Lawrence resident who found injured dog, shelter director call on city to boost animal control coverage

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Richard Renner planned to walk his dog around the Pinkney neighborhood last Monday morning. But as the pair went outside they encountered a disturbing sight — a severely injured black dog curled up in their yard.

“He was pretty docile and when I approached him, and he raised up, I could see that his legs were all bloodied and severely lacerated,” Renner said. “My heart just sank, and I went into emergency mode.”

Renner said it was about 8 a.m. when he first tried to phone the City of Lawrence’s Animal Control staff, but to no avail.

“It went to dispatch instead and there was no one in,” he said. “And I asked them, ‘What? Can you send out a policeman?’ And they said, ‘We’ll try,’ and they got a hold of a policeman and he got a hold of me and just said, ‘Well, we can’t do anything about animals. That’s Animal Control.’”

Richard Renner

Frustrated but resolute, Renner pressed on through the chaos. The dog had left a bloody trail across the road and into his driveway.

“I realized this dog was dying in my front yard and something needs to be done right away,” he said.

So Renner called Lawrence Humane Society, which wasn’t due to open until 9 a.m. That call also went unanswered. Then Renner phoned his veterinarian, who offered to reach out to Shannon Wells, executive director of the humane society.

Renner also put a call out for help on social media. He still held hope someone from Animal Control would respond.

“I’m trying desperately to get medical attention to him and to find his owner,” Renner said in a Facebook post at 8:37 a.m. that day.

Meanwhile, Renner recalled, a group of people had gathered in his front yard to offer comfort to the 80-pound dog. They placed blankets on him and gave him a bowl of water. Renner phoned Animal Control again and was told staff still weren’t available.

Sometime between 9 and 9:15 a.m., Renner said, two staff members from Lawrence Humane Society arrived. They sedated the dog and loaded him into their vehicle for transport to the animal shelter.

Update on Nash

A week later, the dog’s prognosis is good, Wells said on Monday.

After two surgeries the “big shepherd boy” is on a stable path of recovery. He’s known by Nash — a name given to him by one of the shelter’s veterinarians, Dr. Jenny Schneider-Frederick, aka “Dr. J.”

Contributed Dr. Jenny Schneider-Frederick provides care to Nash at Lawrence Humane Society soon after he was found.
Contributed Nash rests while recovering from two surgeries at Lawrence Humane Society.

A video Wells took Sunday shows how much the approximately 2-year-old dog enjoys belly rubs.

Although he has wounds and fractures throughout his feet and is mostly confined to rest, Nash takes short walks to potty outside. For the most part, Nash’s wounds have stopped bleeding and his pain has lessened significantly during the last few days, Wells said.

Contributed Diligent about his potty training, Nash takes a short walk outside during his recovery at Lawrence Humane Society.

And Nash has already developed attachments to staff. An employee in the shelter’s Pet Resource Center came in on her day off to walk Nash because “they’ve kind of fallen in love with each other,” according to Wells.

“And now he stands at the door and barks when you can see her through the glass,” Wells said. “So we love that we’re seeing his sweet personality coming out and that he is not responding in a pain response as much. So I feel really hopeful for him to have a really positive outcome.”

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More than $5,000 has been raised to help the shelter support Nash’s care and medical expenses.

Noone stepped forward to claim Nash, so ownership was transferred to Lawrence Humane Society, where Nash will rehabilitate for some time. He could eventually transition into foster care, and if all goes as planned, Nash will one day be available for adoption.

“Yes, that is our hope, especially as he’s becoming increasingly sweeter and sweeter,” Wells said. “I don’t really think that there’ll be a behavioral barrier. And of course, we’ll continue to monitor all those things.”

Although Renner expressed relief that Nash had received wonderful care from shelter staff, Renner felt let down that Nash didn’t receive help from the city’s Animal Control department and had to wait more than an hour for professional help. He said he would likely express his concerns to the Lawrence City Commission.

“I had to make a whole lot more phone calls and contact a whole lot more people than I really should have,” said Renner, who’s lived in Lawrence 23 years. “I should have been able to get something done with one phone call.”

Animal Control coverage

In December, advocates for Shebah the dog shared similar concerns about gaps in animal control services and a lack of around-the-clock coverage.

We reached out to the City of Lawrence for a staffing update. Laura McCabe, a spokesperson for the Lawrence Police Department, said Animal Control has two full-time staff members, including one recent hire who is in training.

“Their normal work hours are weekdays 7am-3:30pm and other than miscellaneous duties (just like normal patrol offers) their time is in the field on a daily basis,” McCabe said in an email. “Right now, the most recent hire is still field training and shadowing our veteran Animal Control Officer. As it happens, both were not working the day the injured dog came in for two different reasons, both personal. The officer referred the caller to the Humane Society, which is consistent with our contract and in the best interest of the animal.”

