75 Years of Saving Lives

Posted on January 23, 2019

On June 7, 1944 – the day after D-Day – a small group of local citizens led by Pearl and Paul Twyne and Mrs. Hugh Hanna incorporated the Animal Welfare League of Arlington. Much has changed since the League’s inception in 1944, but the dedication to improve the lives of animals remains the same.

In the beginning, League operations depended entirely on volunteers. There was no shelter and animals were housed at veterinary hospitals and volunteer homes. AWLA would remain a volunteer-run operation until the first paid employee in 1947, when a driver was hired to work two days a week following the gift of an animal ambulance from a benefactress in California.

Shortly after that first employee, the League found a home. On February 12, 1949, Arlington County entered into a contract with AWLA to jointly finance a shelter. The shelter opened on July 1, 1949, at 4200 South 29th Street, around the corner from AWLA’s current location. Now operating out of a shelter, the League was viewed as a model humane society, a role we still proudly fill today. In a period when the “pound” was only a holding facility for stray animals, AWLA took a more comprehensive view of animal welfare. The League was active in humane education and legislation, and early annual reports show a dedication to spay/neuter and pet licensing/identification during a time when neither practice was common.

The League also advocated for all animals, not just dogs and cats. A story in the Annual Report from 1960 tells of an injured egret found at National Airport. After a volunteer rehabilitated the egret, the bird was crated and flown to Palm Beach, Florida where it was released into a sanctuary. The same philosophy is true today as it was in that 1960 report: “no effort is spared in the rescue of any creature in distress, in providing speedy medical attention for the injured, or in administering to the well-being of shelter charges”.

Another Annual Report tells of Foxy, a six-month old grey fox. Bought at a livestock auction in 1963, Foxy lived with an Arlington couple where he used a “kitty litter pan just like any cat, and developed a passion for soft drinks.” He was eventually brought to and cared for by the League after his family moved to Utah.

75 years of history brings a lot of change: people come and go, County leadership evolves, shelter locations move. But through it all, the soul of AWLA remains the same as it was on June 7, 1944: a group of committed staff and volunteers, supported by a wonderful community, dedicated to improving the lives of animals.

A letter written by AWLA leadership in the 1960’s closes with the following: “Kind people giving time, talent and money make possible the…League’s remarkable record of animal welfare service”. That’s been the key to our success for the past 75 years, and we thank you for being a part of that journey.


Sam Wolbert, AWLA President & CEO

If you have any pictures or stories to share about AWLA, please email them to cjones@awla.org.