Traveling to Chetopa, Kan., to perform a mid-winter rescue of nearly 50 neglected and abused dogs in deplorable conditions. Searching on foot for hours in the freezing February drizzle to find a single lost dog.
For Danielle Reno, founder of Unleashed Pet Rescue and Adoption, it’s all part of a typical workday. For Reno, the job is a lifelong dream of saving the lives of vulnerable animals.
Passionate about animals since childhood, Reno was 13 when she volunteered at an animal shelter in Atchison.
“I’ve loved animals all my life and we’ve always had animals in our home,” she said. “Parrots, birds, gerbils, cats and dogs. I always knew my life’s work would be something to do with animals.
After graduating from Benedictine University in 2011, Reno answered that childhood call and took the first steps to making animal rescue his career path and his life’s work.
She laid the groundwork for her non-profit organization and founded Unleashed Pet Rescue and Adoption that year. In 2012, after running the organization primarily through foster volunteers and social media outreach, Reno moved Unleashed Pet to its current facilities at Broadmoor and Johnson Drive in Mission.
“When I started, I thought the worst thing that could happen would be that I go bankrupt and have to go back and live with my family,” Reno said. “I thought the best thing that could happen is what happened.
“We’ve rescued over 20,000 animals since we started in 2011 and the numbers keep growing.”
Unleashed Pet Recue and Adoption is a licensed shelter that primarily takes in dogs and cats and finds homes for them, regardless of age, health condition, temperament or background.
Pets that find their way to Unleashed Pet arrive from a variety of locations and situations. Many were moved from rural shelters across the Midwest where they would otherwise be euthanized. Others arrive from overcrowded shelters or are brought in by law enforcement because they have been abused or neglected.
Some are transferred by the owners; others were abandoned or found wandering. The non-profit organization, which receives no government funding and operates solely on donations, also runs an outreach program.
Through this program, a team educates area owners on proper pet care and training. They also respond to calls in cases of abuse or neglect. Emergency medical care and sterilization services are also part of the outreach initiative.
A large extended family, the Unleashed team includes over 30 staff and 200 volunteers, many of whom open their homes for foster families.
Alexa Despirito, from Shawnee, is a first-time Unleashed Pet foster volunteer. She and her partner, Dan Colburn, adopt Wally, a 3-month-old mixed-breed puppy. Wally is one of 43 dogs rescued in Chetopa.
Despirito never thought she could take in an animal, but the Facebook videos of Chetopa’s rescue changed her mind.
“I swore I would never be able to foster because bringing a dog into our home, treating it like our own and then having to let it go seemed impossible,” Despirito said. “But, going through social media and seeing all the puppies up for adoption or those in need of help was heartbreaking. When I saw the videos of Unleashed Pet’s rescue mission in Chetopa, I knew it was time to help.
For now, Wally, who is shy and insecure like many of his fellow Chetopa rescues, has a safe and loving home with Despirito, Colburn and their two other dogs.
Unleashed Pet Rescue and Adoption’s motto is, “Rescuing a dog won’t change the world, but surely for that dog, the world will change forever.”
At Unleashed Pet, the worlds of animal rescuers change forever too.
“The impact animals have on us is unlike any other companion,” Despirito said. “They deserve to have a voice and it’s our job to give them one. Being part of the rescue community is one of the most rewarding things I have ever had the opportunity to be part of.
For more information or to inquire about volunteer opportunities contact Unleashed Pet Rescue and Adoption www.unleashedrescue.com or call 913-831-7387
This story was originally published March 26, 2019 12:00 a.m.