MANHATTAN (KSNT) – After several months of planning, T. Russell Reitz animal shelter is officially in the hands of Prairie Paws, a private shelter based in Ottawa, Kansas.

The City of Manhattan has been looking for alternate funding sources for T. Russell Reitz since January, prompting Prairie Paws to come forward with a proposal. Manhattan’s City Commission approved the City’s plan to outsource the shelter’s operations to Prairie Paws at Tuesday’s meeting.

Assistant City Manager Wyatt Thompson told 27 News turning the shelter over to a private, external source will allow it to expand its services. The City of Manhattan is limited in what it can provide as a government entity, so Prairie Paws will now be able to enhance fundraising efforts and bring additional programs to the shelter moving forward.

“We’ve just struggled as a municipality operating the shelter over the last five to seven years,” Thompson said. “Have had great people over that time, have a great team now, but there’s just certain things about running a shelter as a city.” 

Prairie Paws executive director Vanessa Cowie told 27 News that the private shelter doesn’t face the same challenges and restrictions as the city, so it will be able to enhance its offerings. She plans to implement ‘robust’ fundraising efforts in Manhattan and increase T. Russell Reitz’s branding.

Cowie said Prairie Paws’ focus is on improving the shelter’s existing programs while also creating new ones, so animals and their owners get the best service possible.

“It’ll take a couple years to be able see the possible affects that low/cost spay neuter and things like that are going to have on our community,” Kaitlyn Gebhardt, the interim intake coordinator at T. Russell Reitz said. “We’re still going to partner with K-State, we’re still going to have vaccine clinics, we’re not losing any programs, we’re just adding more.” 

According to the City, Prairie Paws will lease the shelter’s facilities from the City for $1 per year, as the City still maintains ownership of the shelter itself. The City also said Prairie Paws will be compensated $350,000 per year to operate the shelter, plus an additional $13,850 to cover transition costs.

Prairie Paws, T. Russell Reitz and the City are in a transition period from now until the end of the year. According to the City, Prairie Paws will begin full operations on Jan. 1.