a letter from our president & ceo

To Our Wonderful Community:

Before the terms “COVID-19,” “social distancing,” or "flatten the curve” entered our daily life, we offered to help a cat in need of emergency medical care. With an arrow in his face, Cupid, as he was eventually named, came to AWLA on Valentine’s Day and the rest is, as they say, history. The amount of support for Cupid that poured in from across the county, state, country, and yes, even the world was nothing short of incredible. There was hardly a conversation, email, phone call, or Facebook message where a community member didn’t ask about the now famous feline. (In fact, before he was ultimately adopted, there was a running joke that we were all just Cupid’s personal publicists.) Cupid stole our hearts and reminded everyone of the unconditional love and strength a pet can offer: he was a fighter who survived untold trauma and came out the other side as happy as can be, wanting nothing more than a friend, breakfast, and some snuggles.

Cupid is his new home

The world has irrevocably changed since Cupid came to us in mid-February, and it will continue to be drastically different a week from now, a day from now, or even an hour from now. As with everyone else, AWLA is adjusting to this new “normal.” We’ve paused in-shelter volunteers, canceled events, and limited transfer-in animals. Our staff is managing children out of school, loved ones they may not be able to see, and general anxiety over the news of the day.

But, like Cupid, we soldier on despite these challenges. Staff come to work every day to help the animals in our care and to support pet owners with whatever animal-related need that may arise. Our Animal Control team is also still in the community, serving as first responders in this ever-evolving crisis.

AWLA staff hard at work

And, just like you stepped up to help Cupid, you also give us the support we need to continue. You answered our plea for emergency fosters and cleared the shelter. You send supplies to keep our pet pantry stocked, recognizing the safety net we provide animal owners will be more critical now than ever before. And you donate, giving us much needed funds to continue our lifesaving work.

Recently, I’ve found myself thinking about Cupid and everything it took for him to be here today – the dedication of AWLA’s staff, the support of our community, and Cupid’s own strength. There was a sheer willingness never to give up and an attitude that, collectively, we would overcome any obstacle.

There’s a lesson to be learned somewhere in his story, and I know, like Cupid, we’ll get through this, too – together.

Thank you,

Sam Wolbert, AWLA President & CEO

Saving a cat named Cupid

by Chelsea Jones

(Warning: Graphic Images)

Cupid after surgery

On the morning of Valentine's Day, we received an urgent message - one of our rescue partners in West Virginia had just taken in a horrifically injured cat and needed our help. Little did we know that this cat's journey from West Virginia to Arlington would inspire hundreds of people from around the globe to save his life, and the lives of hundreds more animals like him.

The day before Valentine's Day, a woman in Hardy County, West Virginia opened her door to see a cat standing on her porch with an arrow sticking out his face near his left eye. She immediately called 911 for help. Emergency services sent out the local game warden, who turned to Potomac Highlands Animal Rescue (PHAR) for assistance. A PHAR volunteer rushed the cat to the emergency vet who was able to give him pain medication, but they had no surgeon on site, and regardless, the rescue did not have the funds to pay for surgery. AWLA has partnered with PHAR for many years, and so they knew they could reach out to us for assistance.

Cupid at the emergency hospital in West Virginia

When we got the message, it was accompanied by a video of the cat, who, despite being in critical condition, was "making biscuits," purring, and rubbing his face on the veterinary staff. We knew that we had to help.

The next day was a rush - a PHAR volunteer drove two hours to bring the cat to AWLA, and then a staff member rushed him to the emergency vet. In the midst of it all, the cat was still purring, seemingly happy to have this much attention on him. In the few minutes between car rides, we settled on a name: Cupid.

X-ray of the arrow in Cupid's shoulder.

Cupid stayed overnight at the emergency vet, getting pain medication, fluids, and x-rays. At first we didn't know what to make of the x-ray - we had no idea what kind of arrow looks like that - but we later discovered it was a judo arrowhead, used for target shooting. After doing some research, it was pretty clear to us that someone had shot Cupid deliberately. Thankfully, the x-rays also showed that the arrow hadn't hit any organs or bones.

