Bunny, the cherished pet of Linda Easley, benefitted when Easley turned to the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria for help with food, a leash and a dog bed.
Photo by Linda Easley
Linda Easley didn’t know where to turn. In recent years, she had suffered a debilitating injury, lost her mobile home to a flood and then her money to identity theft. Now, living with a relative in Northern Virginia, she lacked funds to feed her longtime cherished pet, a nine-year-old Lhasa Apso named Bunny. Although Easley had worked for homeless shelters in the area for more than 30 years, she had never been to the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria (AWLA). In July, she made her first visit.
“I hadn’t known about the Pet Pantry there before, but it was perfect for my needs,” Easley said. “I was able to get about a month’s worth of food for Bunny, along with a new leash and harness and a soft bed for her. They were just so nice.”
The AWLA’s Community Pet Pantry has been providing food and other pet supplies to Alexandria residents for years, but demand has gone through the roof as the pandemic has drained people’s budgets. Many seeking assistance have lost their jobs or have seen their work hours drastically cut. In February, the Pet Pantry gave away 384 pounds of food and supplies, but by June the monthly total had soared to 1,853 pounds, says Demetrius Jackson, AWLA Community Programs Coordinator. So far this year, the Pet Pantry has provided more than 7,000 pounds of food and pet supplies to the community.
The greatest demand has been for canned and dry dog and cat food, puppy pads and cat litter — thousands of pounds of it — delivered curbside to people in their cars. Besides the supplies offered in Northern Virginia, the AWLA also provides pet supplies to shelters and rescue groups in southern Virginia and West Virginia that lack resources.
“People are willing to go to great lengths to provide for their pet,” said Joanna Fortin, AWLA’s Director of Community Programs. One man walked more than a mile to pick up food and supplies for his dog and has been in touch since then for additional items. “We want to be able to help anyone who needs us,” she said. “We’ve had some people who were hesitant to ask for help but left feeling encouraged. We’re here as a resource for them, a safety net.”
The food and supplies are donated to the Pet Pantry by the Alexandria community, including businesses that contribute excess stock or hold donation drives. Residents interested in donating items can drop them off at the shelter or refer to the shelter’s Amazon wish list at AlexandriaAnimals.org/PetPantry.
“We’re very lucky that the community wants to help out so much,” Jackson said. “When we have a specific need, we’ll ask for help on social media, and within days, we have what we requested and more.”
Fortin and Jackson operate the AWLA’s Community Programs, which go far beyond the Pet Pantry. The Crisis Care program provides temporary boarding at the shelter for pet owners experiencing emergencies such as homelessness, hospitalization or domestic violence. A partnership with Alexandria’s Senior Services provides “AniMeals” of food and pet supplies to seniors and housebound community members. Relationships with nine area veterinary groups offer vouchers to help pet owners afford spay and neuter surgery, and the Trap-Neuter-Return Program arranges the surgery for homeless cats in order to humanely reduce the City’s outdoor cat population.
Community Programs has also forged partnerships with numerous community groups: pet food and supplies, for example, have been offered at events organized by Alexandria’s ALIVE! food program. Before the pandemic, Community Programs worked with the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority to stage Pet Care Fairs in the city to provide free rabies vaccines, pet food and supplies to area residents. On Sept. 2, the AWLA held its first drive-up rabies vaccine clinic, seeing 23 cats and dogs; additional clinics are planned.
“Our biggest goal is to keep pets in their homes with the families they are a part of,” Fortin said. “Pets are providing such important emotional support for people, and for our Pet Pantry clients, their pet might be the only company they have at home. We would much rather help pets stay with the family they love than have to find them a new home when a lack of access to resources is the only obstacle.”
Jackson said that those who seek help from the Pet Pantry tell him they will do anything to hold on to their pet. “I haven’t met a single person who’s upset, they’re just so grateful,” he said. “I grew up in Alexandria, and it’s really nice to give back to the city.”
The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria is a local 501(c)(3) organization that operates the Vola Lawson Animal Shelter, Alexandria's only open-access animal shelter. In response to the global pandemic, the AWLA has initiated a virtual adoption process that has seen adoption of dozens of pets and is operating a Pet Pantry that has provided more than 7,000 pounds of pet food and supplies. The AWLA also offers assistance to Alexandrians with questions about wildlife and animals in the community. More information can be found at AlexandriaAnimals.org.