Unleashed Pet Rescue in Mission requests hearing to challenge license revocation

A Mission animal rescue has challenged a Kansas order to revoke its license to operate.

Unleashed Pet Rescue received an order of revocation earlier this month from the Kansas Department of Agriculture, stating the pet rescue had to give up its license following numerous complaints and health code violations.

Officials representing Unleashed, which describes itself as a nonprofit that finds homes for animals in high-kill shelters, requested a hearing to challenge the order. A date hasn’t been set for the hearing, which will be conducted by the Kansas Office of Administrative Hearings.

The pet rescue may continue operating at least until the hearing is held, but because of an emergency order, Unleashed is not allowed to bring in any new animals.

Between 2017 and 2022, officials inspected the facility 26 times, according to documents obtained by The Star. Facilities in good compliance with health standards are typically inspected every 18 months, according to Heather Lansdowne, a spokeswoman with the agriculture department.

Inspection reports show issues at Unleashed with overcrowded facilities, construction problems that could lead to animal injuries, bug infestations and leaking walls and ceilings, among other issues.

In March, the department also fined Unleashed Pet Rescue $15,000 for 18 violations of the Kansas Pet Animal Act between October and March.

Inspectors in October 2022 noted roaches throughout the facility, cramped dog cages with floors completely covered with water, inadequate ventilation and airflow throughout the building, a wall for kennel housing smeared with feces, and flooding from the roof and doors among other violations. In the months after, investigators returned to the facility to check on several complaints made regarding the care of specific dogs.

While an investigator who returned in January found no evidence of a roach infestation, he learned from the pet rescue’s owner that one dog, Dexter, was treated in a hospital for around nine days after a worker put a shirt on him for several days to reduce anxiety, which rubbed against his neck until his skin was raw and lacerations and pus were visible. The shirts are meant to be taken off at least twice a day if worn for long periods.

One dog, Morgan, had an unnecessarily bad case of mastitis in February in which the mass on her breast ruptured and bled the day after she was released to a foster family, leading to emergency surgery and the removal of two infected glands. Workers at Unleashed had previously told the foster family that the mass was not a concern.

The department received another complaint in February for Duke, a Pitbull mix puppy who had been with the shelter since December, claiming his adoption family noticed abnormalities in his feet that affected his walking and an issue with his neuter incision after bringing him home.

A veterinarian later said the issues with Duke’s front paws would require lifelong costly treatment for his legs and the neuter site appeared to be herniated. Officials determined that his issues were caused by poor nutrition and living on floors that were too hard.

In every case, inspectors said Unleashed workers should have worked faster to ensure the dogs had adequate veterinary care.

Animal control officers in Lenexa discovered later that month that dogs that couldn’t fit in the main facility were also being kept in owner Danielle Reno’s former T-shirt business, an unlicensed property to care for animals.

An attorney representing Unleashed could not be reached for comment.

On social media, the pet rescue has continued to post photos of adoptable animals and merchandise sales without mentioning the controversy. In a March 15 post, the day the pet rescue was issued an order of revocation, officials posted a call for donations saying “Times are tough.”

Unleashed wrote that, like other animal rescues, they were seeing reduced fundraising proceeds and had to take in fewer animals and begin the process of layoffs.

“Since our organization was founded, over 40,000 animals have come through our doors and found loving homes through our adoption programs,” the shelter wrote. “Chances are, many of you have your own story of an adoption from our little shelter.”