Shortly following the release of VIP Alexandria Magazine's Holiday Issue, which featured Adam (dog) on the cover, he was ADOPTED!
Here at VIP we are so thankful to have been able to work with the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria (AWLA) to help Adam find his forever home... just in time for the PAWlidays! But, there are still so many animals in need of loving homes and so much work that still needs to be done! Read more to learn about AWLA and how you can help!
Story by Liesel Schmidt | Feature Image by Jonathan Thorpe
If the multi-billion-dollar worth of the global pet industry is any indication, people absolutely adore their pets. Cats, dogs, birds, even hedgehogs… you name it, people adopt them into their family and shower them with affection. Unfortunately, there’s the flip side of that coin, the heart-breaking cases of abuse and neglect that leave an animal either fending for themselves or at the mercy of their circumstances. Situations such as these are what give organizations like the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria (AWLA) their purpose: to give aid and shelter to these poor, defenseless creatures and find them forever homes with families or individuals who will lavish them with the love and attention they have been so starved of.
Established in 1946 as a nonprofit animal welfare organization, the AWLA was created by a group of Alexandria residents concerned about the stray animals in Alexandria. They wanted to make a bigger impact to help those animals. “The mission of the AWLA is to inspire compassion for all living things, to provide shelter to animals in need and to promote adoptions, animal welfare and responsible pet ownership in our community,” says Director of Marketing & Communications, Gina Hardter. “Simply put, we want to help pets find—and stay with—families who love them.”
The AWLA is Alexandria’s only open-access animal shelter, meaning that they accept any type of domesticated animal that comes to them from within the limits of the City of Alexandria. “In the past year, we’ve seen dogs and cats as well as rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, birds, lizards, chinchillas, snakes, tree frogs, fish, hermit crabs and more,” says Hardter. “On the occasion that an animal comes to us that is not allowed to live within city limits—like a pig, which has happened before—we will work to either adopt them to someone who lives in a locale in which they can live, or we will work with one of our shelter partners in an area where that pet is allowed to see if they can take them.”
Clearly, the work AWLA does is incredibly important in keeping the animals of the community properly cared for. But it extends even further, to make sure that both animals and their caretakers are given everything they need. “The AWLA works locally to help not only animals in our community, but also the people who love them,” explains Hardter. “We offer services people expect, including adoption, behavior assistance and humane education programs, but we also provide a variety of programs to support pet owners who are experiencing hardship, from free/low-cost vaccination clinics to our Pet Food Pantry and our Crisis Care program for pet owners who need temporary emergency boarding—perhaps as a result of losing housing or an unexpected medical crisis. By doing the work that we do and focusing on our community, we are able to make a bigger impact for animals locally. But it also means that, by keeping more animals in homes, we can work with other under-resourced shelters and rescues to help more broadly across the region and even throughout the country."
“We are so proud of the high level of care we are able to provide to the animals in our facility,” Hardter goes on. “We offer not just basic veterinary care, but will go above and beyond when an animal needs life-saving surgery or treatment. Our behavior team dedicates their time to working out programs to help animals grow and become ready for life in a home environment. While they are with us, each member of our team dedicates themselves to getting to know the animals in our care so that they, in whatever capacity they serve, can help each animal connect with their future family.”
As a nonprofit organization, funding and consistent staffing are naturally concerns. “We have a strong relationship with our partners with the City of Alexandria, but we find that many people don't realize that we are a nonprofit organization rather than a department of the city government, which means that the way we function and are funded is separate from these city services,” says Hardter.
The majority of the AWLA’s funding comes from both in-kind and monetary donations from the community as well as through adoptions and event attendance. They also receive funding through their contract with the City of Alexandria to provide stray housing and animal control services for the city. This particular department within the organization is overseen by a team of five officers who are employees of the AWLA. “As part of their role, these officers assist residents with wildlife concerns, including [answering] questions about wildlife behavior [and] assisting with trapped or injured wildlife,” says Hardter. “They also support the Alexandria Police Department and the Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Alexandria in cases that involve animals and help to enforce the animal-focused laws for the city. Their goal with these efforts is to educate current and future pet owners to help Alexandria continue to be the pet-loving community that it is and always has been.”
While the AWLA’s contract with the City of Alexandria requires that some of their services extend only to the animals within the city limits, potential adopters are not limited to residency in Alexandria. “In the past year, we've had people from as far as New York to Wisconsin and even Colorado adopt, and we're happy to have the opportunity to help people across the country find amazing new family members,” Hardter notes.
“Animals come to us in several ways,” she continues. “Some are found in the city, and if their family has not come forward during their ‘stray hold’ window, they can be made available for adoption. Additionally, some animals come to us when their owners are no longer able to care for them. When we have space, we will also work with under-resourced shelters and rescues from throughout the region to help bring in animals who may not be able to find homes locally but will find their perfect families in Northern Virginia. Additionally, we have a variety of animals in our care every year who may be staying with us temporarily but will not be available for adoption—like our Crisis Care residents, who will ideally reconnect with their families when they are able. We care for more than 2,000 animals in our facility every year and touch the lives of thousands more. We’re proud of the fact that over the last few years, we’ve had about 1,400 to 1,500 adoptions per year, and those numbers continue to increase as we find more ways to connect pets with their families.”
Naturally, there is a process to adoption, as the AWLA is dedicated to finding the right homes for the animals in their care. “We are currently offering adoptions by appointment, so people have the best chance of connecting with an animal who fits their personality and lifestyle,” Hardter says. “Interested adopters can visit our online adoption page ... to see all of our available animals. They can also filter the animals on that page, if they know they are looking for a specific size or age of pet, to see the animals that are available and meet their needs. Each animal has a profile that explains how to book an appointment to meet them. Once that appointment is booked, adopters can come in and meet with the animal of their choice and ask any questions they might have. We're also happy to help provide guidance if they know they are looking for something specific in a pet. Once they find the pet that they think is perfect for them, we'll schedule an adoption Q&A to provide the animal's medical and behavioral background information and answer any additional questions. After that, we schedule a time for them to pick up their new pet and sign the adoption paperwork.”
Adoption may be somewhat more complicated than simply going to a pet store, but there are a number of advantages to bringing home an animal from AWLA’s care. “We see all kinds of breeds—animals ranging from puppies and kittens to spectacular seniors—and every personality type,” says Hardter. “Many of these animals already have experience living in a home environment and may even know some tricks and training. Our staff works hard to get to know each animal in our care so we can provide you with the best information about them, both from before they came to us and during their stay. We are also committed to helping visitors find pets that are the right match for their lifestyle, which we can do because of our experience with those animals and with the thousands of adopters we meet every year. Most important of all, when you adopt from the AWLA, you know that the support that you've given is immediately going into helping the next animal in need.”