KC Pet Project Builds Lifesaving Community

KC Pet Project starts from scratch to build a lifesaving community

Kansas City Pet Project

In 2011, the City of Kansas City in Kansas City, Missouri, decided to privatize the operation of their animal control shelter. That’s when Brent Toellner and Michelle Davis, two longtime animal advocates, thought things were looking up. Finally, they thought, one of the well-established humane societies would bid on the contract and save the animals at the shelter.

Then no one bid on the contract.

Brent and Michelle, both with full-time jobs of their own, knew they had to do something. So they formed a new nonprofit, the Kansas City Pet Project, gathered a small team of leaders and developed a comprehensive business plan to bid on the city contract. This was no small task, given the existing dilapidated animal facility built in the 1970s, the 65% euthanasia rate for the nearly 8,000 pets that had been entering the facility annually, and a very limited contract of $1.1 million to operate. By comparison, other organizations with the same number of animals had $4 to $5 million dollar operating budgets.

They won the bid. Two months later, city officials handed them the keys and they were on their own.

"We had little staff, no volunteers and no existing programs. We started this organization from the ground up."

Building a Lifesaving Community

KCPP didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. They looked to the few others in the country that had built lifesaving communities, where 90% or more of the shelter animals were saved.

“There’s nothing that we’re doing here that hasn’t been done somewhere before,” says Toellner.

Their biggest challenge, however, was working in the 45-year-old facility that was four times too small for the nearly 10,000 animals they started to receive annually. As Toellner explains, it is about the math, if 27 animals come in a day, you have to figure out how 27 animals go out alive every day.

Before KCPP, feral cats, neonatal kittens and parvovirus puppies rarely made it out of the city facility alive. The staff focused on solutions, not excuses. They launched a barn cat program to find homes for feral cats, recruited foster families to nurse neonatal kittens, and turned an old locker room in the facility into a quarantine ward for parvo puppies.

To expand their adoption space, they opened a 2,000 sq.-ft. permanent off-site adoption center in 2012 in the upscale Zona Rosa shopping center. Two years later, they doubled the adoption space. More than 6,300 pets have found homes from this location since opening.

In 2013, Petco offered KCPP a new 2,000 sq.-ft. satellite adoption center inside a Petco store. In 2015, they also began utilizing permanent cat habitats in five area Petco stores. More than 50% of all adoptions now occur in these six Petco Adoption Centers and the Zona Rosa Adoption Center.

Creating a lifesaving partnership

The Petco Foundation noticed KCPPs tremendous commitment early on, honoring KCPP as the first recipient of the newly created Paul Jolly Compassion Award. The Petco Foundation also invested more than $400,000 in support of KCPP’s lifesaving work, enabling them to add a veterinary clinic to the main campus to provide spay and neuter services and additional veterinary care for their animals.

“KCPP, and their team, are truly inspirational,” says Susanne Kogut, Executive Director of the Petco Foundation. “We should all ask ourselves what would we do, if faced with the same situation. Would we be so bold as to create a new organization from scratch and take on the operation of a shelter that all existing organizations viewed as unsalvageable? It is then you realize how courageous, compassionate and incredible KCPP and their entire team are and how devoted they are to saving lives.”

KCPP continues to save 90% or more of the animals, and they have done this every single year since taking over in 2012. Today, KCPP takes in more than 10,000 animals annually. Their current 2016 lifesaving rate is 94%.

“We’re committed to being a lifesaving organization in Kansas City,” says Johnson. “The Petco Foundation has been an incredible lifesaving partner helping us realize that goal.”