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  • Writer's pictureRoger Sims, Journal Staff

Animal shelter struggles to survive in the face of complaints

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

Mike and Regina McClellen, here with their dog Jack, are facing challenges in keeping their no-kill dog sanctuary from closing. (Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)

By Roger Sims, Journal staff

PARKER – Early this year, Regina McClellen of rural Parker voluntarily applied for a conditional-use permit to operate a kennel at a property she and her husband Mike own on 2200 Road east of County Road 1077.

The McClellens had been operating Regina’s Rescue, a no-kill animal shelter on 18 acres there, for about eight years without a conditional-use permit. The shelter operates under a kennel license with the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

As part of the process, the Linn County Planning and Zoning Department sent out notices to nearby property owners of a hearing on Feb. 14. At that hearing, several property owners spoke against granting the permit. However, there were many people there who supported the shelter, including volunteer Wesley Moore.

Lester Town, who owns property to the south of the McClellens, was one of the people who spoke against it, citing the noise. However, Town told the planning board that he did not live in the house there but rented it out.

The planning board tabled the application at that point to get more information, including a site plan, a waste disposal plan, and an assessment by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

According to McClellen, it was after that meeting that the state began receiving “anonymous” complaints against the shelter. She said that, according to agriculture department regulations, a person can lodge an anonymous complaint every two weeks.

She added that each one of those complaints, most of which have been baseless according to McClellen, have triggered additional inspections.

McClellen said an inspector from the state agriculture department usually visits the compound about every 18 months or so for routine inspections. Every time the shelter has passed inspections, she said.

One of the complaints was that the shelter was housing sick animals. McClellan said that the shelter is served by the Linn County Veterinary Clinic in Centerville for most treatments and Wildcat Veterinary Clinic in Louisburg for animals with orthopedic problems.

The shelter has been treating four dogs for heartworm disease using a new treatment recommended by the Linn County vet, a new, safer treatment that costs $1,800 per dog over several months, said Mike McClellen.

The one item the inspector found that did not meet state standards: a section of rusty rebar used in the construction of a pen, Regina McClellen said.

It was to the point that McClellen’s attorney, Mark Edwards from Junction City, Kan., sent a letter on May 31 to the state department of agriculture asking that the inspector responding to the complaints stop harassing the sanctuary.

Calling the anonymous tips about noise and sick animals “baseless” in the letter, Edwards said he had learned that adjoining property owners Tom Kemper and Eric Schmitt were making the complaints and further asked that the department quit harassing his client.

A second hearing on the conditional-use application was held on July 11, and once again opponents and proponents of the shelter were allowed to speak.

Gary Coady of L&M Farmland LLC, an Overland Park resident who owns a strip of land along County Road 1077, appeared before the commission to complain about noise from the shelter. He also pointed out that depending on donations of food for the dogs was not a reliable source of nutrition for the animals at the shelter.

During that meeting, Zoning Administrator Darin Wilson told the planning board that in a conversation with inspector Ben Lancaster that the state had begun proceedings to pull the shelter’s kennel license. However, because the county had not received official notice, he recommended the commission table the application request.

As of Friday, July 21, the official report has not been received, Wilson said.

The sanctuary’s kennel license expires at the end of September.

Noise is the problem

In an interview on Tuesday, July 18, Kemper denied filing any complaints against the sanctuary. “At least not yet,” he added pointedly.

Kemper, who lives a little more than a quarter mile east of the sanctuary and owns land to the north of it as well, said that he was unaware of the letter until after the July 11 planning commission meeting, during which he was asked about filing a complaint with the state. He said that after that meeting he obtained a copy of the letter from zoning administrator Darin Wilson.

Kemper said he believes that the letter was meant to influence the planning commission in McClellen’s favor.

“You can do a lot to me, but don’t defame my character,” Kemper said.

Kemper said his main complaint about the shelter is the noise, although others have expressed concerns about the shelter’s effect on property values.

