I expected Northland Animal Welfare Society to be harder to find. I am, after all, notoriously terrible with directions – if I’m going somewhere I’ve never been, I give myself at least a 30-minute buffer to get lost, recover my bearings, and hopefully arrive at my destination only 10 to 15 minutes late.
But on the sunny fall afternoon that I made the drive to the North Kansas City suburb of Gladstone, I didn’t have to circle the block more than once to find Northland Animal Welfare Society, or NAWS, which I’d been told was a spay and neuter clinic unlike any other. Out front, people in cat and dog costumes held signs and waved to passing cars. Meanwhile, a band called Knock Kneed Sally rocked out in the parking lot, where a woman and her dog danced to the beat.
I was definitely in the right place.
The reason for the festivities: NAWS celebrated the official grand opening of the nonprofit organization’s new building, a structure that is impressive in and of itself. A former high-end home furnishings store, the two-story house features large windows, a screened-in patio, and even a small turret that gives the place an almost stately feel. A large sign, easily visible from the road, reads “NAWS Spay Neuter Clinic” in bold, purple text.
Inside, the clinic is warm and welcoming. Richly colored portraits of cats and dogs adorn the walls while flowers flank the front desk. To my right, I spotted the “suite” occupied by NAWS’ resident “clinic boss” John Doe, a handsome brown tabby who is clearly living the good life, as well as a pet boutique filled largely with donated items that families in need can have for free.
Once I tracked down NAWS’ energetic founder, Goldie Arnold, she quickly pointed out that NAWS isn’t your average spay-neuter clinic. She was enjoying the gorgeous day with several guests on the second-story patio, but she greeted me like an old friend and showed me around, insisting I grab some cake.
Now that NAWS’ new location is officially operational, Arnold has big plans for the space. It took tens of thousands of dollars and countless volunteer hours to restore the house, which had fallen into disrepair after the former owners’ neglect. It’s worth mentioning that in addition to running NAWS, Arnold also has a full-time job, as do most of the other volunteers and veterinarians who drive many miles to provide low-cost spay and neuter services to cats and dogs three days a week at NAWS.
“It is a labor of love,” Arnold told me.
And that labor is ongoing. While the spay and neuter clinic is fully operational, as are microchipping services, many other areas of NAWS are still in development. As we walked through the second story, Arnold explained how the room would be used as a free meeting space for nonprofit organizations, and the bathroom would be converted into a grooming spa for dogs. The walls upstairs were also lined with colorful prints by artist Dean Russo depicting stylized cats and dogs.
Downstairs, a basement room would be used to host dog obedience classes, and the screened-in back patio would eventually be a cat café, where guests could enjoy a latte or some tea and “rent” time with an adoptable cat. That day, a man taught pet CPR classes on the patio, and volunteers from Friends of Parkville Animal Shelter held two adoptable kittens they’d caught and socialized themselves.
“You get attached, don’t you?” I said to a woman holding an impressively calm black kitten, and she nodded.
“We had a stray show up on our porch a year ago,” I added, seizing the opportunity to talk about my one-year-old kitty, Salvador.
The woman’s eyes got wide, and I could relate: For cat people, our immediate concern is the animal’s welfare. How did this story end? Did the kitty find a good home? When I told the woman that Salvador was still with us, terrorizing the other cats and generally being adorable on a daily basis, I could see she was instantly relieved.
When we went back inside, Arnold gave me a tour of the clinic where dedicated vets perform spay and neuter procedures, explaining how a local hospital had recently donated several pieces of essential equipment. As we headed back to the lobby, one of the clinic’s volunteers stopped Arnold and presented her with a gift: a tiny, silver paw-print charm.
“You really shouldn’t have done this,” Arnold said, smiling, her eyes glittering.
At that moment, NAWS’ mission became apparent: This is the kind of place where people look out not only for cats and dogs, but for each other – and that definitely makes it special.
All photos courtesy of Natalie Dameron.