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Dog attacks continue as Kansas City officials decide who should run animal control

Steve and Jacquie Gering with their dog Olive, who was attacked by two pit bulls on Memorial Day.
Sam Zeff
/
KCUR 89.3
Steve and Jacquie Gering with their dog Olive, who was attacked by two pit bulls on Memorial Day.

KC Pet Project has handled animal control services in Kansas City for the past four years, with an emphasis on education for pet owners. But some animal rescue groups say their approach is keeping dangerous dogs on the streets, and want the city to take back operations.

Over the course of three days in May, a dog named Jonesy attacked a herd of sheep working to clear honeysuckle in a nature preserve in south Kansas City.

Two sheep were killed, another suffered a severe bite and another was missing for weeks around the Blue River before returning to the herd.

The herd is owned by a company called Good Oak, which was contracted to restore the property just north of Bannister Road to ecological health.

Company co-owner Dan Krull recounted on Facebook what happened: “When we arrived on the morning of May 3rd, we found the sheep loose, and Jonny Snowcone (a sheep) badly injured.” The dog, Krull wrote, “had bitten his side, crushing several ribs, and laying open his abdomen.”

Jonesy — a tan shepherd mix with a black nose — is still with his owner. The job to clear the honeysuckle was put on hold for several weeks, costing the company thousands of dollars in fees. The sheep were worth $500 each. And the company blames KC Pet Project.

“It's animal services responsibility to get this owner in line and get this situation dealt with,” Good Oak co-owner Jacob Canyon said.

Jacob Canyon, co-owner of Good Oak, shows where his sheep were clearing honeysuckle when they were attacked by a neighbor dog.
Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3
Jacob Canyon, co-owner of Good Oak, shows where his sheep were clearing honeysuckle when they were attacked by a neighbor dog.

After numerous calls to KC Pet Project, the dog’s owner, Gerald Salisbury, was charged with one misdemeanor count of animal nuisance and scheduled in Kansas City Municipal Court on July 23.

Ever since KC Pet Project took over animal control services from the city in 2020, animal rescue groups have criticized the organization for being too lax when it comes to dangerous animals.

KC Pet Project, for its part, says its education-first approach is in line with national best practices. Ultimately, the Kansas City Council will decide which approach best serves its citizens.

KC Pet Project’s contract with the city ended on April 30. The city said it will issue a new request for proposal soon to open the animal services contract. KC Pet Project is planning to bid. In the meantime, its contract was extended through 2025.

It’s become a deep concern for Kim Wallace Carlson, who owns a standard poodle in Beacon Hill.

“We have a lot of things to think about in our neighborhood. Unfortunately, this is one that's rising to the top,” Carlson said.

Carlson said she and her poodle were attacked a year and a half ago by two dogs.

“I walk with pepper spray. I walk with an air horn. I walk with treats for my dog and any other dog that I want to get away from,” she said. “But when you've been attacked by a dog, let alone two large off leash dogs, it's scary.”

The neighborhood has suggested the solution may be to return animal services to city control. This is what the Mount Prospect Homeowners Association wrote to police and city officials in April: “We have reported the off-leash dogs to Animal Control on more than 3 occasions recently and have received zero support in containing the dogs. This is a major safety concern for our residents, including seniors, children and pets, who live in this community.”

KC Pet Project insists its education-first, enforcement-second approach works.

“We adhere to all best practices and national trends in animal welfare and public safety,” spokesperson Tori Fugate said in a statement to KCUR.

Those practices and trends, however, are unsatisfactory to many.

Repeated dog attacks

Perhaps nothing illustrates the problem some communities have with KC Pet Project’s approach to animal control than a pair of dogs named Duke and Daisy. The pair of pit bulls wandered freely off-leash in Beacon Hill and nearby neighborhoods this spring, attacking several dogs and their owners.

On the morning of March 2, Amelia Nelson was walking her two dogs when Duke and Daisy “came out of no where (sic) and without warning and both dogs bit onto her 18 lbs Pomeranian mix,” according to the KC Pet Project incident report. As she tried to break up the dogs, she was bitten on her hands. The attacks ended when a neighbor chased off the dogs with a broom.

