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Wednesday, February 8, 2023
ArlingtonPublic responds to pet-rescue group's efforts

Public responds to pet-rescue group’s efforts

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The pandemic and society’s response to it wreaked havoc over the past few years, but there was at least one bright spot: A local pet-rescue group’s adoptions soared during the crisis.

“We never closed our doors,” said Dawn Wallace, director of the Arlington-based nonprofit Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation. “We did more intakes in 2020 at the height of COVID than we have in our history. We adopted out more than 2,500 pets that year. Our average is around 1,800 to 2,000 on most years.”

Wallace spoke at the Greater Merrifield Business Association’s Jan. 18 luncheon, held at Lost Dog Café, which supports the foundation. The restaurant’s owners, Arlington residents Pam McAlwee and Ross Underwood, founded the pet-rescue group in 2001.

McAlwee began by visiting animal shelters with high euthanasia rates. The organization eventually bought 63 acres in Sumerduck, Va., and created a dog-kennel facility called The Lost Dog Ranch, which nine years later also accepted cats. The facility served as the foundation’s home base for 16 years and sent vans full of animals to adoption events at PetSmart stores across Northern Virginia, Wallace said.

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The largely volunteer-run organization has saved more than 45,000 homeless cats and dogs in the intervening decades.

“It’s about compassion, caring and making a difference in the lives of animals,” she said.

Wallace, a retired 26-year U.S. Air Force veteran whose last posting was at the Pentagon, started walking dogs in 2017 with the rescue group.

“I was ready to do something else and kind of follow my passion and that’s with animals,” said Wallace, who became the group’s director in 2020.

“Candidly, I was done working with people. The animals have so much to give and the reward that we get out of that is so absolutely amazing.”

Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation, like many pet-rescue groups, became inundated with animals after five hurricanes struck in 2017, Wallace said.

McAlwee was pressed for space and arranged to rent – and later buy – an abandoned boarding kennel building in Falls Church near Seven Corners.
The 15,000-square-foot facility, which the group calls its “Rescue Care Center,” can house up to 120 dogs and between 25 and 30 cats.

“Our ability to rapidly respond and say ‘yes’ to the needs is at a whole different level for us,” Wallace said.

Lost Dog mostly is run by volunteers, but has a few paid technicians.

Insurance stipulates that volunteers at its facilities be at least 18 years old, but youth ages 14 to 17 may serve as dog handlers at adoption events if a parent or guardian is present.

The Internet has expanded the group’s reach to potential out-of-state adopters, provided they are willing to drive to Virginia and undergo an in-person interview and counseling session, Wallace said.

The foundation last year took in 64 of the more than 4,000 beagles rescued from a mass-breeding facility in Cumberland, Va., which was being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice for allegedly having inhumane conditions.

“Those dogs had never been on grass. They had never been off concrete. They had lived on grates. We had to teach those dogs how to do a lot of everything.”

Through a partnership with the Bissell Pet Foundation, Lost Dog soon will try to adopt out 60 dogs being flown into Manassas from Louisiana.

Animal-welfare groups have the ability to get pets adopted quickly and can use their social-media capacity to reduce overcrowding at animal shelters, Wallace said.

Lost Dog’s pet-return rate is low; Wallace attributes that to conversations staff members have beforehand with prospective adopters. Lost Dog does, however, accept plenty of animals given up by people who adopted from other organizations, she said.

The foundation offers pet adopters a two-week trial period for them to truly live with their pets and decide whether their decision was sound.
“It’s not a pair of shoes or a purse that I wear and carry and decide I don’t like,” she said. “But it is a really big decision that a person makes when they decide to take a pet into their family . . . A lot of things that we can or can’t see in a kennel environment, which is an artificial environment, you’re going to see differently when that pet gets to your home.”

If the fit does not prove good – and adopters often quickly know this, but often hang on to the animal for years out of a sense of obligation – the group will take back the animals and try to find them homes that would work better, Wallace said.

The foundation makes every effort to find homes for the pets, but must do so safely. But if some animals prove too difficult, “tough decisions have to be made,” she said.

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