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When storms hit Kansas City, animal shelters rush to keep pets calm

Dogs look out of clear kennel doors in a yellow shelter hallway
Courtesy Tori Fugate
Kansas City Pet Project
During storms, animal shelter staff and volunteers must take extra precautions to keep the animals stress-free. The bad weather also brings in more animals, which strains shelter resources.

Spring’s severe weather can stress out animals, especially the hundreds living in Kansas City shelters. The storms can also decrease adoption rates. Workers and volunteers constantly watch the weather to know when to provide de-stressing activities and encourage adoptions.

Thousands of dogs across the Kansas City metro whine, pace and shake when thunder crashes outside during spring storms. In animal shelters, employees and volunteers work overtime to keep them calm.

The Humane Society of Kansas City works to get especially stressed animals into foster homes for individualized care. Inside the shelter, they dim lights and line kennels with extra blankets.

“When there's storms there, we hunker everybody down and wait it out,” said president Sydney Mollentine.

Wayside Waifs, The Humane Society and Kansas City Pet Project all give their dogs extra time on walks, enrichment toys, treats, and spend time with them inside their kennels. They also play music during bad weather and administer medicine if necessary.

“These animals don't get to lay on the couch and be right next to somebody 24/7, especially during storms like this, when they can be stressed,” said Carey Waugh, communications manager for Wayside Waifs, which currently cares for more than 300 animals.

Waugh says employees constantly monitor the weather for thunderstorms and severe weather so they can prepare shelter staff to take extra care of the animals.

Kansas City Pet Project currently has more than 800 animals in its care. Its facility was built with storms in mind.

The shelter has thick walls and double-paned glass on the outside of the building and between the different “dog districts” where the pets are held to minimize noise and strengthen it against severe weather.

“The shelter itself is a very unnatural and stressful environment for animals anyway, so anything that we can do to help mitigate that stress is really crucial in our work that we're doing every day,” said Tori Fugate, chief communications officer for KCPP.

If a dog is more stressed than usual during a storm, the veterinary team will use medications to help keep them calm.

The storms also help smooth the adoption process down the line, giving shelter staff information they can pass on to future pet owners about how their animals will do with loud noises and severe weather.

“It's little things like that that help make life a little bit easier, not only for that dog but for their future family, which is a win-win in our eyes,” said Waugh

The facade of an animal shelter includes wood and rocks. In front of the shelter is a metal heart sculpture.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Pet Project's main shelter was built with storms in mind. The extra thick walls and double-paned glass windows help block out sound to ease animals' anxiety.

May showers may bring lower adoption rates

Fugate says that the recent storms and severe weather — especially those that come on suddenly or aren’t forecasted — decrease adoption rates at KCPP. With shelters overcrowded since the onset of COVID-19, a string of bad weather conditions can be disastrous.

“People are not coming to the shelter to adopt pets during those storms,” Fugate said. “The intakes do not slow down, but the adoptions do. So we are always working to get pets out into foster homes or adoption.”

More animals also come in during severe weather. Fugate and Mollentine said people are more likely to bring in a stray if they’re worried about the conditions outside, and spooked dogs tend to run away in bad weather.

“We get a lot of stray dogs coming in soaking wet that got spooked and jumped the fence, or whatever that may be,” Mollentine said.

To help keep animals out of shelters, Mollentine recommends microchipping your pet so you can be reunited if they escape and making sure you bring your pets inside when the weather gets bad.

All three shelters run fostering programs so people can help ease the capacity of the building and provide pets a less stressful environment than a shelter. KCPP runs a Dogs Day Out program for those looking for a short-term version.

The shelters also take volunteers to help calm stressed-out animals during spring showers. Wayside Waifs, The Humane Society of Greater Kansas City and Kansas City Pet Project welcome donations for things like enrichment toys and blankets to keep pets occupied during storms to come.

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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