Six months to no-kill: Kansas City Pet Project shows us how

This is the second in a series of posts leading up to the conference that tie together the issues and challenges that we face as a movement and the valuable information and know-how to be shared in Jacksonville on October 10-13.

Yes, it’s true. Only six months after taking over the animal shelter contract for Kansas City, Missouri, on January 1, 2012, Kansas City Pet Project had already achieved a 90% live release rate for that city. They have continued to meet or exceed that number ever since, completing their first full year of no-kill on July 1, 2013.

This is a really impressive accomplishment, but the back-story is equally, if not more impressive and revolves around the advocacy and programmatic work of husband and wife team Brent Toellner and Michelle Davis. They pulled together a brand-new organization, created a shelter operations plan, identified an executive director and submitted a formal bid to take over animal control in a matter of three weeks.

You heard it, three weeks.

Brent was already known in animal welfare circles for well-reasoned commentary and advocacy through his KC Dog Blog, but his and Michelle’s community work began in earnest in 2005. Together, they cofounded Kansas City Dog Advocates, a group dedicated to common-sense measures to improve the lives of dogs and their people in the Kansas City area. They identified target issues, including breed-discriminatory legislation, mandatory spay/neuter regulations and restrictive pet limit laws, that have been shown to have a negative impact on shelter populations.

In 2008, Kansas City Dog Advocates began a campaign urging the city to privatize animal shelter operations, which at the time had a rather dismal record and a live release rate of only 31% of all animals entering the shelter. The campaign was successful, and the city put the animal control contract out for bids.

In 2009, a private veterinarian won the contract and made some progress, raising the live release rate to 61% by 2011. However, in March of 2011, the city terminated that contract amid some controversy related to, among other things, the deaths of unattended sick animals and record-keeping irregularities. They soon put the contract out to bid for a second time, but received no bids within the time frame of the RFP (Request for Proposal).

With lives on the line, and a three-week extension for the RFP from the city, Brent and his team immediately set to work to (1) create Kansas City Pet Project from scratch, (2) line up an executive director, and (3) submit a successful bid to land a $1.2 million animal control contract with the city. Again, they accomplished all of that in three short weeks.

Kansas City Pet Project was awarded the contract in late November 2011 and took over management of the city animal shelter and all associated operations on January 1, 2012. Brent and Michelle acted as president and vice president of the board of Kansas City Pet Project but maintained their own full-time occupations outside of animal welfare. They set the course of the new operation and hired an entirely new staff who shared their vision and commitment to no-kill.

The fledging organization inherited an antiquated shelter designed and built in 1972 in the fashion of a catch-and-kill shelter of that era: cramped and uninviting to the public, with adoption and customer service not a consideration.

To change the face of the operation and the public expectations of an agency that had been in the news for all the wrong reasons, Kansas City Pet Project set about presenting the animals in their shelter in the most positive light possible. They procured the donated services of professional photographers to feature the animals, started an energized social media campaign and, in November 2012, opened a satellite adoption center in the high-end Zona Rosa mixed-use development. As of this week, the Zona Rosa adoption center placed its 1,000th pet into a new adoptive home.

How did Kansas City Pet Project accomplish so much in such a short period of time? You can find out from Brent himself at the 2013 No More Homeless Pets National Conference. Brent will talk about the remarkable achievements of Kansas City Pet Project from concept through execution. I hope you will join us in Jacksonville to learn from Brent and the other no-kill leaders who will be sharing breakthrough insights and hard-won wisdom.

Congrats, Brent and Michelle, on your amazing accomplishments for the animals and the no-kill movement!

For more information and registration details, visit the 2013 No More Homeless Pets National Conference site.

Julie Castle with Sunny the dog
Julie Castle
Best Friends Animal Society