Our veterinarian, Dr Galati, picked Cupid up the next morning and brought him back to the shelter for surgery. While it was good news that no organs were damaged, it was still unclear what they would face during surgery. It turned out that removing the arrow was the easy part - using bolt cutters, they were able to remove the arrowhead and shaft safely. Unfortunately, there was a bigger problem. Cupid had a severe infection from the wound, which was likely about a week old, and it had spread from his shoulder down to his abdomen and front leg.

The vet team spent two hours removing infected tissue, resulting in two very impressive sets of stitches along Cupid's face and side. To combat the infection, they placed drains in his incisions and started him on two different types of antibiotics. The surgery had gone well, but even then we had no idea if he would be able to stave off the infection. Turns out, Cupid was a fighter.

Cupid the day after surgery, with drains to help the infection.

Every day, Cupid's condition improved. Despite all he had been through, he remained as friendly and affectionate as ever, wanting nothing but food, chin scratches and belly rubs whenever he saw someone near his kennel. Two days after his surgery, we put out a plea to our supporters, asking for help covering his $6,500 medical bill. We couldn't quite believe the response we got about this little orange kitty with a fighting spirit.

Overnight, we raised $24,000. Within a week, that number was up to $65,000. And when he was featured on television news shows across the country (and internationally), that total rose to a staggering $87,000! We received emails every day, letting us know that people were rooting for Cupid, that they believed that he would be ok. Cupid wouldn't let them down - he surprised all of us by fully recovering in about three weeks. His drains and stitches were removed, his infection cleared, and by then he was a local celebrity, and had fans all over the world following his personal Instagram account.

Cupid's adoption profile photo!

When it was time for Cupid to be made available for adoption, we had to come up with a special process, since hundreds of people had expressed interest in making him a part of their families. In the end, we took in 19 applications over two days, and chose the top 14 from that group. The winning applicant was decided by lottery, and we were just as surprised as anyone else when we drew the winning number - 14. As it turns out, the adopter's 'lucky' number was 14, and it had been the number on all her sports jerseys through high school.

Lucky number 14, a young couple with another kitty at home, came in to meet Cupid the next day. As usual, he was all purrs and biscuits, and they were smitten from the start. They took him home that afternoon, with Cupid's new mom literally skipping out the door. Cupid's journey had come to end at AWLA, but we couldn't wait to see him start his next adventure with a new family.

Cupid meeting his new family for the first time.

Cupid has now been in his new home for about a month and has completely made himself a part of the family. "He is getting along very well with his sister, Puffy (another adopted kitty). He follows her around always looking to play," his new adopter told us recently. "He recently had his first check-up at the vet and he passed with flying colors - he was a BIG celebrity at his new vet's office! He is an incredible cat with an adorable meow and a huge personality."

Cupid's story is a testament to the fact that while it may seem, at times, that the world is very divided, we can all come together to share love with a pet in need. And while Cupid's journey at AWLA may be over, his legacy will live on through our Healthy Pet Fund which, thanks to the outpouring of support that we received in Cupid's honor, will help many, many, many more animals whose medical needs are above and beyond the norm.

It's difficult for us to truly express the gratitude that we feel to everyone who followed Cupid's story and helped save his life. We are so proud to be a part of this community and the amazing story of a little orange tabby cat.

AWLA's fear free certification

by Amy Schindler, Chief Operating Officer

The Fear Free Program, established in 2016, has provided education to over 50,000 veterinary and pet professionals. Last year, Fear Free launched a much-anticipated training and certification for animal shelters. The program was created by lead author Dr. Brenda Griffin and three veterinary behaviorists. It provides free, in depth online training for employees and volunteers.

The goal of the Fear Free Shelter Program is to reduce the negative emotional states that are commonly experienced by shelter animals - including fear, anxiety, stress, and frustration - and increase enrichment opportunities. Training is designed so that all individuals involved in the care and oversight of shelter animals - from medical and behavioral staff, to animal control and administration - may facilitate a stress-free stay from intake to adoption.

