Government & Politics

KC works on a plan to replace its antiquated no-kill animal shelter

A new veterinary care center has been added at Kansas City Pet Project, Kansas City’s animal shelter at 4400 Raytown Road, to provide better care for animals that arrive at the shelter sick or injured. Vet tech Haylee Adkins prepared Vance, a boxer mix, who has already been adopted, for neuter surgery Tuesday. City officials agree the clinic is a stopgap solution and they hope to replace the outdated shelter.
A new veterinary care center has been added at Kansas City Pet Project, Kansas City’s animal shelter at 4400 Raytown Road, to provide better care for animals that arrive at the shelter sick or injured. Vet tech Haylee Adkins prepared Vance, a boxer mix, who has already been adopted, for neuter surgery Tuesday. City officials agree the clinic is a stopgap solution and they hope to replace the outdated shelter. Special to the Star

A plan to replace Kansas City’s antiquated animal shelter is in the works, with the possibility of a public vote, plus private fundraising, to help pay for a new shelter next year.

“It’s time,” said City Manager Troy Schulte.

Public relations executive Roshann Parris told The Star that for more than two years, she and other city leaders and animal advocates have been working with KC Pet Project, the nonprofit that manages the shelter, to identify possible new locations.

“We are on a path to a new shelter,” she said, with the leading site being available land in Swope Park. That would be much more visible, central and convenient to the public than the current site south of the Truman Sports Complex at 4400 Raytown Road.

Parris and Schulte emphasized the new shelter plans are preliminary and many more details, such as the timing of a bond issue, need to be worked out.

The cost of an entirely new shelter, which would be considerably larger than the current 14,000-square-foot cramped space, is not yet known. But shelters built elsewhere in recent years have ranged from $12 million to $15 million, so it could well be more than that.

The city is contemplating a funding partnership with both public and private dollars, Schulte and Parris said.

Everyone agrees the need is critical. Every day of the year, Kansas City’s no-kill animal shelter gets several dozen new dogs and cats — often sick, neglected or abused — leading to a facility crammed with 400 would-be pets.

The relentless flow, which amounts to more than 10,000 animals a year, comes to a 43-year-old, antiquated construction trailer that was supposed to be temporary.

“We save the largest number of animals with the oldest building and smallest amount of resources of any other organization I believe in the country,” said Teresa Johnson, executive director of KC Pet Project, which has run the shelter since January 2012.

KC Pet Project director Teresa Johnson last year discussed animal shelter improvements and longer-term needs for a new facility.

As an interim step, KC Pet Project and city officials Thursday heralded the arrival of some much-needed improvements — several modular trailers that greatly enhance the surgical and medical care the current shelter can provide.

With a $250,000 grant from the Petco Foundation and donated matching funds, the trailers replace a 400-square-foot vet clinic — basically a cramped room — with a bona fide surgery suite, roomier recovery areas and another trailer to isolate contagious animals from the general population.

Those improvements are intended to tide the existing facility over for a few years.

Parks department officials said they have had productive conversations but have made no decisions on a new shelter location. Any recommendation must go to the park board for approval.

“With 1,800 acres of Swope Park, there ought to be a possibility of finding a few acres that could then be the location for KC Pet Project,” said parks department director Mark McHenry.

He said any location must have sufficient road access and utilities, and obviously it can’t be too close to Starlight Theatre or on top of the golf course.

The city is also looking at financing a new shelter as part of a larger general obligation bond issue that could go to voters as early as next August, depending on the outcome of an earnings tax renewal election in April.

Schulte said KC Pet Project has done an excellent job of managing a no-kill shelter under very difficult circumstances. But as the number of animals has grown since 2012, it has highlighted the urgency for a new building.

Others confirm Kansas City’s shelter is one of the oldest and most crowded municipal facilities in the country.

“I’ve been telling them for years they need a new shelter,” said Susanne Kogut, executive director of the Petco Foundation, which provided the $250,000 grant for the new trailers and works with animal welfare groups and shelters across the country.

“It’s not only the age, but it’s the space for the animals. It’s very unusual to see large dogs in small cages and not having their own kennels,” she said. “They’re doing amazing work with what they have to work with, but they need more to work with.”

Kogut said it appears that Kansas City’s is the third-largest open-admission, no-kill municipal shelter in the country, after Austin, Texas, and Reno, Nev., which are much newer facilities.

Furthermore, many cities and counties nationally have renovated or built new facilities in the past decade or so, she said, as communities demand that their shelters stop euthanizing so many animals and do a better job getting them back to their owners or adopted out.

After Austin voters approved a bond issue, the city opened a $12 million, 40,000-square-foot facility in 2011. Broward County, Fla., is building a $15.2 million, 40,000-square-foot facility, expected to open next year. Also in Florida, Miami-Dade County is close to completing a 70,000-square-foot building, doubling the size of its previous 50-year-old facility.

The Houston area is also looking at a new infrastructure bond issue that would include a replacement for its shelter, built in 1986 and considered outdated.

Schulte said it would be logical to include Kansas City’s new shelter as part of a much larger general obligation bond issue for city buildings, roads, bridges and parks.

The bond election timing, Schulte said, is a political calculation for the City Council and can come only after next April’s earnings tax renewal.

At Thursday’s vet clinic grand opening, Mayor Sly James said he knows a new shelter is a priority, and he hopes it can be accomplished this term.

“We need to do something, and we’re going to get that done,” he said.

City Councilwoman Teresa Loar, a longtime animal advocate, said she and other council members who took office in August want to campaign for a new shelter next year.

“I’m one of the biggest advocates for a new shelter, along with Councilwoman Jolie Justus,” Loar said. “We are determined to get it on the next general obligation bond issue, and we’re pushing hard for next year.”

Justus confirmed she also is very supportive, recognizing there are still a lot of moving parts to making the concept a reality.

Loar said the existing shelter is “woefully inadequate” when compared to much larger, newer facilities like the 28,000-square-foot shelter in Independence, completed in 2013, which serves half the animals that Kansas City does.

“We should be ashamed and embarrassed as a city to call this an animal shelter,” Loar said, adding that she believes citizens will support a modest property tax increase to pay for this and other infrastructure improvements.

The need has exploded since KC Pet Project took over the shelter’s management.

In 2011, the shelter took in about 6,000 animals and euthanized about 30 percent. Now the shelter takes in more than 10,000 animals per year and euthanizes only about 7 percent.

It does it, Johnson said, with countless volunteers and staffers aggressively working full time to find foster homes, partner with rescue groups and other shelters, and track down owners of lost animals. They also have increased adoptions by thousands of animals, using satellite centers at Zona Rosa in Kansas City, North, and at a Petco store on West 95th Street in Overland Park.

Still, Johnson said, this approach isn’t sustainable, as the shelter takes in an average of 27 new animals every single day and with hoarding cases sometimes gets as many as 80.

“We utilize every inch of the old building,” she said, pointing to animals in cages stacked in hallways. Many city shelters, she noted, are three to four times the size of Kansas City’s shelter and serve fewer animals.

The new trailers will allow twice the number of surgeries and provide much-needed space for animal recovery. Pet Project officials thanked general contractor Grand Construction and many subcontractors for generous pro bono work on the project and more than 1,700 donors who made the project happen.

But Johnson also said it’s only a stopgap measure that can help extend the shelter’s life for a few more years while the city seeks a long-term solution.

“We can’t continue to save the number of animals we save every day in a facility that’s falling down,” she said. “To be able to do so much more, in an efficient shelter that’s the right size, is what we want to achieve.”

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley