Founded in 2004 after the death of Ziggy, the family Cockatoo, Ziggy’s Haven Bird Sanctuary provides boarding and a sanctuary for injured, neglected and abandoned birds. Wendy Waas, Founder and President of Ziggy’s Haven Bird Sanctuary, shared the story behind her journey and how her work is impacting the birds and residents of Citrus County.
“After Ziggy passed away, my late daughter, Tanya Hart, said we have to do something,” Waas said. “She was always the type to bring home a stray dog, cat or bird. She loved animals and, from an early age, was dedicated to finding them good homes. The idea was to create a bird sanctuary for people that give up their birds.”
Waas continued, “Some people have to move and can’t take their birds with them and others simply don’t want their birds anymore. In other cases, it’s someone’s aging parents moving to a nursing home or someone in the military being deployed. Whatever the case may be, we wanted to create a safe place for the birds.”
Waas, who moved to Citrus County 35 years ago after driving through Floral City and falling in love with the area, has committed herself to the cause. As she explained, not everyone willingly gives up their birds or decides to stop feeding them.
“If you’re elderly and living on social security, the death of a spouse can reduce your income by half,” she said. “In these situations, people can’t afford to continue feeding their birds. We’ll step in and help. We’ve also had situations where people can’t afford to pay for surgery for their bird. We do whatever we can to provide assistance.”
Since launching her non-profit, Waas has faced a handful of challenges. County regulations limit how many birds she can have, what she can build and what she can do with the birds. There’s also code enforcement and noise ordinances to take into consideration. Of course, operating as a non-profit, funding is also an ongoing challenge. Ziggy’s Haven is an all-volunteer run organization that relies on the generosity of the public for funding. Fortunately, in October 2019, they moved to a 13 acre commercial property thanks to an extremely generous donation. Construction is currently on hold, but there are plans to expand their aviary and add an adoption center, an education center and a quarantine center.
Waas shared why she does what she does and what she enjoys most about working with birds.
“We’re making a difference,” she said. “Seeing a bird come in from being abused or neglected and watching them thrive and stop plucking is very rewarding. I’ve also helped in other areas of the state and even out of state. DeKalb County near Atlanta hired us to pull 300 birds from a house. It was a hoarding situation. There were 100 dead birds, but we also managed to save hundreds of them. In fact, 103 of them came to our sanctuary. Many birds that end up here will never go anywhere. They’re just not pets. However, birds that have been domesticated need to live with humans. They enjoy and need the companionship.”
Waas and her team have put five aviaries in nursing homes and one in a local high school. They donate the birds and the cages and the recipients agree to take care of the birds while in their possession. According to Waas, it’s a win win situation for everyone.
“We have a 96 year old lady who changes the water for the birds,” Waas said. “She talks to them and reads to them and now has something to look forward to everyday. We’re making a difference in her life and the lives of others. We’re also teaching responsible pet ownership to our younger generations. We want to make an impact on them and our entire community.”
Looking ahead, Waas is focused on eventually resuming construction on the new property. Between the new adoption center, education center, quarantine center and aviaries, Ziggy’s Haven Bird Sanctuary will significantly increase its ability to make an impact.
What advice does Waas have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “If you want to start a non-profit, I would first volunteer with a similar type of non-profit,” she said. “I didn’t do this, but I wish I had. When I started Ziggy’s Haven, I had no idea what I was doing or what I was getting myself into. Volunteering would have helped out. Also, if you have faith, trust in God. He always delivers what’s needed.”