McCabe said patrol officers cannot transport animals in patrol vehicles, nor are they trained to care for injured animals.

Possible privatization of animal control

Since 2018, the City of Lawrence has contracted with the Lawrence Humane Society to provide assistance with ill and injured animals after hours; receive stray animals within city limits from members of the public and animal control officers; provide food, water, shelter and veterinary care of animals received; and take ownership of unclaimed animals like Shebah and Nash. In exchange, the city pays the shelter a negotiated fee.

On March 5, Lawrence City Commissioners authorized the city manager to sign a five-year agreement, which amounts to $440,000 in 2024 and provides for a 7.5% increase for each year through 2028.

An agenda item report by Casey Toomay, assistant city manager, suggests the remainder of Animal Control’s responsibilities could one day be transferred to Lawrence Humane Society.

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“While there have been conversations about Lawrence Humane taking on additional animal control services, at this time the proposed agreement reflects the current scope of services provided by Lawrence Humane,” the report said.

Wells, who has led the humane society since January 2020, said she proposed that change for the current budget year but did so too late in the process. She plans to again submit a proposal during the upcoming budget process. Animal Control currently has a budget of $607,000, which includes the contract payment to the shelter, salaries and fees.

Moving animal control services from municipalities to private organizations is a growing trend. As Wells came into her role at Lawrence Humane Society four years ago, she was leaving KC Pet Project. After her departure, KC Pet Project assumed animal control enforcement for Kansas City, Missouri. Critics have questioned whether that was the right move.

Shannon Wells

But here in Lawrence, Wells said, she and shelter staff are up to the task. Nash’s case highlights some of the reasons why streamlining Lawrence’s animal control and sheltering services could benefit the city’s animals and the community, according to Wells. 

“One of the things to keep in mind is that we are currently providing field services for unincorporated Douglas County, which I think has been a good way for us to kind of enter into this arena,” Wells said.

Broadening the scope of responsibilities of the humane society could help provide a fuller picture and understanding of each situation from start to finish, Wells said, resulting in improvement of the shelter’s ability to advocate for both pets and people.

“So when it’s handled, like sheltering services and field services are handled separately, there can be a disconnect between the two ends of the animal’s case, the beginning and the end, right?” Wells said. “And so we understand more like, where did this animal come from? What kind of situation are they in? What’s going on with the pet owner?”

How Nash received his injuries remains largely unknown. McCabe said Lawrence Police Department has opened an investigation and “is working to discover if any evidence exists to show how the animal received such severe injuries.”

Whenever possible, shelter staff members work in tandem with animal control and police officers in response to calls like Nash’s case, Wells said.

“Because anytime there’s an animal that is ill or injured, there’s always the potential for it to be a cruelty or neglect type situation,” Wells said. “And we don’t insert ourselves into an investigation because we don’t have an investigative authority, right?”

Who should you call?

McCabe recommended residents dial 911 in cases where a person’s or animal’s life or safety is at risk. To report a loose or captured animal who is unknown to you, McCabe said to call non-emergency dispatch at 785-832-7509.

“The Douglas County Emergency Communications Center and the assigned officer will assess the public safety concerns, prioritize accordingly, and either respond immediately or advise the person what to do next,” McCabe said.

In theory, at 8 a.m. on a Monday, Animal Control would have had a staff member respond to Nash’s call. Animal Control staff would have then contacted the shelter for assistance with an injured animal, Wells said.

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But in Nash’s case, Animal Control staff weren’t on duty. Wells said even when two officers are operating at full capacity from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, it’s still not enough.

“I don’t like to make waves, but I do feel that this is an illustration, this particular case is an illustration, of a concern about overall coverage for what we call field services,” Wells said.

Wells said there are many communities the size of Lawrence or smaller that have more than two officers.

“We know from seeing this case that there are animals that are not getting served, as we would like to see in this community due to reduced staffing,” Wells said.

The majority of stray animals arrive at the shelter by way of public members, Wells said, and that places a risk and burden on Lawrence residents. Nash’s case illustrates the public safety issues that can arise from lack of field services, Wells said. She received a phone call from someone at the scene who feared a private citizen would move or transport Nash themselves and cause him more injuries.

“And you know, not only is that a concern for that animal’s pain and suffering, but it’s also a concern for anyone who may try to intervene on behalf of this dog, is putting themselves at risk of being bit,” Wells said.

Contributed Although his feet remain tender and covered in wounds, Nash can gingerly walk and stand on them.
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Note: Post updated to add video

Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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Lawrence resident who found injured dog, shelter director call on city to boost animal control coverage

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Richard Renner planned to walk his dog around the Pinkney neighborhood last week. But as the pair went outside they encountered a disturbing sight — a severely injured black dog curled up in their yard.

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