Charity Spotlight: Homeward Trails

by Editorial

Founder Sue Bell and her team provide shelter to homeless cats and dogs.
By Kinne Chapin

Kelly, a Homeward Trails Alumni Dog. (Photo courtesy of Homeward Trails)

Whether you’re a cat person, a dog person, or one of those rare fish people, most people have a connection with animals. Our pet’s status as “man’s best friend” makes it all the more difficult to remember that hundreds of cats and dogs throughout Washington, D.C. receive improper care from their owners or face euthanasia at animal shelters without sufficient resources. Luckily, many of these animals will find a second chance through Homeward Trails Animal Rescue, an Arlington-based animal shelter dedicated to giving dogs and cats a safe place to stay until they find an adoptive home.

Because Homeward Trails hopes to eventually ensure that all dogs and cats in the District have a safe and permanent home, it houses animals through foster families rather than running a brick-and-mortar shelter. Using a foster program ensures that each animal is guaranteed a place to stay until adoption. Additionally, it allows the number of animals Homeward Trails can save to be as unlimited as the people willing to foster them.

But Homeward Trails isn’t just focused on getting dogs and cats into permanent homes – it also seeks to guarantee their new homes are happy ones. The organization does a background check on all prospective owners and requires them to spay or neuter any of their existing pets before they can adopt a Homeward Trails pet. The organization even helps owners after they take their pets home by offering them low-cost pet insurance and a free dog training consult.

Think you’re ready to adopt or foster? Take a look at the furry faces on the Homeward Trails website and you won’t be able to pick just one.

Washington Life: What is Homeward Trails’ mission?
Sue Bell: Homeward Trails Animal Rescue is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that provides pet adoption in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland. We find homes for dogs and cats rescued from high-kill animal shelters or whose owners could no longer care for them or were found as strays. Homeward Trails seeks to find permanent adoptive homes in the Mid-Atlantic Region for dogs and cats from high-kill shelters or whose owners can no longer care for them. In so doing, we seek to reduce the rate of euthanasia of adoptable animals through the rescue and placement of homeless animals; to support proactive spay/neuter practices; to promote positive and ongoing behavioral training; and to educate the public about how to care for their animals in a humane way. Homeward Trails not only facilitates adoptions from local shelters, but also supports a large network of foster care providers who take homeless dogs and cats into their homes, care for them, rehabilitate them when needed, and prepare them for their permanent adoptive homes.

WL: How were you founded?
SB: Homeward Trails started by accident! In December 2001, I was vacationing in Fayette County, West Virginia, when I happened upon the local animal shelter. During a quick stop to drop off biscuits, I was told the sad history of this shelter. Their facility had been hit by a flash flood a few months prior, drowning more than 50 animals. Now operating out of a small trailer, the shelter had little space to house the animals and the euthanasia rate was almost 98%.

My husband and I decided to rescue three dogs that day, setting into motion a future no one could predict. Once back in the D.C. area, the three dogs – Brown Dog, Black Dog and Lucy – were “put up for adoption” via e-mails to friends and ads in local papers. In just one week, all had homes. But the calls and e-mails kept coming from folks asking me to help them find a pet.

Recognizing a demand from local animal lovers and a large supply of animals in Fayette County, I began driving the six-hour, one-way trip every weekend to bring dogs and cats back to D.C. for adoption. At first, the goal was just to rescue 50 animals in honor of those that drowned in the shelter flood.

Now, 10 years later and more than 10,500 animals rescue, Homeward Trails is going strong and has no plans of stopping until every homeless dog and cat out there can be assured of a loving home.

WL: How can D.C. locals get involved?
SB: Homeward Trails has rescued over 10,000 animals through an amazing network of dedicated volunteers who perform a variety of tasks that help save the lives of dogs and cats in need. Volunteers are critical to our success and perform many vital functions at Homeward Trails, including fostering dogs and cats, visiting the homes of those who want to adopt pets, and helping with events.

You will find a number of opportunities that allow you to participate in a meaningful way with the flexibility to participate as your schedule allows:

• Fostering – Provide a temporary home for a rescued animal until a permanent one can be found.
• Conducting home visits – Ensure a potential adopter’s home provides a quality environment for our animals.
• Transportation – Drive animals from our shelter partners, to and from adoption events and medical visits, and help meet transports when they arrive.
• Events – Provide support for adoption events and/or special fundraising events throughout the year. To check out some of our upcoming events, go to our Events Page.
• Fundraising – help us raise needed funds to keep going!

WL: What sets you apart from other D.C. nonprofits?
SB: Homeward Trails has been around for 10 years, slowly growing to incorporate valuable partnerships with pet professionals that have allowed us to rescue more and more animals while also always maintaining a high level of quality care for every animal that we take in. We never, ever compromise the quality of care for the animals we rescue. Homeward Trails also has full and part-time paid staff which helps ensure our longevity and consistent staffing – further ensuring that our animals will have the safety net of Homeward Trails for their entire lives. Homeward Trails also maintains a physical office and partners with local daycare boarding partners, allowing us to rescue more dogs and provide fun, active care for them while they await foster and adoptive homes.

WL: Finish this sentence: I want people in D.C. to know that…
SB: Hundreds of puppies and kittens, as well as perfectly healthy, adoptable adult dogs and cats are euthanized every single day in shelters all around the D.C. area. The myth that purebreds, young animals and those with no issues are never euthanized is simply wrong. I can assure you that our shelter partners euthanize more than 1,000 puppies and kittens annually simply because they run out of space… Finally, you must spay and neuter your pets.

Just after Homeward Trails won a fundraising contest, helping to secure $20,000 in donations for their animals. (Photo courtesy of Homeward Trails)

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