Wayside Waifs looks to ‘rebrand’ for its 70th year

01/01/2014 9:22 PM

01/01/2014 9:26 PM

The animal welfare organization Wayside Waifs is entering its 70th year with a new president and a new message: It is more than just an animal shelter. “We initially started off as a shelter, but through the years it has evolved to so much more,” said Jennie Rinas, spokeswoman for Wayside Waifs. The organization is not changing its name, but it wants to encourage people to recognize it as offering a “complete circle of care” for helpless animals, from adoption to behavioral assessment to the end of life. “The scope that Wayside has is deeper than a lot of people imagine,” said Geoff Hall, the new president of the operation headquartered at 3901 Martha Truman Road. Hall most recently was assistant director and chief operating officer at the Kansas City Zoo, and his previous background had been as general curator at the Cleveland and Phoenix zoos. Hall began to learn about Wayside Waifs after adopting his own pet there. When the opportunity came to lead the organization, he jumped at it. “What I absolutely find fulfilling is we’re basically improving the lives of two entities by connecting people with animals,” Hall said. “I can’t definitely say that someone was inspired by seeing polar bears to turn down the thermostat and reduce consumption of fossil fuels. But I can definitely see a dog is wagging its tail and a family is hugging it.” Wayside Waifs is a nonprofit organization overseen by a board of directors. It reported $7.25 million in revenue in 2011 and had a payroll of just under $1.8 million. Adoption fees accounted for just $700,000 of its income, meaning the bulk of its support is in the form of charitable gifts from corporations, foundations and individuals. Wayside has between 800 and 1,000 active volunteers that help to care for the roughly 6,500 animals that pass through in a year. That includes everything from washing toys and blankets to offering animals a temporary foster home. That cache of good will from the community allowed Wayside to open an 11,000-square-foot expansion about a year ago that includes a new, modern vet clinic as well as a new entry area. Each animal that comes in, from just-weaned kittens to discarded pit bulls, is absolutely doted upon. After a health assessment, vaccinations and implantation of a microchip ID, each animal is screened to determine its disposition and sociability in the hope of better matching it with a potential owner. Wayside claims to be the only shelter in the Kansas City that does behavior evaluations. The new clinic has four operating tables where two full-time vets and one part-time vet can work with modern equipment. Wayside even has a digital radiography machine. Soothing music is piped into the holding areas for the pets, as are comforting smells such as baked cookies or vanilla. Cats and dogs also have their own living room-like places where they can look out the windows or lie on a rug, getting acclimated to a future life in a loving home. The average stay at Wayside is 21 days. An outdoor “agility park” at Wayside offers a place for animals to burn off excess energy or to regain confidence, perhaps after having been mistreated. Wayside also has two off-leash parks, one for small dogs and another for big ones, that the public can use for a fee. Wayside also offers a No More Bullies program in which staffers visit elementary schools for a week teaching students the importance of treating animals — and other living things — with kindness and compassion. The program is so successful there is waiting list. Within the last couple of years Wayside has introduced an animal rescue team that responds with a van to natural disasters or cases of animal hoarding and puppy mills. Finally, Wayside has a funeral hall where owners can hold formal services for their pets, and there is a crematory and a large animal cemetery on the 44-acre grounds. Hall said Wayside Waifs is working on new initiatives in the future. “We’re very excited about 2014,” Hall said. “There are not many organizations that can boast 70 years of improving the lives of people and animals.” On the Web

To learn more about Wayside Waifs, go to WaysideWaifs.org.

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