Takes Kansas City Animal Shelter on the Journey to becoming a No Kill Shelter

By Brent Toellner, President of the KC Pet Project
Photos Courtesy of KC Pet Project

Every year, approximately 4 million dogs and cats are needlessly killed in shelters across this country, many of them in municipal shelters that are underfunded and mismanaged. Like municipal shelters in many cities, the Kansas City, Missouri, animal shelter was mismanaged—marking only a 40% live release rate in 2008—and was unable or unwilling to solve the problem. We figured the best solution for homeless animals in Kansas City was to have the shelter go under private management.

In 2007, many animal welfare advocates spent time meeting with various city council members and candidates and gained some traction for this idea. Then, in 2008 the city opened the shelter up for bids from private groups. I was, at the time, naively surprised when some of our larger organizations did not bid on the contract.

A private veterinarian put in the bid that got the contract. By 2010, the shelter live release rate was up to 63%. However, because concerns over animal care caused the city to terminate the contract, in the spring of 2011 the city put the contract back up for bids. Once again, we waited to see whether some of the large organizations would have any interest. One ended up bidding.

Three people—Michelle Davis, and Heather Clenin, and myself—all of whom strongly believed that a 90% save rate was possible in Kansas City, decided it was time bid on the city contract to run the animal shelter. We formed a group called the Kansas City Pet Project (www.KCPetProject.org). While the three of us knew a lot about no kill policies, we didn’t exactly know how to run the day-to-day operations of a shelter. Therefore, the first step was to find a shelter director to manage the day-to-day operations of the shelter if we were to get the contract. After placing a few phone calls to people we knew, we found Kim Staton, an experienced shelter director, to help us manage the disease issues that plagued the shelter and to support the policies that would make no kill possible at the shelter.

Next, we needed money. Because the city paid for the contract in arrears, we would need about one month’s operating expenses in order to meet payroll and start up costs. You don’t have to be rich or a wealthy organization to take over an animal shelter. We talked to other animal welfare groups and to politicians and civic groups to find donors who would help us raise the necessary up front working capital. (I would recommend having about 1/10th of the total contract amount in up front working capital.) With enough money to meet payroll, we were ready to go.

We then began working on our request for proposal (RFP), answering every detail, ensuring we didn’t miss anything major. We laid out our business plan showing how we would increase adoptions, handle returning pets to owners, and conduct the day-to-day operations of the shelter. Based on the city’s budget, we determined what its budget was for the animal shelter—knowing that this was our baseline for pricing. This is a tricky process because on the one hand, we needed our bid to be affordable for the city, but on the other, we didn’t want to leave ourselves without enough money to have the adequate staff to be effective.

After issuing the RFP, we had several rounds of negotiations with the city. During the negotiations, we were asked if we could lower our costs—which we did, but with a caveat. We would lower our cost if the city animal control would agree to not unnecessarily seize animals from their owners. So, as part of the contract, the city would stop seizing animals for noncompliance with regulations, with the exception of cruelty/neglect, and would no longer issue quotas for the minimum number of animals that the officers should bring into the shelter.

After several months of negotiations, Kansas City Pet Project was awarded the contract. We had 35 days to hire our new team and get ready for our opening. With the help of an aggressive adoption special, a lot of media coverage, and a compassionate public, we were able to find new homes for 181 animals in just our first week of operations. The average weekly number in 2011 was 64 adoptions.

Getting the shelter to a 90% save rate won’t be easy. The shelter is 40+ years old and is outdated, designed for an era when catch and kill was the mantra. Also, it is in a terrible location with little or no drive-by traffic. Kansas City is like many older urban cities with a fairly high poverty rate (17%), and we’re surrounded by breed bans that make adopting out certain breeds of dogs difficult. However, there is little doubt that our team of smart, hardworking, and compassionate people can and will be successful. These are some of our keys to success:

  • Relying on our dedicated team of volunteers to work with animals, do fundraising events, and create marketing materials
  • Creating offsite adoption programs to give opportunities for our adoptables to find homes in places other than our poorly located shelter
  • Working with the media to continue to get the word out about our life-saving efforts
  • Eliminating blanket adoption requirements that minimize our pool of adopters
  • Using smart intake and cleaning protocols to help solve disease issues that have historically plagued the shelter
  • Providing kennel enrichment programs that will help curb behavioral problems that often develop in a shelter environment so adoptable animals remain adoptable
  • Working with other shelters and rescues to help us lower the shelter population
  • Continuing to work with the city to create effective policies that minimize intake numbers and help us improve return to owners

Sometimes a municipal shelter can be improved by simply changing leadership. However, if your city shelter proves to be unable or unwilling to manage its own shelter, then private leadership may be required. In order to create this opportunity, make friends with your local politicians and other area shelter and rescue people. And when an opportunity becomes available, do not necessarily wait for other large organizations in your area. You may very well be the best one to step up to the challenge.

For more information or to contact:

KC Pet Project
Kansas City Animal Shelter
4400 Raytown Rd
Kansas City, MO 64129
Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
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