It was a quiet afternoon at Imagine FURever Ranch.
Co-founder Kathryn Lask entered a building with “Lucy’s Lodge” in cursive letters hanging above the door. Lola, a 7-year-old lab with gray hair growing out of her nose, barked in excitement.
“It’s okay, honey,” Lask reassured her. Two other dogs, Penny, 9, and Peyton, 14, were standing still. The ranch was “light on the dogs” for the time being, Lask explained, thanks to the adopters and foster families who welcomed them.
Lask, alongside his longtime partner and co-founder Todd Mitchell and many volunteers, spent the last year repairing four acres of land in Shawnee to create the nonprofit rescue for senior dogs. Its official opening is scheduled for August 27, but it has already started welcoming and adopting dogs.
A letterbox painted to look like a Dalmatian sits outside the ranch entrance, next to a sign facing 47th Street.
The property was once the Oaklawn Christian Montessori School, but the school buildings have been redeveloped for their new residents. Inside Lucy’s Lodge, a fence serves as a partition between two large enclosures. There is a tub for the baths and a table for grooming. The dogs have sofas to lounge on to give the space a lounge-like feel, said Lask, “so they feel more comfortable.”
Dogs currently being adopted ranging from 6 to 16 years old. There is no age requirement – a 2 year old dog named Dougie resides in the office – but the focus is on those who are older and therefore often less adoptable.
The idea began to take shape three years ago, when Lask rescued Phoebe, a little white dog who was afraid of everything. Soon after, Mitchell’s dogs began to experience age-related medical issues. Taking care of them prompted Lask and Mitchell to start talking about the issues senior dogs face.
“Seeing Todd’s dogs getting older and the issues that come with it, which to other people might seem like an inconvenience or a difficulty, just made our hearts grow for them,” Lask said.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, older dogs have an adoption rate of around 25%, against 60% for young dogs and puppies.
People tend to avoid adopting older dogs because they often have medical issues, Lask said. They require patience from their owners, especially if they have difficulty moving around.
Senior dogs can also lead to high vet bills, which Imagine FURever Ranch pays through donations.
But senior dogs can also be much calmer than a puppy and have more training – and, of course, they’re just as affectionate.
“They will bring you so much peace, joy and comfort,” Lask said, “and they need it in return.”
Lask and Mitchell started the ranch with all of these aspects in mind. In December, Mitchell’s dog, Lucy, passed away, resulting in “Lucy’s Lodge” as the name for the rescue space and “Lucy’s Lounge” for the office.
Lask, an online professor at Kansas City Kansas Community College, has little formal experience with animals. She was “inadvertently introduced to rescue” as a child and her parents brought rescue dogs home, she said.
“It’s interesting that we the founders were more dog lover than connoisseur, so we probably have the biggest learning curve,” she said. “We’ve always had small dogs, and we get to know bigger dogs, how they work together. It was fun, but, you know, I’m learning.
She knew that running the ranch would take more than her level of experience, so she assembled a board of directors of seven, all of whom are experienced in the field.
But Lask is all-in. She even plans to move from her home in Overland Park to the brick building right next to the office so she can be on site in an after-hours emergency.
She imagines herself going out on the porch in the morning with a cup of coffee and watching people walk the dogs and play on the lawn outside. The slogan on the ranch’s website is: “Where the pooches and people meet.” Lask wants the ranch to be a community space where people can walk around or just relax.
When the property was a school, she and her children would come camping on the property, and she hopes to create a similar sense of community while helping people fall in love with dogs. The mission is heavily based on his Christian faith, and Lask emphasizes the kindness and acceptance of the ranch volunteers.
“It’s like coming home to me,” she said. “And that’s what I want, for the people who come here to feel that too.”
The ranch is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays for visiting the community, whether to walk the property or play with the dogs, as long as they sign up waiver of participation on the site.
People wishing to adopt can complete the online form to set up a meeting time. For those looking for a more hands-on experience, the ranch has plenty of open space for volunteers and favors join “Lucy’s army,” as Lask calls his followers.
Lask also wants to host events in the open space, the first of which will take place on August 27 to celebrate the ranch’s grand opening. It will host food trucks, inflatable structures and an obstacle course, and the proceeds will go directly to the ranch.
And in the end, it all comes down to helping the dogs.
“You just want to save all the dogs, and you don’t have enough time. You do not have enough money. You don’t have enough people. And it takes all of those things, ”Lask said. “So the more we can build Lucy’s army with the financial support, the more we can build Lucy’s army with the volunteers, the more dogs we can take.”