What I’m Grateful For: “We Will Never Go Back to the Way Animal Shelters Operated”

Covid has been an unexpected turning point in how we treat pets, says Lisa LaFontaine of the Humane Rescue Alliance.

Photograph by Jeff Elkins

This article is part of Washingtonian‘s feature “Gratitude.” We asked dozens of notable Washingtonians as well as our readers: What are you most grateful for? Read some of their responses here.

Lisa Lafontaine

President and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance, which protects and advocates for animals

In a year when so many people have adopted animals, what are you most grateful for?

In the early days of the pandemic, our first belief was that dozens of animals would be surrendered to shelters because families couldn’t care for them. But those animals never really came. The animals [that did come into the shelter] were only with us a few days. Either the owners recovered from Covid or a family member or friend came to get the animal. If this had happened 15 years ago, we may have seen dozens of surrenders. This has been an affirmation of the advocacy we’ve been doing for years about animals’ place in society and their place in the family. I’ve been deeply moved by people not wanting to give up their pets.

There were a lot of people who adopted. What hasn’t been covered as much and what really blew me away was the number of people in the Washington area who volunteered to foster. We had 2,000 who offered to take in animals. We didn’t have enough animals to give to everybody. I’ve thought a lot about why that happened, and I think people felt so helpless and this was something they could do for the community.

What that created was a steady bench of people who could take in animals that never spend time in a shelter. This is the future of our work. We are rethinking everything we do in terms of institutional housing of animals. We are looking at how big we can build our foster systems so animals don’t have to be in institutions again. We will never go back to the way we were before, back to the way animal shelters operated. This has been a turning point.

Executive Editor

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986. She is the editor in charge of such consumer topics as travel, fitness, health, finance, and beauty, as well as the editor who handles such cover stories as Great Places to Work, Best of Washington, Day Trips, Hidden Gems, Top Doctors, and Great Small Towns. She lives in DC.