This allows everyone to participate in the positive impact on our pets. The four modules within the program cover emotional health and focus on recognizing how animals are feeling in the shelter, how animals learn, Fear Free communication and animal handling basics. Not only does it provide a good experience for the pets, it provides a good experience for people.

Everyone who completes the course gets a certificate of completion, and is granted access to articles and handouts that were reviewed by a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

AWLA staff doing an intake exam using Fear Free methods.

The Fear Free program promotes methods that are the kindest and least stressful to the animals. As a CPDT-KA certified trainer and IAABC shelter affiliate member, this is an important philosophy, one that is relevant to our organization’s values and guiding principles. We value each and every animal that comes through our door. Our team aims to treat each individual animal with the compassion and quality care that they deserve. It is so important to us that we made this certification part of our on-boarding process. We are proud to say that all 47 employees at AWLA, as well as many volunteers, are Fear Free Shelter graduates.

happy tails - Jeeves

When a little brown and white dog with a crooked smile and lumps and bumps all over his body took the first steps out of his crate, we all fell in love instantly. Jeeves was transferred to AWLA from a partner rescue in West Virginia after being with them for 6 months with no-one even asking to meet, let alone adopt him.

None of us at AWLA could understand why. Jeeves became a favorite amongst staff and volunteers because of his goofy personality, and expert snuggling skills. Unfortunately, we couldn't find a new home for Jeeves right away because we discovered that he had quite a few medical issues. Our veterinary team got to work, repairing a condition Jeeves had called entropian (where his eyelashes faced inwards, irritating his eyes), and removing several masses from his body.

Jeeves after his entropian surgery.

Sadly, we discovered that some of the masses were cancerous and the likelihood of regrowth was high. So we focused on finding a home for Jeeves where he would be loved and spoiled for the rest of his life. Thankfully, it didn't take long to find him a family.

Jeeves' new family is in love with their new addition and sent us this update: "Jeeves has been nothing but a dream since we gave him his forever home back in December! Being an older pup, and having a few residual ailments, we’ve spoiled him senseless. Treats, snuggles, walks, toys and lots of love. If Jeeves was to fill out a dating profile for himself, it would read: Sleepy, hungry and love-able.

Jeeves snuggling with his new family.

After recently getting married and purchasing a new home, we knew something was missing in our life...we just didn’t know that Jeeves was who we were missing! I think if we were to look back on some of our favorite moments over the last few months, they’d have to be Jeeves' slippery feet across our hardwood floors (think ice skating, except it’s your first time every day) and the amount of times he’s found snacks/treats/food laying around and demolished it (maybe that’s why his name is Mis-JEEVES-ious). All in all, we love him to pieces and couldn’t be happier we found him at AWLA."

World Spay Day Success

Every year in February, which is Spay & Neuter Awareness Month, AWLA takes part in World Spay Day, a campaign that encourages people to save lives by spaying and neutering their pets. We celebrate all month long by offering significantly reduced spay and neuter vouchers for purchase by members of the public.

We are thrilled to announce that, this year, we sold a record total of 100 vouchers!

Providing low-cost spay and neuter vouchers is something we are proud to do year-round, but our World Spay Day promotion gives us an opportunity to help pet owners who may not otherwise be able to afford to spay or neuter their pet. One of the families we were able to help this year was Makayla and her therapy dog, Bimmer. Makayla was nervous about her best friend having surgery, but she knew it was the right thing to do and would help him be an even better therapy dog for her. We are so happy we were able to help Makayla, Bimmer, and more families like theirs!

Makayla and Bimmer

Thank you to our participating veterinary hospitals: Clarendon Animal Care, Caring Hands Animal Hospital, and Anicira Vet Hospital.

happy tails - fher

In the first week of October last year, our Animal Control Team responded to an alleged hoarding case, ultimately removing nine animals from the home - eight cats and one dog. Some of the cats were being housed in filthy dog crates, and the dog spent much of her time locked in the bathroom.

Fher was one of the cats removed from the house. Like the other cats, he was terrified of his new surroundings, and didn't want to be approached, let alone pet. Our Behavior Team worked with Fher and the other cats for many weeks, using food and other rewards to build their confidence. Eventually, Fher and the other cats were social enough to be placed up for adoption, and much to our surprise, all the cats were adopted quite quickly. Except for Fher.

