Improve the lives of animals and people by providing resources, care, and protection.
A humane community in which animals and people live together harmoniously.
We strive to be leaders in our field and community knowing that a leader pursues excellence, fosters innovation, and rises to the hardest challenges.
Encourage an environment of compassion, respect, kindness, and inclusivity among staff, volunteers, clients, and the community that we serve. Suspend judgment while acknowledging and appreciating the individuality of each person and animal.
Recognize the critical role we serve in the community and maintain the public’s trust through open accessibility and transparency.
Remain open-minded and adaptable to the changing landscape. We learn from our failures and work every day to improve ourselves and the organization.
Support each other by creating a positive, mission-driven, and team-centered culture. Above all, have fun and laugh.
Our Guiding Principles
AWLA provides temporary humane shelter for lost, abandoned, surrendered, or otherwise homeless animals, including, but not limited to dogs, cats, and other small companion animals. AWLA's primary responsibility is to the animals and people of Arlington County and it will accept any animal regardless of condition from within Arlington County, as well as animals from the City of Falls Church and other localities in accordance with the terms of any executed memorandum of understanding. AWLA however, does not take healthy stray cats since they are more likely to be reunited with their owners if they are left where they are found. AWLA also accepts animals from animal welfare organizations outside of Arlington County in accordance with its policy on Working with Other Animal Organizations.
Animal Control officers are authorized to pick up domestic animals located within Arlington County, including Ronald Reagan National Airport, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, and the Pentagon Reservation. In accordance with state law, all stray domestic animals without a form of identification, such as a microchip, ID tag, tattoo, collar, or rope, are kept for a minimum of five full days. Domestic animals found to have one of these forms of identification are kept for a minimum of ten full days. Consistent with state law, the shelter will humanely euthanize any animal before the end of the stray period if a veterinarian determines that the animal is suffering and that keeping it for the full stray period would be inhumane.
AWLA is an open-access shelter required to accept any animal regardless of condition from within Arlington County and the City of Falls Church. Every animal in these jurisdictions is accepted. Animals from other jurisdictions are also accepted when space is available. Unfortunately, in some instances, the most humane option is to humanely euthanize animals that cannot be successfully treated behaviorally and/or medically or animals who pose a potential threat to the community. AWLA follows sheltering best practices for determining the need for humane euthanasia. In addition, owners sometimes bring pets to the shelter for euthanasia, which is performed only after a thorough evaluation. Animal Control officers sometimes pick up animals that are severely injured or ill such that euthanasia is the only humane option. Animals in AWLA's care are never euthanized based on time limits or due to lack of space. Through the shelter facilities, foster homes, and transfer partnerships, AWLA is able to keep all animals as long as necessary to find homes. AWLA's positive outcome rate far exceeds national standards.
Working with licensed wildlife rehabilitators, AWLA cares for injured, orphaned, and displaced wild animals that are reported to Animal Control officers. This service helps to educate the public about rabies and living in harmony with wildlife. In FY21, AWLA launched a new Wildlife Resource Center dedicated to providing wildlife education and outreach, emergency field response, triage, and care for sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife in Arlington, VA with the intent of transferring them to wildlife rehabbers for eventual release back into their native habitat.
Consistent with our mission to improve the lives of animals, AWLA is committed to helping our Arlington community co-exist harmoniously with wildlife. We adhere to the following principles in dealing with wildlife:
- Respect for the environment
- Tolerance and understanding of living things
- Humane approaches to resolving conflicts using non-lethal methods
We believe that wildlife-human conflicts can be resolved by understanding wild creatures' habits and behaviors and by identifying human behaviors that contribute to conflict. Non-lethal conflict resolution is longer-lasting than removing wild animals from their environment because the latter is sometimes just a temporary fix that opens up a niche for other animals that cause similar issues. All AWLA staff will work to educate the public, endorse humane protection of our native species, and encourage appreciation of our ecosystems while protecting the Arlington community.
At AWLA, we focus on both the physical and mental health of our animals. All staff and many volunteers achieve certification of Fear Free Sheltering Methods and AWLA models care off of the Five Freedoms of animal sheltering, the standard for care. The Five Freedoms are:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst.
- Freedom from discomfort.
- Freedom from pain, injury, or disease.
- Freedom to express normal behavior.
- Freedom from fear and distress.
AWLA's goal is to place all animals into appropriate lifelong homes or approved animal welfare organizations. Accordingly, we strive to follow open and progressive adoption polices that reduce the obstacles of obtaining a pet. To accomplish this goal, AWLA will assess the health and behavior of the animal and consider factors that are necessary for a home to be appropriate. All animals are assessed by trained staff. Placement decisions will be based on the best interests of the animal and the community. In addition:
- Adoptions will meet State requirements.
- Medical records and animal history are obtained, reviewed, and disclosed when possible.
Sterilization of Released Animals Virginia Law requires that all dogs and cats adopted from shelters be spayed or neutered. AWLA requires spaying and neutering of all cats, dogs, and rabbits prior to their release to adopters; however, AWLA will release unsterilized cats, dogs, and rabbits to adopters if a medical or other condition temporarily precludes surgery. The Director of Operations will follow up on these cases to confirm sterilization as per AWLA's adoption contract. AWLA follows best shelter practices in sterilization. For species not required to be sterilized, adopters sign a contract to keep animals of the opposite sex separate. Bird adopters are required to agree to remove any eggs.
Cats adopted from AWLA may not be declawed. This policy is reflected in the adoption application and contract and will be discussed during the application review. AWLA will deny an application to adopt if there is reasonable grounds to believe that an applicant will declaw a cat, which includes the applicant's refusal to commit to not declawing. An adopter's failure to comply with AWLA's declawing policy will be recorded in the personal history database and may be grounds for denying future adoptions unless approved by the Director of Operations or their designee.
