Must Love Dogs
(or cats, birds, Etc.)
Arlington County, Virginia, 1944 -- a small group of local animal owners is growing concerned about the number of stray animals roaming the area. The closest the county has to a proper animal shelter is a dog pound. On June 7th, 1944, they incorporate the Animal Welfare League of Arlington. The first goal of the new league -- to build a shelter.
Seventy years later, the AWLA boasts a full-time staff and more than 450 dedicated volunteers, all while operating a first-rate animal shelter. “We have five-star cat facilities,” said CEO Neil Trent.
The mission of the AWLA is to “improve the lives of animals” while helping to “create a world where all companion animals find compassionate and permanent homes,” according to the AWLA website.
The shelter offers a variety of community services in addition to traditional adoption programs: spay-and-neuter programs, animal behavior helplines, and even low-cost loans to those who wish to adopt a pet but cannot afford the costs upfront. Neil cites the support of both the shelter’s volunteers and the surrounding community for the success of its programs.
“We are very fortunate that our staff love what they do, and we are supported by such a great volunteer corps. The animals are less stressed because they are socialized everyday,” he said.
The shelter has earned the community’s faith: Many residents of Arlington will call AWLA when an abandoned or abused animal is found, because they trust the organization will provide the animal with the best care.
Despite myriad programs for animals and numerous awards, the team at AWLA is looking to achieve more. “Currently, about only 27 percent of domestic pets are adopted through shelters. I want to increase that number,” said Neil
NATASHA AND ADOPTER BREANNE
The Animal Welfare League of Arlington has always been a part of Breanne's life. Born in Arlington, she spent her childhood with her family’s dog, Brandy, who was adopted through the shelter.
As an adult, Breanne started visiting AWLA and adopted her first dog, Heidi. “Heidi was very well cared for and taken care of there," Breanne said. "She had been in the shelter for a long time because she was deaf, and came out healthy and settled well."
After Heidi died, Breanne -- now married with two children -- began searching for another dog to adopt.
“I saw a beautiful long-haired German Shepard named Natasha on the shelter’s Facebook page and fell in love immediately,” she said. “Because of my previous experience with the shelter, I trusted what they said. They are very respectful of people adopting to make sure they have the right fit”.
Natasha has folded seamlessly into her new family. Despite being cited as dog-aggressive, her behavior is under control, thanks to the work of AWLA dog trainers.
“I feel like I hit the jackpot twice," said Breanne, "first with Heidi and now with Natasha."
WORKING WITH THE ANIMALS
"It means the dog does not like, or get along with, other dogs," Animal Welfare League of Arlington communications manager Kerry McKeel explained in an email.
Fortunately, Karen was available to help.
Karen is a long-time AWLA volunteer who has been giving her time to the organization since 1990.
“My full time job involves working with dogs, so I began volunteering as a dog training in order to get more hands-on experience, ” she said. Karen has been an animal lover her whole life, and began to become fascinated by the wide variety behaviors and personality traits that dogs exhibit. Karen works with AWLA's adopters to help them create behavioral management plans for the animals.
She was instrumental in training Natasha prior to adoption, helping the German Shepard be calmer and less stressed around other animals.
“I am drawn to dogs with behavioral issues," Karen said, "for example, some shelter dogs have fear issues. I like working with challenging dogs and helping them become a good fit for their owners. The most gratifying part is helping give a dog a better day. The staff at the shelter is so compassionate and driven by the same mission—to help the animals."
Currently, AWLA is developing various animal housing programs, including the new “Adopt-It-Forward” program, where individuals or businesses can sponsor the adoption of an animal by paying for their adoption fee. The long-term goal is simply to “be more effective” at everything it is currently doing, says Trent.
Love animals? Want to volunteer with the AWLA? There are opportunities for grooming, socializing, taking animals to be showcased and more! Check out the AWLA website for more information!
Editor's Note: All photos on this page are from the Animal Welfare League of Arlington's Facebook page, where you can find up-to-date photos and information about AWLA and animals available for adoption.