Fher before being seized from his previous owner.

Fher continued to improve, but very gradually. He spent some time in a foster home over the holidays where we learned that he was a box connoisseur and loved food more than anything else in the world. Unfortunately, he was still very unsure about giving or receiving affection. Over the weeks, our staff and volunteers continued to work with him, gaining his trust slowly, never pushing him farther than he was comfortable going. Every time one of us was able to pet him gently, we held a silent celebration in our heads. Finally, after five months in our care, a couple came in to meet him. They sat in his kennel for awhile, not trying to pet him, just offering him treats and letting him get used to their presence. It was clear that they understood Fher and what he needed. And Fher must have approved of them because he let them pet him within minutes! Fher had found his new family and they took him home that night.

It's been almost a month since Fher, now named Finn, found his new family, and we are over the moon at the progress he has made! "I fell in love with him online and when we went to see this “timid and anxious cat,” he was rolling over and purring within 10 minutes (with the help of treats of course)! We had to have him. It was a process introducing him to the home since we have another cat, Nico, but we were shocked at how well they got along. We were also shocked at how trusting Finn became in such a short amount of time. He used to shy away from petting, but he has learned that they’re a good thing by copying our very confident Nico. Finn doesn’t seem to have any sense of personal space, is clumsy, and super playful! We always joke that he's a six-year-old kitten when he makes us laugh out loud with how silly he is. Adopting a new fur-baby can be nerve-racking sometimes, but each time we have seen how eye opening, heart melting, and important it is. Finn has finally found his forever home!"

Fher in his new home.

Congratulations, Finn, on your wonderful new family!

volunteer of the year

by Adrienne Mintz, Volunteer Coordinator

Congratulations to our Volunteer of the Year, Melissa Sprott!

Melissa has been a dedicated volunteer with the League for over 12 years. She has fostered and occasionally assists at special events, but you're sure to find her on a weekly basis in the cat room as an evening Cat Room Kennel Assistant and morning Cat Room Scrub Volunteer. Here’s what she had to share:

“I retired two years ago after 37 years in magazine and book publishing. Married to a fellow pet-lover, Michael. We adopted our Penny after fostering her for a couple of weeks. She was a 2-month-old stray found in Clarendon, and she needed eye goop while waiting out her stray period. We brought her back to the shelter in time for her spay surgery, and I saw her while doing scrub in the kitten room right afterwards. She reached through the bars, like “hey, why are you out *there*? Why am I in *here*?” So she came home with us that day.

We also found the gone-but-not-forgotten Tiger (aka Tigger in the shelter) and Mr. Morrison (aka Morris) at AWLA, and we also loved and lost Munch and Java, also cats of distinction. In the cat room, potential adopters would ask questions about kittens, and I would answer without having any real experience. When I retired, I thought fostering would be a great way to get some practice, while getting to play with kittens. Penny was our 16th foster; all 16 came through AWLA’s Kitten College.

One of the things I like about the shelter is that it magnifies the strengths of the people who work and volunteer there, and that there are so many different ways to contribute. I recently started volunteering some Scrub shifts, and am surprised by how much I like it. I love volunteering in the cat room on Monday evenings, and I particularly like checking out the dog kennel, getting the rundown on how wonderful each of the dogs is and handing out treats.

Outside of the shelter, I enjoy Pilates and Boxing classes through Arlington County’s rec system, reading, Sudoko, crosswords, and I recently got back into knitting. And I’m working on my push-ups."

Congratulations again Melissa; we can't thank you enough and we appreciate all that you do for the League!

happy tails: big boy

Big Boy was surrendered to AWLA in February of this year when his owner moved and could not take him. From day one, Big Boy showed himself to be a calm, outgoing, friendly bunny who was happiest when he was around our staff and volunteers. Being quite a large rabbit, it took him a little while to find a home (many people don't realize how big rabbits can get!), but about a month after he arrived, he found his new family.

Big Boy at the shelter.

