MISSION, Kan. -Gillian Gollehon, a resident of Lenexa, was sitting in her car outside her Unleashed Pet Rescue in Mission, gagged by her.
He had just gotten a dog named Dexter to take home and foster. He said he couldn’t even close the car door due to a terrible stench that lingered on the animal.
“They let Dexter out and as soon as that door opened, I was like, ‘Pew,'” she said.
Her concerns about the smell were soon overshadowed by what she saw once she took off Dexter’s vest to bathe him.
The vest he wore, known as a Thundershirt, is typically worn by dogs struggling with anxiety. Gollehon said it was so tight he couldn’t get it off without cutting it with a pair of scissors.
“As I was cutting, the smell kept getting worse and we had to stop a few times,” she said. “She (Gollehon’s daughter) and I were just gagging because we were like, ‘Oh my God, what is this?'”
Gollehon said the vest was sticky and wet. After taking Dexter’s jacket off, what she found of her shocked her and her daughter to the core.
“It’s like red and wet and leather,” she said. “It’s just like irritated skin and no hair.”
By the time Gollehon reached the shelter a few hours later, she had gone from shocked to angry.
“’How many of you have walked past his kennel and ignored that smell? Or does the shelter smell so bad that you guys just can’t recognize that something was wrong?’” She recalled asking.
Gollehon is one of eight people who spoke to FOX4 Problem Solvers concerned about Unleashed Pet Rescue, many of whom provided photos and videos showing dog bowls filled with roaches, injured or sick pets, and a behind-the-scenes look at pet-only sections. employees of the building, one of those areas is where they house dogs.
Gollehon, who has raised more than 20 dogs from Unleashed Pet Rescue, said she too has never been allowed through areas of the shelter where the dogs reside. But those who have are now sharing their stories.
“There were too many dogs to properly care for and get them out of their little spaces for more than, I mean, some of them were only out for 15 minutes total of the day,” Karen Swanson, former manager of Unleashed Pet Rescue , he said.
Swanson said he quit his job last year, citing overcrowding and mismanagement as key factors in his decision to leave.
“If someone talked about there being too many dogs, she (the owner) would show us pictures of dogs that she refused to take and tell us that now those dogs are dead because we didn’t get them, so she wasn’t very open to listening.” the actual reality of our situation,” Swanson said.
Another former employee said that while he was working there, two dogs ran away and were hit by cars. She blamed broken shelter doors which she says staff struggled to keep fixed.
“I just don’t see the love or passion there anymore, or dogs wouldn’t get hit by cars for reasons that could, should have been, prevented and they’re still a problem,” said Terra Merys, a former employee.
Danielle Reno, owner of Unleashed Pet Rescue, said she does not recall any instances where dogs were hit by cars.
“Every now and then, the dogs have broken loose just like they would anywhere else, and if they break loose, we find them and take them home,” Reno said.
Reno acknowledged there are problems, including what happened to Dexter.
“One of our employees put a ThunderShirt on him to ease his anxiety, but because he drools, it was wet right here (chest) and rubbed his skin,” he said.
He said the shirt should have been changed every day. The employee was disciplined and new procedures were in place, she said.
Reno has invited the Problem Solvers to take a tour of the facility to demonstrate how clean it is. There were 37 adult dogs in the shelter at the time.
This does not include the number of kittens, puppies and adult cats housed in the shelter. It also does not include animals currently in foster care.
But a six-year review of state inspection reports from the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Animal Health reveals that for Unleashed Pet Rescue, 37 dogs are remarkably short.
In 2022 alone, Unleashed Pet Rescue was inspected at least five times. During each inspection, the data shows that the number of adult dogs housed in the shelter never remained below 65.
As of March, the facility had 91 adult dogs. As of September, he was 89, state inspections showed.
Swanson said she worked there between January and April of 2022. She said there were 80 to 100 dogs housed in the facility at a time during her employment.
Merys, another former employee, said she was hired between November 2021 and April 2022.
“On the advice of all the adult dogs in the shelters, up to 120 dogs at a time, and that doesn’t include what was going on with the puppies and stuff like that,” she said. “They were just adult dogs, and I think the largest number I’ve gone in and opened myself was 118.”
But Reno denied that the numbers are consistently that high.
“There have been times where it has been difficult and we have been extremely full, but we work to keep this number (37 dogs) where it is,” she said.
The shelter was deemed unsatisfactory in October by a state inspector after surfaces, drainage, spacing, ventilation and waste disposal did not meet state code.
There were numerous employees cleaning and caring for the animals when the Problem Solvers visited the facility, but our visit was no surprise. Reno knew we were coming.
“Every dog you see here would be dead if we didn’t bring them here, all of them,” Reno said.
Reno said the facility is working with a number of contractors to bring the building up to code. During our visit, a tarp covered the roof, something Reno said he’s trying to raise enough money to pay for.
Despite efforts Reno says he’s making to improve reception conditions, longtime supporters, like Gollehon, say they won’t return.
“I think, ultimately, they should be held accountable,” Gollehon said. “I feel like there is no regulation that checks them consistently and I think they just fix things when they know someone is coming to check on them.”
This isn’t the first time Unleashed Pet Rescue has made headlines.
As of 2019, one of over 20 Reno dogs imported from Egypt positive rabies result while living with a family who were raising the dog for Unleashed Pet Rescue. Authorities tested and quarantined all the dogs and found no other cases.
In 2018 Reno was accused of criminal deprivation of property after her refused to return a lost dog returns to its owner.
The Kansas Department of Agriculture and the Mission Police Department’s Pet Control Division are currently investigating the shelter. Reno said she and her attorney are cooperating fully.