AWLA helps the community address community cat (previously termed "feral") concerns through education and programs such as the trtap-neuter-return program. Community cats are typically not adoptable because they are unsafe to handle and socialize. Kittens that show they can be handled and socialized without undue stress or risk to AWLA staff may be considered adoptable. Community cats coming into the shelter are treated as strays in accordance with Arlington County and Virginia state law.
AWLA began as an all-volunteer organization. While it now has a professional staff, AWLA is committed to the continued use of volunteers to support its mission. This commitment is demonstrated by a concerted effort to appreciate the role that volunteers play, both culturally and operationally. AWLA will ensure that volunteers are appropriately trained.
Nationwide, millions of animals are euthanized every year due to a shortage of appropriate adoptive homes. Because homeless pets are awaiting adoption in Arlington County, as well as almost every community in the nation, AWLA strongly advocates that individuals who are interested in acquiring a pet consider adopting as a responsible step in addressing the homeless pet overpopulation crisis. While AWLA recognizes that it may be difficult to determine the true origin of a pet, we encourage individuals who are committed to acquiring a specific breed of an animal to work with a breed rescue group or other reputable source. AWLA believes that acquiring a pet is a lifelong commitment and should be done with the utmost consideration of all factors leading to a successful pet-owner relationship.
AWLA does not support the use of unnecessary surgical procedures for pets. Surgeries conducted purely for cosmetic purposes, such as ear cropping or tail docking in dogs, when no compelling health reasons exist for performing such procedures, expose pets to unnecessary discomfort and risk. AWLA believes that pet owners should commit to working through behavioral issues, such as dog barking and cat scratching, through the use of training and environmental management, in lieu of relying on procedures known as debarking and de-vocalization surgery, or cat declawing, as a means of resolving these perceived "nuisance behaviors".
AWLA opposes the trapping, farming, or killing of animals as a source of luxury items or status symbols, including the use of fur as garments and the use of materials, such as animal ivory, for jewelry or novelties. AWLA also opposes the use of leg-hold or body-gripping traps to capture wild animals because they are inherently inhumane.
AWLA condemns the heinous crime of dog fighting, a blood sport in which dogs are forced to fight one another for the entertainment and/or profit of spectators. Although dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states, it continues to occur in every part of the country and in every time of community. Dog fighting is often associated with other forms of criminal activity, including illegal gambling and possession of drugs and firearms.
A wild or "exotic" animal is any animal, native or non-native to the United States, that has not been subject to domestication through many generations of selective and controlled breeding and thereby has adapted to living in close association with humans. Examples of animals that are not considered to be exotic including those species permitted in the Arlington County Code, Chapter 2-18. Exotic or wild animals are unsuited for life as family pets. Exotic pet guardians often find themselves unable to provide their pets with an appropriate living environment that ensures both the health and wellbeing of the animal and the safety of the community. In addition, many exotic animals carry pathogens readily transmissible and potentially fatal to humans. The capture, breeding, and marketing of exotic animals is often done outside legal channels, thereby compromising the animals' right to humane treatment and the public scrutiny imperative for disease identification and control. AWLA's position is that no animal taken from the wild, or wild by nature, should be kept as a pet. AWLA also opposes the release of exotic animals into non-native environments.
AWLA is opposed to using animals in circumstances where the animal's physical, social, or psychological needs cannot be appropriately met. AWLA is opposed to practices that produce pain, injury, or distress to the animals: 1) in the process of acquiring them for entertainment; 2) training them to perform; 3) housing and caring for them for the duration of their period of performance; 4) disposing of them when their usefulness as an animal performer has ended. AWLA is opposed to using animals in circuses, carnivals, traveling animal shows, and other similar venues whose sole purpose is for entertainment.
AWLA is opposed to any legislation designed to single out a specific dog breed to control or regulate. AWLA believes that breed identification should not be used as a tool to determine if a dog is or is not dangerous. Rather, each dog should be considered on an individual basis, because his or her physical and behavioral traits will be the result of multiple factors, including genetics, socialization, and environment. AWLA believes the more effective means to address dangerous dog issues should rely on individual behavioral evaluation, public education, and promotion of responsible dog ownership.
AWLA supports the transfer of animals from one shelter or organization to another to give the transferred animals a better chance of adoption. Many animal welfare organizations suffer from overcrowding and/or low positive outcome rates, and transferring these animals to other shelters with available capacity and/or resources is likely to give these animals a second chance.
AWLA supports the use of the LIMA (Least Intrusive Minimally Aversive) approach to training. AWLA understands that behavioral training is an important tool in achieving our mission of improving the lives of animals and people. We support animal training methods that are based on current scientific knowledge and incorporate kindness and respect for the animal. AWLA supports the use of positive reinforcement methods that effectively accomplish the training objective with the least amount of stress for the animal.
Many people in Arlington County face eviction or exclusion from rental or multifamily housing because they care for pets. Others are forced to surrender cherished pets to shelters when moving to pet restrictive housing. AWLA recognizes that housing that describes itself as "pet friendly" in most cases still imposes size, breed, or species restrictions on potential renters.
AWLA supports the belief that one breed, size, or type of domesticated animal is no more likely to cause damage or disturbance than another. AWLA believes that the "Pets Are Welcome" policy benefits not only the renter/pet caregiver but also the rental management/property owner. Allowing pet caregivers to remain with their pets minimizes apartment turnover and prevents animals from being separated from their caregivers.