Animal Magnetism: Britton Hunter provides a saving grace to unwanted animals
Show a picture of your adorable new puppy to Britton Hunter and the first words out of her mouth probably won’t include “cute.”
More likely: “Did you adopt?”
To gain her immediate respect, “yes” would be the appropriate response.
Hunter, 36, is president of Friends of KC Animals, a non profit organization dedicated to helping abused, neglected, lost and abandoned animals in Kansas City. Until just a couple of months ago, Friends of KC Animals was known as Friends of Halfway Home, a non profit created to help improve the lives of animals temporarily residing at Halfway Home, the city’s animal shelter, which was privately operated for the city as a for-profit enterprise.
Over the past year, Hunter estimates that Friends, through both incarnations, has spent more than $50,000 for vet care, rescue placement and transportation to get hundreds of animals out — or prevent them from entering — the shelter. As president, she organizes fundraisers, coordinates adoption events, and works to educate the public about the shelter and the animals in it.
Hunter might use the word “decrepit” to describe the shelter, possessing rusty cages and air quality so poor that she hasn’t been there in nine months. Hunter, who is currently pregnant, had been one of the shelter’s most dedicated dog walkers, logging four or five hours — and often more — every Saturday and Sunday with the all-weather dedication of a postal worker. “In the rain, in the snow, when she was tired, when no one else would do it, she was there,” says her best friend and Friends Vice President Tammy Saum. And she’ll be back.
The two women walked dogs at the shelter for the first time together on a snowy day in November 2009. Hunter says she was depressed by her first experience at the shelter, but could immediately see that the issues she observed — including sanitation and lack of adoptions — were fixable. “I reluctantly gave in to the fact that I would have to go back,” she says. “And I would have to go back a lot.”
Coincidentally, on the way home after that initial visit, a stray black mutt crossed the street in front of them, refusing to be caught. Hunter would return to the same spot several times a week for the next seven months until she managed to tame the dog she eventually named Star.
By utilizing the Internet and communication skills honed in journalism school and a career in advertising, Hunter’s first efforts with Friends spearheaded marketing efforts as well as the search for more volunteers, a small team of people willing to help out by walking the dogs, thereby improving their quality of life ever so slightly.
Many credit Hunter’s ability to rally people — as volunteers and concerned citizens — as an integral element of the local movement to improve the shelter. “Everyone involved in this cause is passionate. She draws people together,” says Andrea Knobbe, a shelter volunteer who helps place animals into rescue organizations.
After widely publicized controversy regarding conditions at the overcrowded shelter, the city recently opted not to renew Halfway Home’s contract, and at press time was poised to turn responsibility for the shelter over to KC Pet Project, a non profit group with plans to transition the shelter that euthanizes thousands of animals in a typical year into a no-kill facility. This development makes Hunter hopeful about the future of needy animals in the metro area. It also frees up the organization she leads to expand its focus well beyond the walls of the shelter: To streets roamed by strays, to the backyards of reckless breeders and to public forums where the principles of humane treatment for animals can be shared.
“We want to help the whole community improve the animal issue,” she says. “We want to initiate more education and talk with people young and old about the importance of responsible pet ownership.”
This is not a passion Hunter ever expected to embrace, especially to the point of “retiring from” the workforce. She stepped down from her position as Advertising Director for The Pitch in 2010, following a grueling year of trying to balance her new obsession, her job, her husband, and her own dog.
Perched alongside her 4-year-old caramel and white American pit bull terrier Nene (pronounced “Nay-nay”), a very pregnant Hunter reflects on the experience that changed her. “I was never one that even wanted to go to the pound,” she says. “I was very much like, ‘It’s too hard. It’s too sad.’ I didn’t want to see it.”
Maybe some part of her knew that once she did, she wouldn’t be able to look away.