Our goal was to open a shelter where cats can roam in a home-like setting. We treat them all as if they are our own pets.”
In addition to four full-time staff members and dozens of dedicated volunteers, HELP Humane also partners with a number of area foster homes.
“Our foster homes help us with animals rehabilitating from illness or injury, or those too young to come into the shelter,” Dill said. “We also work with families that only foster feline leukemia (FeLV) cats, because these cats can’t be around other animals.
“These families bring the ill cats into their homes, fall in love with them and then have to say goodbye — and they know that.”
For the past 10 years, the Verrinder family has fostered many cats from HELP Humane that have been diagnosed with feline leukemia.
“These cats need us,” Melissa Verrinder said. “They have a family here, and it’s less stress for them in our home environment.
“Sick cats often act like well cats. They don't feel sorry for themselves but enjoy their life as long as possible. It’s very inspiring to us and also shows others that FeLV cats are valuable.”
Working toward the same goal
Partnerships such as those with the Verrinder family have become essential for today’s animal rescue efforts.
Like Dill, Severn focuses on building those connections, which open open new possibilities for animals in need.
Since finding a home for Gidget, Severn has expanded her partnership of rescue groups and individuals across the country.
“The worst thing that someone can do is say ‘no,’ ” she said. “But I’m just very persistent. If someone says ‘no,’ I go to another group. It’s all about problem-solving and building relationships.”
Severn’s approach has succeeded. In just over a year, she has helped find adoptive families or long-term foster care for nearly 100 dogs who might have lived out their lives overlooked and homeless.
Severn believes building trust among groups is one of the building blocks of success.
“Trust and confidence among all of these groups goes a long way. It’s helped make the network among animal groups in Kansas City and throughout the Midwest strong,” she said. “I also believe that shelters, rescue groups and individuals are all doing the best they can to make sure animals are going to a good place.”
Jennifer Otto, who works with HOPE Pet Rescue Center in Leavenworth, helps Severn place dogs from Lee’s Summit Animal Shelter in foster or adoptive homes.
“Smaller shelters and communities often have limited options,” Otto said. “By collaborating with multiple rescue partners, we can save more animals in the long run.”
Rachael Leighton, board member of Sioux Empire Rescue in South Dakota, also works with Severn to place dogs from Lee’s Summit Animal Shelter.
“Collaboration and teamwork is essential to saving dogs nationally,” Leighton said. “It takes a village, with everybody doing their part to make something special happen. We’re all interwoven and I can’t speak to how much we depend on one another.”
Dill and Severn have both observed a positive shift in attitudes and efforts made for homeless animals.
“Though it’s been very gradual over the 22 years, the future for homeless animals has evolved,” Dill said. “So many more people are involved and willing to help homeless animals.”
“It needs to be this collective effort to make a better life for animals,” Severn said. “In the long run, this collaboration makes a big difference for them.”
If you want to help
For more information about helping homeless animals in Lee’s Summit, go to cityofls.net/City-of-Lees-Summit/Departments/Animal-Control.
In Cass County, go to helphumane.org.