During his time as a volunteer walking dogs at the Regional Animal Shelter in Independence, Russell Clothier noted that some dogs were there much longer than others – for several months – and it didn't have to do with breed.
“I would see young dogs get adopted out, but the old dogs would get passed over,” he said.
For those dogs that might never be adopted, it's not a fun way to live out their days, Clothier said. At the same time, he and his wife had recently become empty-nesters and looked into downsizing a bit.
They decided to start a senior dog sanctuary – a non-profit agency to take in some aging canines that showed little chance of being adopted. They also adopted Shep, a beagle/basset hound mix who's quiet, content and still has a little pep in his step, to complement a handful of other dogs.
A pair of neighboring houses on Truman Road just east of Missouri 291 with several mostly wooded acres behind proved to be the perfect answer. They had been grandfathered into industrial zoning, so Clothier didn't have to jump through a big rezoning hoop to use the one vacant house for dogs. He and other volunteers aim to have Shep's Place, at 17012 E. Truman Road, open later this spring. They have a GoFundMe page set up to aid a capital campaign.
“We bought both (properties) for this expressed purpose,” Clothier said. “When you back in there (the wooded area), it feels like you're in the country.”
Clothier and other volunteers have spent several months fixing up the vacant house. They installed kennels inside a couple converted rooms, made some of floors water resistant and fenced in the adjacent yard for the dogs to walk around and play.
“There will be some furniture, but mostly dog beds,” he said.
Clothier says he brings along Shep when trying to drum up support for his nonprofit.
“We try to bring Shep along as our spokesdog,” he said. “He symbolized the type of dogs we want.”
“He's wonderful; he changed our lives.”
Clothier said Shep's Place will not take dogs from the public – only from animal shelters or rescue places. They'll start taking up to eight, though legally they can take 21, and generally they'll be about 10 years old – perhaps a bit younger for bigger breeds with shorter lifespans. Outside of sleeping in the kennels at night, dogs generally will be allowed to roam the house and fenced areas all day.
If need be in the future, they could expand the fenced area into the woods.
Clothier is a high school physics teacher, but plans to go to part-time next year, giving him ample time to manage the dog sanctuary.
Shep's Place is open to adopting out a dog – an application and home visit will be required, to make sure a home is acceptable – but Clothier said adoption won't be the primary focus.
“They only have so much time left; we want them to have good quality of life,” he said. “It's kind of a retirement place for dogs.”