Fundraiser helps Lakeside Nature Center nurse wildlife back to health

03/09/2014 11:08 PM

03/09/2014 11:08 PM

Raina Jessup of Leavenworth saw a flier for a fundraiser Sunday at the Lakeside Nature Center and was intrigued.

Animal demonstrations, ice-cream sundaes, scavenger hunt and “Two Headed Cow,” it said.

The “cow” turned out to be the name of a band performing at the event, but Jessup and her three kids still saw plenty of other interesting animals at the first Cash 4 Critters event at 4701 E. Gregory Blvd.

All the proceeds from the event, sponsored by the nonprofit Friends of Lakeside Nature Center, will go toward medicine, food and upkeep of the 2,500 injured or sick animals that come through the center every year. The center gets 300 squirrels alone each year. Rehabilitating each one costs $54.

The healthy animals are eventually released back into the wild.

The center also keeps 70 animals native to Missouri that could not survive on their own in the wild. Lakeside’s director, Kimberly Hess, showed off several of them Sunday afternoon. First up: a friendly barn owl named Legacy, who calmly perched on Hess’ gloved hand.

“I think the name should be Hoo-Hoo,” said Alyssa Jessup, 4.

One of the center’s most recent acquisitions is a coyote named Cody. He was confiscated by the Missouri Department of Conservation from a man who was trying to keep the animal as a pet, which is illegal. Since Cody only knows how to interact with humans, he could not survive if released, Hess said. Staff members now play the part of his “pack” by interacting with him in his enclosure.

Two bald eagles also call the center home, as well as two red-tailed hawks and a peregrine falcon named Zorro.

The center, which is open free of admission six days a week, also features snakes, frogs and turtles. One of those turtles, Wilma, painted several works of art that were sold at Sunday’s event. One of the center’s naturalists assisted the turtle by squirting paint on paper that she walked through.

The idea for the fundraiser came from local singer/songwriter Heather Thornton, who has dropped off several wounded animals in recent years. In one case, she was walking in Westport when her dog attacked a garter snake. The snake suffered broken bones and puncture wounds, but the center nursed it back to health.

The center then sent a postcard to Thornton to let her know the snake had pulled through.

“I was just so touched by that,” she said. “I asked them if they had ever thought of doing a benefit.”

Thornton convinced several other musical acts to join her in entertaining at the event.

“Nature and conservatism is very important to me,” she said. “These animals want to live, just like people do.”

Anyone interested in donating to Friends of Lakeside Nature Center can visit its website at

www.lakesidenaturecenter.org. Besides cash, the group could use donations of bird seed, linens, and cat and dog food, dry or wet.

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