Government & Politics

‘First-class’ KC animal shelter is planned for Swope Park

Gina Dunlop, a member of the board of directors at KC Pet Project, got close to give some special attention to Hoss, a 6-week-old pitbull mix during a red carpet event Thursday prior to the press conference announcement of a plan for a new Kansas City animal shelter at Elmwood Avenue and Gregory Boulevard in Swope Park.
Gina Dunlop, a member of the board of directors at KC Pet Project, got close to give some special attention to Hoss, a 6-week-old pitbull mix during a red carpet event Thursday prior to the press conference announcement of a plan for a new Kansas City animal shelter at Elmwood Avenue and Gregory Boulevard in Swope Park. jledford@kcstar.com

Ten thousand animals endure cramped and spartan conditions every year at Kansas City’s animal shelter, which was inadequate even when it opened in what was supposed to be a temporary construction trailer in 1972.

But on Thursday, Kansas City leaders and animal lovers announced ambitious plans for a new state-of-the-art animal shelter that would be built in Swope Park — near the zoo, Lakeside Nature Center and the off-leash dog park.

“It’s long overdue for this city,” City Manager Troy Schulte told a crowd Thursday, in confirming the preferred site: seven acres of park land at the corner of Gregory Boulevard and Elmwood Avenue.

“We absolutely understand the love and dedication that Kansas City and Kansas Citians have to their pets,” Mayor Sly James said, acknowledging the shortcomings with the existing shelter at 4400 Raytown Road. “We want to create a first-class space where pets can grow and thrive.”

Schulte said the new shelter is currently being designed and the exact construction price tag isn’t known. But it could cost an estimated $17 million, with the city contributing possibly $14 million in tax dollars. That money would come from a general obligation bond package that the City Council hopes to place before city voters next April.

The rest of the construction cost would come from private donations. The private sector would also be asked to raise a maintenance endowment of about $7 million.

The Kansas City Parks Board still must approve the use of the land for the new shelter, and several park commissioners said that will happen next Tuesday.

The new shelter is envisioned to be about 60,000 square feet — four times the current facility’s size — and could accommodate as many as 15,000 animals per year. If voters approve and all goes as hoped, construction could possibly start later next year and take about 18 months.

The campaign, dubbed “Raise the Woof KC” represents a public/private partnership with KC Pet Project, the nonprofit that currently gets high praise for running an excellent no-kill shelter despite the antiquated conditions at the Raytown Road site. KC Pet Project has managed the facility since January 2012 and tries to make it as pleasant as possible.

But they deal with hoarding cases and are often inundated with large numbers of strays and neglected animals, making the overcrowding even worse. They handle everything from ponies to geese to rabbits and reptiles.

“We’re pleased to continue to work with the city to help create a better environment for the animals at the shelter,” said Brent Toellner, president of the board of KC Pet Project. “So we’re excited to get this moving forward.”

Toellner said KC Pet Project has many generous volunteers and civic donors willing to contribute to this cause. He said that was evidenced by the large crowd of people who gathered for Thursday’s announcement in Starlight Theatre’s Applause Club.

Toellner said advocates want to make sure they get the right plan for a shelter that can serve a growing community for the next 40 years.

In the meantime, he said KC Pet Project will continue to try to make the best of the difficult conditions at the existing shelter. Some improvements already have occurred.

Prior to 2015, the veterinary clinic was only 400 square feet and grossly inadequate for the animals cared for each year — 10,500 in 2014. In 2015, thanks to donations and grants from the Petco Foundation, KC Pet Project installed two modular buildings in the shelter parking lot, adding more than 2,100 square feet of space for surgeries, a recovery ward, medical intensive care and separate isolation areas for sick and contagious animals.

But officials said that was still only a stopgap measure and a permanent, replacement shelter was needed.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley

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