A few hours later, Chris McCoy was walking Pipa, his Boston terrier mix, when the two dogs attacked them. Pipa had several puncture wounds and needed veterinary care. The vet bill was $400, McCoy told KCUR. McCoy, who works with Nelson, knew these dogs were trouble. “He believes it was the same dogs that bit his co-worker,” according to the KC Pet Project report.

 The exterior of the KC Pet project campus features an entryway with a vaulted roof.
Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3
/
KCUR 89.3
KC Pet Project has been running Kansas City’s animal shelter since 2012.

That same afternoon, KC Pet Project got a report from Kansas City police that two dogs matching the description of Duke and Daisy were roaming near 34th Street and Tracy Avenue. Someone called the police and said “they just chased and charged the mailman, and they are aggressive. There is a school close by and kids are out and playing,” the KC Pet Project report said.

Despite all of that, KC Pet Project did not move to declare Duke and Daisy dangerous animals.

Dangerous dog cases can be complicated, according to Fugate. Witness interviews take time and evidence, like medical records, must be collected.

“As such, dangerous dog cases require a lot of resources on our part while also holding the animal at our shelter,” Fugate said.

And some people, Fugate said, take time to decide whether, or if, to file a complaint. That is what KC Pet Project claimed in McCoy’s case.

“The officer who investigated and took the report did explain that process to the victim, however, they did not follow the appropriate referral steps needed to get the declarations drafted and served,” according to an email to a Beacon Hill neighbor shared with KCUR from KC Pet Project's chief of animal services, Ryan Johnson. McCoy disputes Johnson’s account.

“I was given no information on how to do that,” he told KCUR.

KC Pet Project said the dogs were put on a 24 hour quarantine then released back to their owner.

Within months, the they were involved in another spate of attacks.

Steve Gering was walking his dog Olive on Memorial Day morning near 27th Street and Tracy Avenue when Duke and Daisy approached them slowly and in a non-threatening manner. Suddenly they pounced, Gering said. Olive managed to get out of her collar and run home. She suffered relatively minor puncture wounds.

After Olive was safely in her yard, Gering said he heard a woman screaming and a dog yelping. Abigail Meier was walking her dog, Finn. Duke and Daisy immediately charged Finn and lunged for his neck and tried to pull him apart, according to the KC Pet Project report.

“At one point, one of the dogs was pulling on his front leg, and the other was biting his rear leg,” she reported to KC Pet Project. The attack stopped when a neighbor fired a gun in the air. Finn needed surgery for his wounds.

The Gerings now have protection when they walk Olive. “We ordered a stick, an airhorn and pepper spray,” Jacquie Gering said. “I should never feel like that in my own neighborhood walking around."

After all of that — a woman and five pets injured — KC Pet Project finally took stronger action. Duke and Daisy were seized in early June. Daisy was recently euthanized, according to Fugate.

The dog’s owner, Josie Garcia, has been charged with three counts associated with these attacks, including animal nuisance, according to Municipal Court online information. Duke has been declared a dangerous dog and may only return to Garcia if she passes an inspection for keeping such an animal.

Controversial pit bull policy

Duke and Daisy are part of a growing pit bull population in Kansas City. On July 1, there were 288 dogs listed for adoption on the KC Pet Project website. Exactly half — 144 — were pit bulls.

In Kansas City, pet owners must spay or neuter pit bulls, a policy KC Pet Project has long opposed, and reflected in the way it enforces the ordinance.

Last year, KC Pet Project wrote just 48 tickets for failure to spay or neuter pit bulls, according to data from Kansas City Municipal Court. That is 74% fewer tickets than the organization issued in 2020 when it took over animal control and 88% fewer than 2019, the last year the city ran animal control.

