Shawnee Mission Faces: Rusty James, retired police officer and chronic dog rescuer

Back when Rusty James was in police work, he enjoyed taking the animal-related calls. James has a soft spot for all animals, especially dogs.

For nearly a decade, he and his (soon-to-be-ex) wife, Caprice James, have been rescuing dogs — mostly Boxer breeds — from abusive homes, puppy mills and abandoned buildings, including strays stuck in dangerously hot or cold temperatures.

They’ve published coffee table books with pictures of their rescue dogs. They’ve probably rescued and transported countless dogs, and have adopted as many as 20. They typically take in old dogs to give them a good home for their remaining years of life.

Oftentimes, folks will call him when they need someone to rescue a dog. He has solid connections with several animal organizations and services, including Independence Animal Hospital and Amos Family Pet Crematory.

Originally from Kansas City, Kansas, James graduated in 1974 from Turner High and is now retired after 30 years in law enforcement. He served 24 years of his career at the Lenexa Police Department. Most of his professional experience is in law enforcement and traffic safety.

Outside of rescuing dogs, he enjoys target practice and hunting. He lives in Shawnee with friend and roommate Rob Sanderson, a retired police officer with the Lenexa Police Department, rescue dogs Charlie and Paco, and cats Marco and McKenzie.

I believe things happen for a reason.

After a while, Caprice wanted a dog, so she found Abby at it was Animal Haven then. She said I want you to look at this dog, so I went down and I looked at the dog, and I said, Caprice, this dog’s a mess. We both work, we don’t have time for a dog like this, this dog’s gonna take a lot of work, we’ll find the right dog. She said, yeah you’re probably right.

The next day, she adopted her, and we had no problems with her. She was the perfect dog.

And then Great Plains called us about another dog. So we went and got Winston, and we believe he was one of Abby’s pups — Abby was a puppy mill dog — and Winston was a great dog, he was like the perfect dog.

Then we found Ruth. Ruth was an older dog at Great Plains in Independence, and we went and got her. By that point, I was hooked. It’s not like I had a choice; we were adopting dogs (laughs).

And then, Caprice wanted a puppy, so we got Grace, and she’s been a great dog. And Maggie ran out in front of us on a highway, so we picked her up, took her in, got her taken care of, nobody claimed her so we got her.

She was a mess, she wasn’t this big around. And we worked with Woofs over here in Merriam, Shelly has always taken care of the dogs we’ve gotten as far as grooming them and cleaning them up. ‘Cause these dogs are really a mess.

I’m gonna miss out on many dogs…. Then we got a call from Great Plains again about a dog that’s coming up from Emporia, been confiscated by the police on a warrant, he was 35 pounds underweight, he had tumors hanging all over him, he had never been fixed, he was a Boxer, about 12 years old. His name’s Reno. So I went and got him.

When they did the surgery to neuter him and remove the tumors, there in the surgery, he hacked up an 11-inch dinosaur that was in his stomach. The dog was eating anything he could to stay alive. I got him up to a good weight, he got to be about 75 pounds.

I took Reno down to Emporia to animal control so they could see the dog they had taken away, ‘cause I’d talk to them off and on, and they said that normally a dog that comes in like that, they would put down because he was in such bad physical condition, but they said in his eyes, there was so much life.

We had him about nine months and apparently had a brain tumor and we lost him.

James published a few coffee table books showcasing his family’s rescue dogs.

When my stepson got married, we boarded the dogs out at Odessa. We came back to get them and Surelee was in there. I was telling the lady that owns it, that’s a great dog. I don’t know the deal, but the owner was paying for her to live at the boarding facility. And I said we’ll take the dog.

I had Surelee till last year, and she passed away last July, she had a seizure. It’s not unusual with Boxers.

I had been without a dog for about two weeks, and as soon as they found out you don’t have a dog, at least with me, they start calling me. They sent me some information on a blind, deaf Boxer that was in Missouri, 10 years old, owner couldn’t care for her anymore.

A week later, they said they hadn’t found a home for this dog, her name was Pearl, so I called the owner. She was disabled and had to move, so I met her in Columbia, and I took the dog, got her vetted. She loved being here, everybody knew her. I had her about four months then she passed away. She also had a seizure.

So I was without a dog for, oh, a month or so, and a friend that I went to school with at Turner I had not seen since I graduated, she had this picture of this dog out in a field in Carroll County, Missouri. It had wandered up on a farm on the day my dad died, Jan. 28 of this year.

I said it’s 10 degrees high out, it’s not an outside dog, it’s a Boxer. I was just going to take him to a rescue, ‘cause I could find him a home. I just didn’t think I was ready for another dog, and I went and got him.

Charlie is named after James’ father, a former police chief.

There was just no way I was going to get rid of him, he was the perfect dog, and I named him after my dad, Charlie.

Another great part of the story is my dad was a chief of police down in Arkansas, and the kids at the farm where I got him from — this was before I’d even talked to them about anything when I was coming to get him — the owner said well I don’t know what you want to call him, but my kids want to name him Chief.

It’s like, this was weird; how does this stuff happen? My dad was a chief, and I’d already decided to name him after my dad. And like with Pearl, Pearl came to me when I needed her the most, at the start of the divorce stuff. And, I lost Surelee at the same time. Somebody is watching for me. Somebody is taking care of me.

Charlie has been the perfect dog. He is very social, he gets along with everyone. He loves to ride the truck. He’s been just an outstanding companion. He gets along with my cats. He’s the kind of dog you want to have. You can see his temperament, like this, and this is exactly how he was when I got him.

People ask me all the time, how do you do this, because you know you’re going to lose them? I only take old dogs, I don’t keep young dogs.

I don’t know what their life was like before, but I know how it’s going to end. They’re going to be very well taken care of, they’re going to live the good life.

I cook for this dog. He eats good. He’s my buddy. I try to take him everywhere I can.

With the dogs that I’ve had that I’ve lost, I have a shelf at home literally of their urns, all their ashes. I take them over here to the Amos Family Funeral Home, they cremate them for me, I keep them.

These are some of the most dignified animals I’ve ever seen, and I’m going to make sure that that’s the way that it ends.

Rescue animals are the best. They know they’ve been rescued. They can tell.