The Kiraly Family and Andre, AWLA alum
"After a long search for a cat, we happily welcomed seven-month-old Andre into our home. He is our family's first pet, and our two little boys, one with special needs, absolutely adore him. Andre himself also has special needs - as a young kitten he developed juvenile cataracts that limited his eyesight. Knowing that treatment was urgent, we quickly scheduled a surgery to restore Andre's vision. But when the government shut down in late 2018 we found ourselves in the unexpected position of being furloughed and unable to cover the costly procedure. We faced an awful decision - postpone the surgery and risk Andre losing his sight, or return him to AWLA in hopes that another family could help him.
When we contacted AWLA to inform them of our situation, we honestly did not expect their generous offer to help Andre get the procedure he needed to see again. Their actions speak volumes about their core values - AWLA is deeply committed to the well-being of the animals that come into their care.
Since his eye surgery, Andre has a new curiosity about the world. He plays pouncing games with his "big brothers" (to their great delight), and stares with interest out windows at squirrels, birds, bunnies, and all manner of people walking by. He has also become even more snuggly, if possible, climbing into our laps at every opportunity to give hugs, make 'biscuits', and purr. Restoring Andre's vision truly gave him a second chance at happiness and allowed him to be the cat he was meant to be.
We are beyond grateful for the kind and compassionate staff at AWLA. They not only completed our family with Andre (and taught our boys how to care for a cat), but assisted us when we never expected to need help. Thank you, AWLA, for enriching our lives with Andre, and thank you for all the loving care you give to animals that deserve a second chance."
Katie Cristol, Arlington County Board Member
"Like many Arlingtonians, I benefit in a personal way from having AWLA in our community: Shirlington (Shirlie), our gray tabby, is an alum of the AWLA “Kitten College” foster program and a well-loved member of my family. Shirlie and her siblings were among the first foster kittens to come through the new neonatal kitten clinic, an incredible community resource that really shows the depth of compassion Arlingtonians have for their neighbors in need, including those with fur and feathers.
Our experience as a kitten foster family gave me a personal insight into something I’ve long admired about AWLA from a professional perspective as a member of the Arlington County Board: This is an organization that serves people by serving animals. Whether it’s gathering children at a camp or birthday party to learn about caring for animals, giving seniors an opportunity to give back and stay active by volunteering, or engaging young professionals in their community through their dogs, AWLA helps Arlingtonians - and others around the region - get more connected not just to pets, but to their neighbors and to a culture of giving back.
I’m also fortunate to see firsthand how the AWLA staff makes Arlington County better for all its animal residents (and their people), through responding to animal control calls and working with the County Board and public health staff on policy issues like regulating exotic pets.
Just as Shirlie makes my family’s life better every day, I love seeing AWLA work every day to make Arlington a more engaged, friendly and safe place to live, and I’m so glad to be a partner."
Paula & Katrina Kelso, AWLA Volunteers
"We were looking for an opportunity to work together while assisting animals in need. We really enjoy spending time with the rabbits, guinea pigs, birds and other pint-size friends. Even better is making a happy match between those animals and their adopters. One of the things we really enjoy is offering fruit treats to the rabbits and guinea pigs. We usually bring a banana from home, and that seems to be a favorite, even amongst the tiniest mice.
Katrina has three birds - parakeets Dublin and Malawi, and a cockatiel named Sammy. Dublin (formerly Sky) was adopted from AWLA, and Malawi and Sammy are both rescues. Doing volunteer work at AWLA has been a fun and satisfying activity for us, and we encourage others to support the shelter and advocate for responsible pet ownership."
Ronny Shafer, AWLA's Director of Finance & Administration
"Unusual as this may sound, especially in this transient area, I have worked at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington for more than twenty years. (And no, I did not start when I was 12, but thank you, the secret is animals, they keep you young).