Big Boy's new family recently sent us this note: "Hello everybunny! Big Boy is doing amazingly in his forever home. You can catch him hopping around in his tunnels. When I wake up in the morning or come home, I sing a little song using his name and he comes hopping at full speed. He has also taken to the role of guardian of the fridge, since he knows where the carrots are. Evenings end with cuddles puddles on the floor or bunny yoga. He is so social and loves pets on his head. My fiancé and I are deeply in love with him and cannot imagine life without him."

Big Boy in his new home.

Introducing our new Corporate giving program!

AWLA is launching a new program to provide groups with a unique opportunity to experience first-hand what it takes every day to care for the thousands of animals the League helps each year. The program – the Corporate Animal Care Crew – is designed to be a meaningful way for teams to volunteer, build connection, and invest in their community.

For more information, or to join the Crew, contact Hollie Dickman at hdickman@awla.org.

happy tails - camille

Camille, a quiet and gentle girl, went through quite the journey before finally finding her perfect fit at AWLA. She was originally transferred to our shelter in April 2019 from a shelter partner in southern Virginia, where she had been left at a vet's office with a very bad skin condition. The owner never came back for her.

Camille at the shelter.

After several weeks of diagnostics and testing, our vet team determined that Camille was suffering from severe seasonal allergies that would need ongoing treatment. Through a combination of specific food, medication, and baths, Camille's skin began to improve. Unfortunately, she was adopted and returned twice in the space of six months when the adopters could not handle her allergies, her skin looking worse each time she came back.

Luckily, after her second return we were able to get her allergies back under control. She spent much of her time with our staff, curled up in someone's cubicle or sharing a lunch break. The months went on, and we continued to search for her new family.

Finally, in December, someone stopped by specifically to see her. After spending some time with her, we were nervous to go through her medical history with him - most interested adopters had been reluctant to take on her needs. But to our surprise, he was unfazed! It turns out that he was a local veterinarian and knew exactly how to handle her allergies. They took her home that day, and Camille hasn't looked back since.

Camille snuggled up at her new dad's office.

Camille's new family told us: "Camille has really come into her own since coming home with me! She came to me very itchy, a little 'thick' and a little quiet. Over the past three months, she has lost ten pounds and her skin is as clear as it has ever been! She is on a prescription diet and the right cocktail of medications to keep her skin under control. She comes to work with me everyday, and you can often find her snoozing under my desk in the doctors office (when she is not looking for me when I am with a patient). She loves all people, long walks, pumpkin-filled Kongs, and is gently curious about every dog and cat that she sees! I am so lucky to have Camille in my life and to have been able to give her a forever home she deserves."

Camille in her new home.

Thank you to our sponsors!

If you have been to AWLA recently, you may have noticed new donor recognition signage on our walls and sponsorship signage on our kennels. We want everyone who visits the shelter to know that it is thanks to the support of our community - individuals and businesses - that we are able to fulfill our mission every day. Thank you! If you would like to know more about how you can support the shelter, please contact Hollie Dickman at hdickman@awla.org.

2020 Sponsors: Nova Cat Clinic, Clarendon Animal Care, Caring Hands Animal Hospital, Ballston Animal Hospital, Fur Get Me Not Pet Care, Vexterra Group, Sit-A-Pet, FVC Bank, Palmer R Harned, The Board Hound, EMMAvet, Northside Veterinary Clinic, Dogma Bakery, Federal Lock & Safe, Antech Diagnostics, Bark + Boarding, Colonel (R) Jonathan and Mrs. Gayle Kosarin, Suburban Animal Hospital

Let's Get Social!


Editor: Chelsea Jones

Contributors: Sam Wolbert, Amy Schindler, Kat Williams, Adrienne Mintz

President/CEO: Sam Wolbert

AWLA Board Officers: Allen Herzberg, Chairman; Alice Barrett Feeley, Vice Chair; Jennifer Case, Treasurer; Carol Freysinger, Secretary

ALWA Board Members: Ed Kussy, Sheila Raebel, Kayleen Gloor, Jeffery Newman, Katy Nelson, Tim Denning, Diva Nagula, Sally Kaplan