“The correlation between the overcrowding of the shelter, (including the amount of euthanasia), to the failure of KC Pet Project animal control to enforce the mandatory spay and neuter of pit bulls in KCMO for the past three years is undeniable,” Chain of Hope director Kate Quigley wrote on Facebook. The organization works in Kansas City’s urban core to rescue abused and neglected pets.

KC Pet Project vigorously disagrees.

“We recognize people may believe mandatory spay/neuter laws will compel more people to sterilize their pets and thus, fewer pets will be born, and fewer unwanted pets will end up in shelters,” Fugate said. “But this has been proven in communities across the country to be untrue.”

Indeed, both the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the American Veterinary Medical Association are opposedto spay/neuter laws.

KC Pet Project prefers education, encouraging responsible pet ownership and trying to increase trust with the community. The organization argues merely writing a ticket does not compel a pit bull owner to do anything. But Chain of Hope says in the past enforcement drove a lot of people to its clinic for a free operation.

A stack of animal crates is piled in a parking lot. In the background a white truck bears the logo for KC Pet Project.
Sam Zeff
/
KCUR 89.3
KC Pet Project touts its education-first model for animal control. But critics say the organization is too slow to remove dangerous dogs from the streets.

KC Pet Project touts its enforcement activity. It wrote 762 citations last year, according to its2023 annual report. In the same report, KC Pet Project said it filed seven state and felony level cases with the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office. KC Pet Project called that an “unprecedented accomplishment.”

However, of the seven cases filed with the prosecutor only four have been charged, according to prosecutor spokesman Mike Mansur. Also, the 762 citations written last year is a massive decrease compared to the 3,683 tickets written by the city in 2019. 

Enough is enough. They need to run the shelter and be done with their failed attempt to run animal control,” Quigley said on Facebook.

Not everyone in the animal rescue community agrees. Madi Rohmer from Kansas City brought her four dogs to a free vaccination clinic in Swope Park in May, sponsored in part by KC Pet Project. So many stray dogs wander her neighborhood near 54th Street and Olive Street she has her own chip scanner. She believes KC Pet Project is doing great.

“They usually come quick and then they help me to pick up the strays,” she said. They also help her with food and other resources.

KC Pet Project says writing a ticket is a last resort, in part because they don’t want to overburden the municipal court.

“Our focus is on significant offenses that genuinely require legal intervention and when all other methods of enforcement have failed to gain compliance,” Fugate said.

KCPP’s annual report does show an increase in the number of dangerous dog citations written. In 2019 the city wrote two such tickets. Last year KCPP wrote 17 and wrote 22 in 2022.

A sheep owned by the company Good Oak was attacked by a neighborhood dog while clearing honeysuckle in south Kansas City. He was bitten on his left hind quarter.
Sam Zeff
/
KCUR 89.3
A sheep owned by the company Good Oak was attacked by a neighborhood dog while clearing honeysuckle in south Kansas City. He was bitten on his left hind quarter. Another sheep died from its wounds.

What's next for animal control?

Even though KC Pet Project’s animal services contract ended April 30, it is still providing animal control through an extension until 2025. At some point, Kansas City will issue a request for proposal (RFP) which is the first step in the contracting process. To date, the city has yet to publish the RFP.

A committee will be formed to review bids on animal services. Four years ago, a similar committee unanimously rejected KC Pet Project’s proposal. “After a thorough review of the proposals … it is the recommendation of the committee to reject all proposals,” according to the committee’s memo to then-City Manager Troy Schulte. Despite that, the city council approved the deal.

Northland veterinarian Larry Kovac was on that committee. After four years of KC Pet Project running animal control, he wants the city to take it back — even if it means euthanizing more animals.

“I wish the city could take it over, but they’ll euthanize more animals and the public will turn against them,” he said.

Councilwoman Melissa Patterson Hazley represents the 3rd District, by far the busiest district in the city for animal control calls. Community groups have pressured her to dump KC Pet Project but she isn’t ready yet.

“I don’t have enough information to have a strong opinion,” she told KCUR. “I’m just going to listen and figure out what are people’s opinions about the performance of the organization and make a decision based on that.”

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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