But seriously, I am proud of my long career with the League. It has evolved and grown so much since I began that in many ways I have worked at several different organizations. I've seen us grow physically (larger building, additional kennels, surgery suite) and philosophically (introduction of Trap-Neuter-Return, elimination of dog breed restrictions, establishment of foster program). We’ve also added services and strengthened our position in the animal welfare world thanks to generous donors, a strong working relationship with the County, and the support of our community.
There aren't many jobs where after a stressful session of auditing or budgeting you can go play with a kitten or discuss the behavioral habits of your pets as a way to unwind. I feel lucky and honored to work at a place that allows me to continue to grow professionally and philosophically, and where talking shop involves discussing the effect of catnip on cats or the appeal of peanut butter Kongs for dogs."
Kim O'Keefe, Licensed Bat Rehabber & Volunteer with the Save Lucy Campaign
"My name is Kim O’Keefe and I have been a licensed bat rehabber in Virginia since 2012. I began my bat rehabilitation work with Leslie Sturges, president and founder of The Save Lucy Campaign, a non-profit organization dedicated to bat conservation and raising awareness of white-nose syndrome and its devastating impact on North American bats. This invasive and deadly fungus has killed millions of bats and left many species threatened or endangered. With their declining numbers, I have chosen to focus my efforts and energy on the future of bats, public education, and training for animal care professionals to highlight the positive impact bats have on the environment. I accept bats year-round and work with all native species from orphans to adults in the Northern Virginia area.
In addition to volunteering my time with bat rehabilitation, I also foster animals of all shapes, sizes, ages, and species! My animal career started in 1996 when I landed a position with the Animal Welfare League of Arlington as an Animal Care Technician. The opportunity for growth within the shelter allowed me to work with multiple departments, touching on all facets of animal welfare from the need for progressive practices, to improved adoptions, community outreach, and shelter operations. I am a proud supporter of AWLA and feel very fortunate to remain a part of their family."
Emily Kvalheim, Kitten College foster
"I am a dog person (and allergic to cats), but I began fostering kittens through AWLA’s Kitten College after I learned kittens are often euthanized due to a lack of shelter capacity and resources. Fostering has brought me great joy! I find it rewarding to watch kittens grow up, learn how to be cats, play, and thrive! As a law student, my schedule is relatively flexible. When I am not in class or at my internship, I can study at home. I often work on assignments with kittens playing in my lap, and I can now honestly say, “my cat ate my homework” (more than once)!
P.S. The kitten pictured is Gridiron. Gridiron eventually played in Hallmark Channel's Kitten Bowl VI as "Huckleberry", but I knew him before he could figure out wet food."
Dr. Adrienne Hergen, DVM, AWLA Volunteer Veterinarian
"My name is Adrienne Hergen and I am a veterinarian who has been practicing in Northern Virginia for more than 10 years, currently at Shirlington Animal Hospital. I am a native of Alexandria, but have lived in Arlington for many years now. After graduating from vet school, I began volunteering at AWLA as a visiting veterinarian to help care for the animals at the shelter.
Over the years there have been many changes and improvements at AWLA, including new dog, cat, and small animal housing, and exercise areas that emphasize environmental enrichment based on each individual species, as well as the construction of a second building that includes additional dog housing and a surgical suite.
The shelter is constantly evolving and is always striving to provide the best care for animals in our community. It is of the utmost importance to me to contribute to my community through volunteering and helping animals in every way that I can.
In addition to being a volunteer, I am also a patron of the shelter. Two dear members of my family, Tiger Lily (my cat) and Perry (my rabbit) were adopted from AWLA. My time spent at the shelter is very enjoyable and is something I look forward to. I have formed lifelong friendships through my time there and greatly appreciate all the hard work of everyone who makes AWLA the wonderful organization that it is. I look forward to many more years of working closely with AWLA."
