Support your local animal shelter

My volunteer work at Wayside Waifs has showed me the importance of helping shelter animals.


by Mary Massman, Lifestyles Editor

When Sunday morning rolls around, I walk into the building and I can already hear the sound of dogs, some of which have not been out of their kennel since Saturday afternoon. When I walk by their kennels, they run up to the front and give the most eager look, almost begging me to take them out. As I walk these dogs I am reminded of my part in the dogs’ lives and why I feel compelled to help them.

My job at Wayside Waifs, the largest no-kill animal shelter in Kansas City, is a dog socializer, which typically entails me taking the dogs on walks around the property or simply hanging out and playing with them. Once I witnessed what life is like for dogs at the shelter, I began to see the significance of this role.

Dogs who come into the shelter are either transfers from another shelter, strays or owner surrenders, which means their owner couldn’t take care of them or passed away. The transition to shelter life can be a drastic change, one that often induces stress in the dogs due to being confined, separated from what they’ve known and exposed to loud noise as a result of their proximity to other dogs.

According to the Tufts University Veterinary Medical School, this stress can emerge in aggressive behavior, but also repetitive behaviors, increased frequency of barking, destructiveness and urinating and defecating in kennels. When dogs are displaying repetitive behavior, it has no function and only reveals their distress. I have walked by dogs trembling and shaking in the back of their kennels, and it always breaks my heart.

Approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized every year according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Wayside does not euthanize adoptable animals, and there are no time limits for animals in their care. This means that while some dogs may be gone the first few days after they arrive, others are there for a year or longer. I’ve seen dogs return to the shelter from potential homes three or four times.

One dog named Nemo arrived at the shelter as a stray in the fall and as soon as I met him I fell in love with his fun personality and adorable eyes. When he was adopted, I was so excited for him to finally go to a real home. When he was brought back to the shelter after just a week or two, I couldn’t imagine his confusion.

Most days Nemo doesn’t get walked as much as the other smaller dogs. He barks more than them and this usually intimidates people. After spending just five minutes walking Nemo, I know that I am showing him life outside his kennel. Nemo may not be adopted in the next month or two, which makes the time I spend with him so important.

As a volunteer, I am only able to be a small fraction of these dogs’ lives. However, I can still give them the attention they desire to improve their quality of life while they are at the shelter, which is always my goal. I get to alleviate their anxieties by building their trust in me and other humans in extension.

I am still sidetracked by other obligations and slightly discouraged when people question the significance of volunteering with dogs. However, I have seen the effects for my own eyes. Regardless, the satisfaction of volunteering at an animal shelter will never come from somebody else’s validation. The payoff comes in wagging tails and the unspoken looks of thanks I receive from every dog I get to care for and love.