Alex and I have a project list a mile long these days, but that doesn't mean we aren't totally excited to take a little time out of our schedule to support a great local organization with a wonderful cause. Saturday, March 8th, marks the third annual celebration of Mardi Growl, a gala fundraising event held to support the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria. We're very excited to attend this event for the first time, and can't wait to share the fun and excitement with you.

In anticipation of the upcoming Mardi Growl event and to learn a little bit more about the organization, Alex and I took a trip over to the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria's Vola Lawson Animal Shelter for an opportunity to meet Patrick Cole, AWLA's Director of Communications and Outreach and to tour their operation. Hey, I'm not going to lie, we were pretty excited about going on a tour of the complex simply for a chance to meet and play with some of their adorable adoptable animals. 

Though we had furry four legged friends on the brain, our primary purpose for the visit was to take a look at and learn more about the wonderful local organization that the Mardi Growl event supports. After all, animal adoption and rescue is a cause near and dear to our hearts (we rescued both Ollie and Lulu), so we'd love to make our readers aware of our local shelter, shelter staff, and volunteers that place their time, efforts, care, and devotion into giving abandoned or sick animals a better life.

The Animal Shelter facility opened in late 2002 in Alexandria's west end after moving from an outdated facility in southeast Old Town. Wendy and I visited the older facility just after moving to the area, and I must say, this new location is leaps and bounds ahead of the old one. Though it was getting dark as we arrived, the following photo should give you an idea of the building's more modern aesthetic.

Upon entering the facility you're immediately greeted by the AWLA's friendly staff and their whimsically decorated lobby. Most typical shelter facilities I've been to in other cities tend to feel stark and cold due to their cinder block construction, hard surfaces, and partitioned areas, but you can tell the staff of AWLA have put a tremendous amount of time and effort into making the entry lobby a welcoming and fun area and not just your "typical" shelter environment.

When we arrived they even had one of their adoptable bunnies, Puff, in the staff area just behind the front desk. He was a particularly outgoing little guy that immediately stood on his big bunny feet when I reached out my hand to say hello.

We began our tour in the smaller animal area of the facility. From a little white mouse named Lulu (how funny is that?) to a turtle named Dude, this section of the shelter brought back so many childhood memories for me. My first pet was a guinea pig named Fluffy, so I've always had a bit of a soft spot for them. I found this cute little guy staring back at me through his cage and it immediately brought a smile to my face.

Beyond this initial area we moved into the cat pen, which is a large room sub divided into dozens of nice sized "cat apartments." One thing we noticed is there were quite a few empty areas all around the facility. Patrick explained that it was typically far more full at any given time, but they've recently had a surge of adoptions, thanks to recent promotions -- a great problem to have. They know more animals will soon be coming, and quickly when they do, but they're all doing a great job effectively placing the animals they have into good homes at a very efficient pace. But until then, the animals that are there currently are enjoying quite a bit of space in areas that would normally serve multiple pets.

On of the cutest faces in the cat pens reminded Alex and me so much of a feral cat we convinced Alex's mother to take into her house about 17 years ago. Our cat at Alex's parent's house has since passed away, but this little grey guy name Ryder is such a spitting image of our little Sooty that it made my heart skip a beat.

As we toured the facilities and learned more about their mission, we also had the pleasure to meet several of the staff along the way. Each staff member was friendly, genuine, and obviously loves the animals they are there to support. At almost every turn it seemed the staff were interacting with one of the shelter's animals, making sure to fully socialize and care for them during their stay. Patrick pointed out how dedicated the staff is to kind and positive interaction, and that interaction of this sort puts the animals in a positive state of mind when they're potentially being adopted, rather than scared or shy. This was particularly evident by one of the volunteer members who was interacting with one of the cats in her pen. If you're like me and animals are your cup of tea, I can't imagine a much more relaxing and equally fulfilling evening of volunteer work.

After touring the cat area we moved into a large play and interaction room where we'd have a chance to meet several of the adoptable dogs they had there that evening. The room was quite large and open and is one of their multipurpose rooms. 

As you can see from the photo, the room has very high ceilings but a lot of underutilized storage areas due to the arrangement of cabinets. Patrick mentioned they were looking for a more efficient way to maximize their storage on a budget. If you can think of a good way, or you have some method you think they might be able to use, be sure to leave a comment here or get in touch with AWLA to let them know. I think they may be better served with some of the stacking builder stock cabinets and a nice step stool to reach the upper storage areas, turning the whole wall into a massive storage wall. No sooner than we started to talk a bit more about storage than we were able to meet the first pup of the evening, Charlotte.  

We were beyond moved when meeting this gorgeous gray goddess. Her story is one to break your heart, but luckily it has a happy ending. On the night of Hurricane Sandy she was left behind a hotel to brave the storm alone. Luckily someone stumbled upon Charlotte before the worst of the storm, and took her in out of the raging conditions. This girl is just a bundle of love, and is still looking for her new home. I think this face says it all. (Update: We learned that Charlotte was adopted this week. Congratulations to Charlotte and her new family!)

We also met a beautiful girl named Annie. Annie's sweet face and bubbly personality charmed us from the get go. She was absolutely full of playful puppy energy and kept grabbing her leash to take herself for a walk. Every time she'd walk past me she was wagging her tail so excitedly that she'd smack me at least two or three times. 

