Officially, the city of Independence's contract with Jackson County to run the Regional Animal Shelter on Missouri 78 began Monday.
However, Great Plains SPCA, which had operated the shelter for the county since it opened in 2013, will be staying on July 15 to help with the transition. At that point, the Missouri Department of Agriculture will shift its operating license from Great Plains to the city.
“We've talked about shadowing and training without interfering,” said Christina Heinen, the city's special projects manager who will serve as interim director of the animal services department.
Great Plains pulled out of its agreement the county early this year. While several employees will transfer to the group's campus is Merriam, Kansas, the city has hired a few Great Plains staff members to continue at the shelter. They will be joined by some city employees transferring from other departments, as well as new hires and an admirable group of volunteers.
When the staff has all been hired, Heinen said, it will consist of 25 paid positions covering the equivalent of 17 full-time positions.
“We've been working at this for months, making sure orders are in, that every single detail has been looked at,” Heinen said. Great Plains will leave behind some supplies, and Heinen noted that many items in the building are owned by the county.
Under a two-year agreement, the county will buy the shelter's seven acres from Independence for $240,000, then lease the facility back to the city for $1. The county will also pay the city $100,000 a year for two years to ease the transition. Before, the city paid the county – $546,522 last year, slated to be $557,450 this year – to go toward shelter operations.
Also to help ease the transition, Great Plains has worked to reduce the number of animals the city will inherit, holding a special adoption drive through July 14. At most, Heinen said, 30 animals will be on hand in mid-July.
At ideal capacity, the shelter can handle 125 cats and dogs each.
“They're doing their best to keep the numbers down,” Heinen said. “They're transferring quite a few over, but some have to be held, because they're evidence (in ongoing cases) or recent strays.”
“They had a lot of good connections (for supplies), we'll do our best to continue them.”
The city's pit bull ban has not changed, and while a fair number of animals at the shelter have been, and likely will continue to be, pit bulls and pit mixes, Heinen said the city is committed to continue operating a “no-kill” shelter. That will involve working with nearby animal agencies and spreading the word for adoption around Eastern Jackson County beyond Independence.
“We're going to do everything in our power to find homes for every adoptable animal,” Heinen said. “We know the longer an animal stays in the shelter, more behavior issues it can have.”
Since the city determined it would be taking over the Regional Animal Shelter, which had essentially replaced the previous city-run shelter, Heinen has been contacted by a couple dozen volunteers – some longtime dedicated ones and others who had volunteered before with the city shelter but not recently.
There are two upcoming meetings for continuing or prospective volunteers, both at City Hall, 111 E. Maple Ave.: 10 a.m. Saturday and 5:30 p.m. July 10. Both will be in Conference Room D, on the bottom floor across the hall from Municipal Court.