News & Politics

Have More Fun: Helping Animals

If You're an Animal Lover, Help Out at a Shelter

Dana Stewart was too busy to get a dog. She lived on Capitol Hill, worked as a lobbyist, and was studying for a master’s degree. But she missed being around animals. Volunteering at the Washington Animal Rescue League turned out to be a good way to combine that love with her busy life.

Stewart started by helping at events such as adoption fairs, which introduce dogs and cats to potential owners, and eventually became a volunteer dog walker. After seven years, she took a contracting position in the rescue league’s communications office.

She thinks people are drawn to volunteering at shelters and rescue leagues because they can help animals directly: “It’s rewarding to watch the animals transform from scared to death when they walk in the door to wagging their tail with a new owner when they leave.”

Volunteers may be asked to sit petting a formerly neglected dog or cat to get it used to being around people again. Volunteer adoption counselors match people with pets or conduct preadoption home visits. Other positions include cat socializers, groomers, and organizers for events such as fundraisers.

Stewart compares the experience to being a schoolteacher: It can be hard to say goodbye when animals are adopted, but it’s also gratifying to know they’re happy.

Most jurisdictions have taxpayer-funded shelters as well as a network of nonprofit rescue leagues. offers a database of shelters by state. Here are some local organizations often in need of volunteers:

Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, 703-838-4774;

Animal Welfare League of Arlington, 703-931-9241;

Fairfax County Animal Shelter, 703-830-1100;

Humane Society of Fairfax County, 703-385-7387;

Montgomery County Humane Society, 240-773-5960;

Prince George’s County SPCA/Humane Society, 301-262-5625;

SPCA of Northern Virginia, 703-799-9390;

Washington Animal Rescue League, 202-726-2556;

Washington Humane Society, 202-576-6839;