Chestina Merriner, Potomac Highlands Animal Rescue
"My name is Chestina Merriner and I'm a volunteer with Potomac Highlands Animal Rescue (PHAR) in West Virginia. PHAR is a very small rescue that consists of about 10 volunteers. In this part of rural WV there is no animal control and there is a huge overpopulation problem. Spaying/Neutering pets is not common practice and there is a lack compassion for animals. This is why we need help from organizations like AWLA.
PHAR's relationship with the Animal Welfare League of Arlington started more than two decades ago. In this time, AWLA has helped PHAR rehome thousands of animals. Not only dogs and cats but rabbits, hamsters, ferrets and guinea pigs as well. PHAR takes in hundreds of animals a year and with partnerships like the one we have with AWLA we are able to rehome these animals to people that make those animals a part of their families. Some of our dogs live on chains or in outdoor pens. Being inside or even petted is foreign to them. With AWLA's help these dogs get to experience life beyond that 6 ft chain or tiny pen. AWLA helps us give these animals a second chance and the opportunity to help the next animal in need. Without the help of AWLA, we wouldn't be able to help as many animals as we do. They have been truly a blessing and we are so very grateful for everything they do for us and our WV animals."
Michelle Aliaga-Landaverde and Betty Jo, AWLA alum
"My story with Betty Jo begins with losing my best-friend of 15 years. His name was Señor Café and he was my first dog. It broke my heart when I lost him and I told myself that I wouldn’t get a dog for awhile, but if I did, I would try and rescue one. I was really hesitant to adopt again. Café was a puppy when I got him and getting an adult dog scared me a little. Would I love my new dog? Would the bond be as strong? Would I be ready for another commitment? So many questions ran through my head.
Then one day, I saw Betty Jo's beautiful, kind face on AWLA's Instagram page. I think I started following it for awhile before Café passed away so that I could keep an open mind. My boyfriend and I discussed it, and decided I should go meet her with our other dog, a pug named Ottis. That led to a sleepover, which then lead to officially adopting Betty Jo. I knew I couldn’t let her go. She was perfect for me and our little family.
Betty Jo is so lovable and I absolutely adore her. She loves giving kisses, she is a cuddle monster, and is a foodie like me. No matter what happens, she’s 100% part of the family and thanks to her, I would consider adopting again in the future."
Ev Totten & Larry Waldron, Donors, and Kiwi, AWLA alum
"It was love at first bite. We saw a picture of Kiwi in a local paper where he was featured as the pet-of-the-week because he was “hard to place.” So off we went to the AWLA. Kiwi was a beautiful, plump adult male cat who had been at AWLA for quite some time.
The volunteer who showed Kiwi to us explained that the noises and smells of the other animals at the shelter made Kiwi anxious and as soon as I went to pet Kiwi he bit me – hard. OUCH! Kiwi sat back, quite satisfied and glared as if communicating, “bet he won’t do that again.” The volunteer was alarmed and said that he would put Kiwi back and get another kitty for us to meet. I said, “no, I think this kitty will do just fine.” Kiwi’s spirit reminded me of a cat I had as a child.
Since he was a bit overweight when we got him, we put Kiwi on a regular exercise and play routine. He slimmed down and became a much more pleasant kitty at 12 pounds. He was blessed with an amazingly deep meow and proficient in varying the tone of it for emphasis. The lower the meow tone, the more you knew this situation wasn’t going to end nicely. He was extremely athletic and could jump 5 feet straight up and send the tray under the bird-feeder flying. He was a careful eater and susceptible to pollen allergies just like me (his staff). He provided hours of fun and bonded with a small stuffed tiger that he carried around while howling.
Kiwi was my devoted nap buddy. He loved to stretch out on my lap and join me for an afternoon nap. When the weather permitted, I set up matching lounge chairs for our naps.
He got his teeth brushed once a week and he would assume a position on my shoulder for easy access to his mouth. The only thing that he really hated was going to the vet. He had to be tricked into getting into his carrying case for that. But once at the vet he was a perfect patient. Eventually he became diabetic and required insulin shots twice a day. That continued for 4 years; he was always patient and pleasant while getting his shots. Finally at about 18 years old he seemed to lose interest in eating. I fed him with a medical syringe. It was ironic that he still had excellent eye sight and all his teeth were perfect. It was one of the saddest days of my life when my little buddy passed away. I will be forever grateful for the time we shared together.
