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Crucial Council Vote to Determine Future of Independence Animal Shelter

For just a little while yesterday, I almost felt like I lived in a progressive city when it comes to animal sheltering. That’s because I spent the afternoon touring Great Plains SPCA‘s great new facility in Merriam, Kansas during their grand opening.

Chillin' Feline Style at Great Plains SPCA

Chillin’ Feline Style at Great Plains SPCA

Great Plains’ new shelter is the antithesis of sad and depressing animal housing. There are cheerful yellow dog runs with beds above the floor and Plexiglas kennel doors to prevent spread of disease. Natural light pours through a wall-size window in the “sun room” as kitties lounge on assorted cat trees. Everything is colorful, new and clean. Smiling volunteers are everywhere, eager to help throngs of people petting puppies and tossing toys to tail-wagging dogs. Cats intently gaze at television screens of chirping birds. This is how animal sheltering should be done.

Unfortunately, the idea of a comfortable — even comforting – place for homeless animals to bide their time until adoption hasn’t yet made its way into most city-run shelters in the Kansas City area. In fact, the attitude of city officials around here has long been to provide bare-minimum space to house homeless cats and dogs until those animals are euthanized, adopted or claimed by owners.

Last year, the Kansas City Missouri City Council rejected Great Plains’ (then known as Heartland SPCA) bid to operate its city shelter and instead chose Kansas City Pet Project, mainly due to that organization’s much lower bid. Kansas City, Missouri’s animal shelter has long been an embarrassment, with cramped, rusty cages and an ancient HVAC system that croaks out a steady stream of disease into the kennel area. Kansas City Missouri didn’t want to spend money to house animals in a humane and modern fashion or pay for an experienced, proven organization like Great Plains (Heartland) to turn its shelter around.

So Kansas City council members selected KC Pet Project, the low-bid organization, which has since had more than its share of problems in its first year. The group operated for half a year without an executive director after its initial director resigned after only five months. Though KCPP claims it has achieved no-kill status, its reputation is still tainted by rescue community concerns over irresponsible adoption policies, high staff turnover and a president and vice president who work full-time jobs somewhere else.

Let’s hope that Independence, Missouri council members make a better choice for homeless pets.

Independence now has the opportunity to partner with Great Plains SPCA to operate Jackson County Missouri’s new 28,000 square-foot Regional Animal Shelter built earlier this year. Jackson County recently contracted with Great Plains SPCA to operate the facility as a no-kill shelter beginning on January 1, 2013.

On Monday, December 17, the Independence city council will vote on whether to house homeless animals in Independence’s existing city shelter (a 7,100-square-foot facility built in 1978) or contract with Jackson County to use Great Plains as a third-party vendor and move Independence’s animal shelter to the new, state-of-the-art, no-kill facility. The new building has remained empty since completion this summer while Jackson County searched for a non-profit group to operate the shelter.

Not everyone on the Independence council is excited about enlisting Great Plains to run the Independence shelter. Some council members insist that the city already does a great job of running the old facility and  that Independence should form its own non-profit to run the shelter.

The Independence city council needs to see that citizens are watching their decision with great interest and will hold them accountable. That’s why it’s important that there be a large public presence at Monday’s meeting. Nothing convinces city officials more than a huge crowd that cares enough about an issue to drag themselves to a city meeting on a Monday night.

Great Plains CEO Courtney Thomas has done an outstanding job of bringing compassionate and responsible animal sheltering to the Kansas City area. If the Independence council votes yes on Monday to contract with Great Plains, this proven organization will bring no-kill practices to a once high-kill shelter and offer the public an inviting place to visit and adopt animals. (Note: Independence currently claims to be a no-kill shelter).

Dog Waiting for a New Home at Great Plains New Facility

Dog Waiting for a New Home at Great Plains New Facility

The opportunity to partner with Great Plains offers Independence the opportunity to bring animal sheltering in the Kansas City area into the 21st century. Let’s hope that the Independence city council is forward-thinking enough to realize that contracting with Great Plains to run its city shelter is a move that will gain citizens’ respect and better the entire community.

*** The final vote on this issue is this Monday, December 17 at 6 p.m. at Independence
City Hall, 111 Maple Ave, Independence, Missouri 64050. (816-325-7000)

Enter through the doors marked “Municipal Court.”

Photo Credit: Great Plains SPCA