• Not an end, but a transition

  • Nearly 40 years ago, the brand-new building stood as a testament to an Independence City Council member and veterinarian who’d fought hard for such a facility.

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  • Nearly 40 years ago, the brand-new building stood as a testament to an Independence City Council member and veterinarian who’d fought hard for such a facility.
    Just as the Dr. Eugene Theiss Memorial Animal Shelter replaced an antiquated building in 1977, a new shelter will soon take its place.
    But this time, the circumstances are different for another reason.
    Independence is writing the conclusion of its story on operating an animal shelter, as the nonprofit organization Great Plains SPCA takes over operations at the new regional shelter.
    The Independence Animal Shelter at 875 S. Vista Ave. will remain open through April 6. The transfer of animals to the new facility will begin on April 8, with Great Plains SPCA celebrating the grand opening on April 13.
    “I think, for the public, it will be a very smooth transition,” Independence Health Department Director Larry Jones said. “... We’re going to have a great facility available to the public here.”
    Independence is laying off seven part-time employees because of the transition. Those people worked as kennel officers, office clerks and Animal Control officers.
    That number started at 10, but one employee resigned and the other two have already started new employment within other city departments.
    “I expect that by the time this is over with, another two or three will have either found jobs with Great Plains or with the city – at least that’s our hope,” Jones said.
    Animal Field Services – or, what most of the public refers to as Animal Control – will continue its city-run operations. The difference, Jones said, is that picked-up animals will go to the new regional shelter instead of the Vista site.
    Also, Animal Field Services will move to the Independence Health Department at 515 S. Liberty St. The incinerator will remain at the Vista Avenue location, and the Independence Police Department plans to move its K9 unit into the former animal shelter.
    Jones recently reorganized the structure of the Health Department, moving Mike Jackson from the title of animal services administrator to assistant health director, overseeing disease prevention and control.
    Although she won’t work among shelter animals daily any longer, Jennifer Polston will remain the manager of Animal Field Services.
    “We absolutely love our jobs here at the shelter, and this is a difficult transition,” Polston wrote in an email this week, “but also a happy one since the animals will now be housed in a beautiful, new facility.”
    When she started at the Independence Animal Shelter more than seven years ago, Polston preferred the company of dogs over cats – but that changed, she said, when she saw the sheer number of cats housed at the shelter.
    “There are so few options for cats in shelters because there are just so many of them,” she said.
    Page 2 of 3 - Polston wants to share an important message she learned through her years at the shelter: Spay and neuter your pets. She also stresses the importance of being able to financially care for an animal before taking one on as a pet.
    “Pets are awesome – they’re always there for us,” Polston said. “They absolutely deserve to be loved and protected. That becomes our job when we decide to get a pet.”
    Even though she won’t work in a facility among animals any longer, Polston said her advocacy continues.
    “This is a huge transition for us,” she said, “but is, by no means, an ending.”
    While the current animal shelter’s list of volunteers is near 100, about 10 people are regularly at the shelter. Those volunteers, Jones said, are concerned about the welfare of the animals. (The Examiner attempted to interview at least one volunteer who contributes more than 40 hours a week at the current shelter, but the volunteer declined an interview request.)
    “I think a lot of them are looking forward to the change because it means larger runs, more space and hopefully, with a new facility, even more volunteers,” Jones said.
    Space is an issue at Vista Avenue, Jones said. The new shelter, four times the size of the existing shelter, is designed to be cleaned and taken care of more easily, Jones said. It will include more outdoor exercise space, as well as indoor exercise space for days of bad weather.
    “The staff has done a fantastic job of working with what they had,” Jones said, “but it’s always nice to be able to have a better facility to work in.”
    With a larger nonprofit organization taking on the shelter’s operations, Jones said he is hopeful even more volunteers will sign up to help.
    “No place can hire enough staff to really keep an animal shelter going,” he said. “You can hire people to do everything that has to be done, but the more volunteers you have, the more playtime there is with animals, the more socialization there is with animals. The more of that you have, the more likely an animal is adoptable.”
    Jackson said he’ll miss working alongside animal shelter volunteers and the part-time staff members who are losing their Animal Services jobs.
    “And, it’s always fun to go into a place that has dogs and puppies and kittens,” Jackson said. “You can get up and walk around, and if you have something stressful going on, you can go back and play with a dog for a little bit and kind of lose that stress.
    “It’s a good group of people we have out there, both volunteers and staff, so any of them that are fortunate enough to get on at Great Plains, they’re going to be well-suited.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Speaking for animal shelter staff, Jones said he believes they’ll miss seeing rescue and adoption stories through until the end. Those success stories, Jackson added, kept staff members going when times got tough.
    “Now, they won’t be at the shelter,” Jones said. “They won’t see that portion of gratification.”
    The politics of the decision on who would ultimately operate the new regional shelter are finished and are in the past, Jones said. Now, Jackson said, he wants to see the community rally behind the new shelter and make it as good as the former Independence Animal Shelter.
    “The operator is very knowledgeable, and they know how to do this,” Jackson said, “so let’s support them as much as we can. We certainly will be.”

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