We have supported the AWLA throughout the years in memory of Kiwi and are so pleased with the renovation project for the kitty section at the AWLA. The multi “room” cubicles are a tremendous improvement."
Kiki & Trevor Pierce, AWLA Foster Family
"I have been a resident of Arlington for almost two years and my husband has been a resident for seven years. We both grew up with dogs and truly believe a house is not a home without a pet. We found AWLA when looking for a way to get involved with our community and, selfishly, to have more time with our four-legged friends. AWLA is an organized, passionate group that motivates us to do everything in our power to help these animals find a fur-ever home.
While we spend most of our time volunteering as foster parents, we also have enjoyed the opportunity to get involved with AWLA adoption events and fundraisers. AWLA's foster program is flexible and accommodates our unpredictable travel schedules with short- and long-term foster opportunities. Their staff is knowledgeable, responsive and compassionate and it is a pleasure to be a part of their team!
At the end of the day, the joy we bring these fosters when taking them home to a warm bed or soft pillow is worth every pee-stained rug, chewed-up shoe, and icy morning walk! AWLA is a supportive community working towards a common goal. We strongly encourage you to reach out to see how you may be able to get involved with AWLA!"
Debbie Hollander, Owner of Sit-A-Pet and AWLA Sponsor
"I’m Debbie Hollander and I own a pet-sitting service called Sit-A-Pet. I have been involved with AWLA for the past 40 years and have seen firsthand the compassion and care that’s given to all of their animals. I’ve also gotten to know many of the staff members. While some animal shelters can be dreary places of last resort, AWLA is a well-managed place full of optimism and possibilities. For me it’s a first resort. I support the League through donations and sponsorships and hope to be a volunteer someday. It’s a happy place."
Want to become an AWLA sponsor? Email firstname.lastname@example.org!
Lori Burkhart, Community Cat Caretaker
"I did my first TNR (trap-neuter-return) on July 24, 2004. I remember that date for a reason. A woman needed help and broke down in tears saying that a feral cat she had been feeding was dragging her front arm. It took four hours to get that black cat into a trap. She had a high break near her shoulder and rather than amputate the leg, the veterinarian fashioned a splint out a coat hanger. This meant that someone had to care of the cat for eight weeks while she healed. I already had two terrified feral kittens in my bathroom, so I volunteered to care for the cat, who I named Panther. As soon as the kittens met Panther, they laid down next to her and gained comfort from her. Panther wasn't too feral, just shy and injured and scared. By the time her leg was healed, she was best friends with my two other cats and we broke our two-cat rule and adopted her. After a few months she was the friendliest cat in the world!
TNR is so important for managing feral cat populations. My heart breaks every time I see an uncared for feral cat. I try to do what I can for them and a big part of that is TNR. A cat colony is a beautiful sight and can be as small as just a few cats. I have three males that come to me for food every night, and by keeping a motion-activated camera by their food bowls, I've helped return many lost dogs and cats to their owners. AWLA's TNR Program has been so helpful in Arlington County. Before it, feral caretakers had to drive long distances to get their community cats spayed or neutered, which can be traumatic for the cats and difficult for the caretakers. I'm so grateful to AWLA for providing the TNR program."
Allen Herzberg, AWLA Board Treasurer
"I’ve had the good fortune to be associated with AWLA as a volunteer and board member for more than three years. Helping out with dog playgroups and serving as Treasurer has been fun and profoundly rewarding. I love animals and the opportunity to contribute to their welfare at a world class operation like AWLA is a privilege. The people who work at the League are the very best at what they do. They work so hard and care deeply for the animals. I feel lucky to be a part of such a great organization."