He said that although several of the neighbors, especially those within a mile of the sanctuary, have complained to him about the noise. However, no one he has talked to wants to shut the sanctuary down.

Kemper said that a post on the Regina’s Rescues Facebook page on Jan. 12 indicated that the shelter had an influx of dogs that pushed its population up to 95 animals.

Volunteers a large part of shelter’s success

On Friday morning, July 14, the sanctuary was busy. Volunteers were helping with feeding and watering chores. Another volunteer was working to maintain fencing for the pens. Yet another was caring for the cats that the shelter also rescues. The owner of the company hired to keep the dog pens clean was busy going from pen to pen.

“We could’t do it without volunteers,” McClellen confided as she glanced around at the activity going on in the compound.

As another vehicle drove in, the sanctuary’s “alarm” system went off with many of the 50 or so dogs – the capacity of the shelter according to McClellen – barking. Soon after the driver got out of the vehicle, the barking subsided.

The sanctuary, which McClellan and her husband, Mike, began eight years ago, has a number of individual fenced pens with shelters for the dogs. That includes some dogs under fabric-covered quonset shelters with evaporative coolers keeping the animals comfortable during the summer heat.

Other pens rely on shade trees to keep the dogs cool on sweltering days.

The 40-foot-by-60-foot building that McClellen wants to build would consolidate some of the pens already in place and would give the dogs access to both inside and outside runs for exercise.

More than one person mentioned problems with the facility keeping an adequate supply of dog food.The sanctuary’s Facebook page occasionally does post when its supply of dog food runs low. But its supporters of the quickly replenish its supply and a photo of stacks of dog food are then posted.

Wilson said he has visited the area a couple of times to listen to the noise, and each time the noise was faint from where he was parked on the road. The dogs did bark when a vehicle pulled into their compound, but the barking quickly subsided.

During the July 14 interview, McClellen said that Schmitt and Kemper also planned to start a pay-to-hunt venture on the property that surrounds her 18 acres. She said she was worried about the danger posed by a venture like that.

But Kemper said that while he does let some young people hunt on the property he owns, there were no plans to start a pay-to-hunt operation.

Shelter an important community service

Kemper said he thought the main solution to reducing the noise was to reduce the number of dogs. “There’s a lot of difference between 15 to 20 dogs and the number of dogs there now,” he said. “You can’t save them all.”

McClellen said that she recently changed the name from Regina’s Rescue to Regina’s Sanctuary because she is housing dogs that have been so mistreated that they will never be suitable to place in adoptive homes. Nonetheless, she and volunteers spend considerable time setting up adoption events wherever they can to find “forever” homes for the dogs that are adoptable.

Often those events include free vaccinations (except rabies), worming medication, pet food for cats and dogs, and implanting identification chips in dogs

The shelter is used by both the sheriff’s departments of both Linn and Miami counties as well as police departments from area cities including Linn Valley, La Cygne, Parker and Paola.

Regina’s Sanctuary, along with the Always and Furever, a no-kill shelter in the Spring Hill area, stepped in to take dogs when Olive’s Hope, a no-kill shelter in Pleasanton, was forced to close.

Scott Poore, a well-known no-kill activist who started Mission Driven Goods, has visited the sanctuary. McClellen said Moore deemed her operation to be a model example of an animal rescue operation in a rural area. His company works to support rural shelters.

Regina’s Sanctuary has used its adoption events to build a following of supporters, donors and volunteers. It has also used social media effectively, whether to solicit donations, post humorous dog and cat memes or pass along health tips for pets.

The sanctuary’s Facebook page has about 11,000 followers, including many people from Linn and Miami counties. Social media is also used as a tool to highlight dogs that are up for adoption.

With the recent number of complaints and state inspections, the sanctuary is also using a crowd-funding source to create a legal defense fund.

McClellan said she worries what will happen if those complaints are successful in shutting down the sanctuary.

“There’s no place for these dogs to go,” she said.

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