We weren't the only ones smitten with her, and I'm so happy to say that we were there to witness the staff's hard work pay off, as Annie went to her new home that evening. 

The final puppy we met is named Dallas. Dallas is one of those inquisitive and outgoing dogs that can't help but gravitate toward everyone in the room that wants to give a little bit of love and attention. He was working and exploring the room, but kept checking back in every few minutes for a few pets and scratches. You can definitely see a tremendous amount of his personality in his gaze.

In addition to getting a change to interact with so many great animals, we talked with Patrick about the AWLA organization and the various options that everyone has to help support their mission and goals. The best part of our conversation was learning just how many ways someone can support AWLA.   

How can you help?

Near or far, there are ways several ways you can help this special organization with a wonderful mission. 

Come to Mardi Growl - Friday, March 8

This Friday night is the League's largest fundraising event of the year. Mardi Growl, a New Orleans inspired event, will feature a festive night of music, dancing, costumes, a silent auction, and more.  All proceeds from the event directly assist the homeless animals at the Vola Lawson Animal Shelter, so it's a great way to celebrate with a fun party while also supporting the AWLA cause. If you're going and you see us there, be sure to stop us and say hello! You can purchase tickets directly from the League's website.


Won't you consider welcoming a new member into your family? Speaking from experience, providing a warm and loving home for an animal in need is one of the most gratifying and rewarding things in our lives. Lulu and Oliver, both rescues, have brought us joy and love in ways we had never before experienced. Perhaps your new addition is just waiting to meet you?

More information on the adoption process, as well as available dogs, cats, turtles, guinea pigs, rabbits, and more, visit the League's website.


Perhaps now isn't the right time for bringing home a new family member, but you'd still like to get involved? If so, consider volunteering. Your time is needed in a variety of ways, which could include cat socializing, dog walking, special events assistance, and more. You can learn more, and download a volunteer application from the League's website.

Wish List

Before we headed out for our visit I looked around the Alexandria Welfare League's website and found a "wish list" of every day items they're always looking for. The list consisted of various household items the staff use in a variety of ways to keep the animals engaged, stimulated, and well cared for. Initially expected more specialty items, but I was surprised to see things like empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls, new or used towels, blankets, or sheets, and puppy/dog paraphernalia like Kongs and Nyla Bones. 

In the days leading up to our visit I made sure to collect any of the spent cardboard tubes I could find to do our (albeit small) part, and now have a bag set aside for ongoing collection in our house. In discussing their use, Patrick informed us that they use the rolls as a way to stimulate the dogs while giving them treats. The dogs get the rolls loaded with treats and must work to free the treat from the tube. When we were in the room playing with Annie she almost immediately went over to the TP rolls on the table and started sniffing around for a treat. 

If you have a moment and you're local, please be sure to check out the AWLA's "Wish List" page to see if you have some of the items you're looking for laying around your house. I know how much they'd appreciate any wish list donations, and you'd be pulling double duty by contributing to a good cause and de-cluttering at the same time.

As you can see, there are many different ways you can contribute to the League, no matter what your budget or time availability may be. The best part about any contribution is simply how appreciated it is by each and every member of the organization, from the staff members to the animals. 

We want to thank Patrick and the rest of the AWLA staff for taking the time out of their evening to show us around the facility and introduce us to so many wonderful animals throughout our visit. If you're ever in need of a little pick-me-up, take a quick trip out to AWLA or your own local shelter for a quick animal meet and greet. I can almost guarantee you that you'll leave with a smile on your face, and it may be equally as likely that you could leave with a new member of your family as well.

What sort of ways do you give back to your community. Do you have a soft spot for animals the way we do? And what kind of local shelters does your area have? Do they remind you of the AWLA shelter we've outlined? We'd love to know.

Comments 8


3/5/2013 at 10:55 AM
So happy to inform everyone that Charlotte went home on Monday, 3/4!
Oh my gosh, that is WONDERFUL!! Thanks for the update, Patrick. :-)
3/5/2013 at 2:32 PM
Love that guinea pig! One of my cats was a rescue from the streets of DC and the other was adopted from AWLA. Hope you have a good time at the Mardi Growl!
He's quite a handsome guinea pig. I forgot how cute their mouths are!

Thanks Katie, and we'll be sure to share pictures of the big event. :-)
3/6/2013 at 12:31 AM
Charlotte is RIDICULOUS! To stinking cute. Also love Annie's heart-shaped nose!
They were so absolutely adorable, and we're beyond thrilled that both Charlotte and Annie have found their ways to their new homes. (It's probably a good thing, or Mel and Lulu would have to make room for more four legged siblings!) :-)
That’s a REALLY nice facility. I’ve done adoption events for my local shelter… a place that is so overcrowded and depressing, that I invariably spend the next week trying to convince my husband to adopt ALL their animals.

Love that you’re writing about this!
Hi Victoria. Yes, it's an fantastic facility that's so clean, spacious, and clearly prioritizes the welfare of the animals. We hope that by writing about this, we can help show people just how many amazing rescue animals are out there, just waiting for a new home.
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