Regina McClellen, right, interacts with a donor at a recent dog adoption event for Regina's Rescue. McClellen announced last week that the shelter will no longer take in dogs. (Submitted photo)
By Roger Sims, email@example.com
PARKER – A dog rescue facility in rural Parker will no longer accept dogs and owners will work over the next 60 to 90 days to find homes for about 30 dogs that it can no longer keep.
Regina McClellen said in an interview on Saturday that she and her husband Mike are being forced to close down the operation of Regina’s Rescue. She said the decision came after recent struggles with adjacent landowners, threats against her, a constant stream of complaints to the state inspectors, and health issues.
In an email to Darin Wilson, Linn County Planning and Zoning Department director, McClellen said she was withdrawing her application for a conditional use permit (CUP) to run rescue operations there. The Linn County Journal received a copy of the email on Jan. 23.
“The process has opened our eyes to a long and lengthy battle that should have never been,” McClellen wrote. “Because of my application for a CUP, we & our animals have had death threats & personal attacks against us.
“We want to Thank the board of the Planning & Zoning commission (that works free for the public) for all the time they put in to making the first recommendation to the county commissioners. We were overjoyed, but we see that some Linn County Commissioners can't make a decision & they are too close to the situation due to their personal friendships with people that live close to the rescue.”
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 operated under a kennel license with the Kansas Department of Agriculture.
Mike and Regina McClellen with one of their personal dogs. The McClellens plan to keep 18 dogs that they consider "special needs" animals that won't be suitable for adoption. (Journal file photo)
That permit officially expired at the end of September, however, the state was in the process of trying to determine whether the rescue should be closed down.
As part of the CUP process, the county zoning department sent out notices to nearby property owners of a hearing on Feb. 14, 2023. At that hearing, several proponents of the shelter testified as well as several property owners who spoke against granting the permit.
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 said that every time the state inspector came out, it cost $200.
“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “We don’t want to stop. We love doing what we’re doing, but we can’t keep going another year like this.”
“They don’t want us here,” she said. “They’ve made that very clear. The threats to me and my husband are continual. They tell us they’re going to shoot us, they’re going to shoot the dogs. You know, it’s got to stop.”
She said she has talked to Linn County Sheriff Kevin Friend about the threats.
McClellen said that she plans to keep 18 dogs already in her care that she deems “special needs” dogs that wouldn’t be suitable for adoption. She is changing the name of the operation to Safe Haven and plans to apply for a kennel permit with the state that allows her to keep up to 19 dogs.
Currently housing and feeding 51 dogs on their property, the McClellens will be working to hold adoption events to find homes to reduce their population. She said that a grant will pay for adoption fees.
The rescue regularly holds adoption events at Plum Creek gift shop and Family Center in Paola. People wishing to adopt a dog or help with donations can contact the rescue via its Facebook page, its website (reginasrescues.com) or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Last year, the McClellens went to the county office to apply for a permit to build a barn that would be a kennel facility. As part of that process, they were asked to apply for a conditional use permit for the business; at that time the rescue was operating without the necessary county permit.
At that time, she charged that an adjoining land owner was regularly filing complaints about the rescue with the state. And each time a complaint was filed, the state was obligated to conduct an inspection.
In addition to what she said was harassment via the state department of agriculture, McClellen said she was subjected to threats by people she didn’t know. In addition to being cornered on the porch of her home by a young man who was scared off when one of her friends opened the front door, she said she was accosted by strangers on her property.
McClellen charged that most of the threats were generated by a non-resident neighbor that owns property to the west of the shelter.
It got to the point that both she and Mike began carrying a firearm when they were at home.
“We don’t trust anybody anymore,” she said.
That stress led to McClellen being hospitalized for four days for an apparent heart attack. She said her doctor advised that she find a away to shed the stress the couple was under.
She said that was the same advice that state kennel inspector Ben Lancaster gave her upon learning she planned to scale back her operation on Tuesday, Jan. 23, when he came for yet another inspection on an anonymous complaint. Lancaster has become a regular visitor to the rescue facility because of the constant complaints filed anonymously.
“He said, ‘For your health, you’re probably doing the right thing,” McClellen said.
“I understand for my health, but what about these babies out here,” she said. “Who’s going to take care of them.”
McClellen said that Lancaster indicated he was surprised at the threats that the McClellens faced and indicated that his office would work with them as they tried to reduce the kennel’s population.
She said because it was winter and dog food had become more expensive, it would be harder to adopt them out even though the fees were paid. But she was determined that it would have to be done without any of them being euthanized.
“I’ll be danged if anybody’s going to put my dogs to sleep,” she said.
“It's killing me to know that the service of an animal shelter & rescue is needed but without the support from our county it will never happen,” McClellen wrote in her email to Wilson. “It angers & saddens me that the lives of animals will never be on the list of needs to be addressed by Linn County, KS.”