A temporary sanctuary: Shep’s Place finds homes for older dogs

Mike Genet
Suzie, front, and Lady, a Terrier mix, became quick friends at Shep's Place senior dog sanctuary in eastern Independence. Suzie, a Pointer mix, was adopted less than a week after arriving at the house. Shep's Place, which has been in operation for 15 months, has adopted out two-thirds of the dogs it took in and is raising money for an artificial surface in an outdoor play area.

As Russell Clothier and fellow volunteers prepared in early 2019 to open Shep’s Place, the longtime high school science teacher said he wanted the senior dog sanctuary to mainly be a comfortable place for some older, unadopted canines to live out their years.

If they happened to be adopted, that would be a bonus.

Shep’s Place has been open for 15 months off Truman Road in east Independence, and that bonus has instead been more the norm. The non-profit dog sanctuary has taken in about 30 dogs since it opened and this week adopted out its 21st dog. Suzie, a 12-year-old pointer mix who lived with a woman who had to move to a nursing home, stayed less than a week before she was adopted.

“It has really taken off,” Clothier said of adoptions. “I didn’t expect there would be this turnover.

“Even with this lockdown, we’ve actually seen an increase in dog adoptions. We’re very gratified that there’s so many that like the older dogs.”

Shep’s Place is named for the 11-year-old beagle Clothier and his wife adopted last year, complementing a handful of other dogs in their house. He doesn’t spend much time at the dog sanctuary house next door, as it would be difficult to get acclimated to what can be a revolving door of canines.

Clothier said the longest a dog has stayed was about a year, most stay a few months and right now there’s five in sanctuary care (one of which is in a foster home). Ten is the most they’ve had on hand, but six or seven is ideally the most. Just three dogs ultimately passed away after spending their last weeks at Shep’s Place. Before the pandemic hit in March, volunteers were on hand nearly every day 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; that’s been temporarily cut back.

The Shep’s Place house is outfitted with kennels in a couple converted rooms, a dog shower in another room and dog beds around the house with blanket-covered couches. A couple play areas outside are fenced in. Thanks to donations, Clothier and volunteers have had to spend almost nothing on beds, blankets and food.

They’re building up for their largest expense so far – more than 3,000 square feet of artificial grass surface for the largest play area where subpar soil and last year’s wet spring kept grass from growing. That led to muddy messes from dogs and volunteers alike.

“Last spring it just rained and rained and rained. For the volunteers, it was hard to take the dogs out,” Clothier said. “In the winter, it’s just brown and muddy and crunchy.”

With a gravel base underneath the artificial grass, a new surface would absorb the rain (and dog urine) and cut down on cleanup. Shep’s Place hopes to raise $15,000 for the project, and they’re about one-third of the way there.

“It should be nice for them all year long,” Clothier said.

Shep’s Place does not accept dogs straight from the public; only from shelters and rescue places. Generally dogs are at least 10 years old, though perhaps a bit younger for the larger breeds with shorter lifespans. To help ensure the dogs will get along, Clothier said they meet dogs before bringing them in, and thus limit intakes to within 100 miles.

“We try to get them acclimated with each other, because they have to live here with the other dogs,” he said.

To adopt out, the sanctuary requires a home visit and reference check, as well as a fee – meant as much to show a new owner is serious as to help with costs. Shep’s Place stays active on social media, keeping the name known among the metro area animal community and helping to raise funds.

Clothier acknowledges the term “dog sanctuary” implies that the dogs stay there, but ultimately their goal is to provide a comfortable final home, whether that be on site or in another person’s home.

“Yes, we’re a dog sanctuary, but that’s to give them a better place than they had been,” he said. “I would rather they be with a family when the time comes.”