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Stray and Surrender: HRA works to reunite families and find new homes

The Humane Rescue Alliance takes in more than 10,000 dogs and cats each year. The majority of these animals come in to us as stray or surrendered animals. We are dedicated to providing a safe space and the best care for all of DC’s animals until they are either reunited with their family or adopted into new families.  

Stray animals come to us in several different ways: Animal control officers respond to calls of animals running at-large or who may be injured, lost, or needing assistance; or caring members of our community may find an animal who doesn’t appear to have an owner with them and bring them in to us. HRA is an open-access shelter and will take in any animal that appears to be a stray in DC and do everything we can to find their family.  

When an animal comes in as a stray, our first step is to scan them for a microchip. If the animal is microchipped, we begin the process of tracing the microchip information to track down an owner. Having an animal microchipped is a quick and inexpensive procedure and a great line of defense to ensure that lost animals can make it home. Next, we check if the animal has any type of identification such as a collar, rabies tag, or ID tag.  We can use the information provided on these to try and locate an owner.

Finally, we search our database to see if we have received any reports of lost animals that match the description of the incoming animal. If we locate a match, we make every effort to contact the owner and get their pet back home. 

We vaccinate all animals upon intake to help keep them healthy during their stay with us.  

If we are unable to find an owner at the time of intake, we place the animal on “stray hold,” a period that gives owners of lost animals an opportunity to contact our shelter. Animals with some sort of identification (microchip, rabies tab, or ID tag) are held for seven days. If the animal does not have any ID we will hold them for five days.  

Once the stray hold period is complete, we initiate a behavior assessment on the animal. This allows HRA staff to take a snapshot of the animal’s behavior and decide what type of home and lifestyle the animal will thrive in. We then, if necessary, spay/neuter the animal, microchip them, and address any medical needs they may have, so they are ready for a happy and healthy life!

Animals become strays for many different reasons. Sometimes, it may be as simple as a cat slipping out the door, or a child can leave the back gate open and a puppy runs off to chase a squirrel. At HRA, we see many ways animals may get separated from their families and our mission is to help them get home safely. Seeing a family reunited with a lost pet is one of the most rewarding feelings we can have as animal welfare professionals. Without shelters like ours there wouldn’t be a safe place for these animals to stay while waiting for owners to find them.  

Another way many animals enter our shelter is through owner-surrender. For various reasons, a pet owner may no longer be able to keep or care for their pet. Life is full of changes, some easy and some difficult; an unexpected medical treatment the owner cannot afford, a new property manager who won’t allow animals in an apartment, or a pending move. 

Regardless of the reason, our staff does not pass judgement on people and the difficult decisions they may have to make. Instead, we are here to support our community and provide a safe place for the animal until we can find a new home.  

Prior to surrender, we spend significant time determining if there is anything we can do to help support the pet in the home, hopefully avoiding the surrender of the pet. We do this through programs like HOPE (Help Out, Partner, and Engage), which provides free and low cost medical care, spay/neuter services, vaccinations, training support, and HRA’s Pet Pantry, which offers free pet food and supplies. HRA will exhaust all options before we – and the family – come to the conclusion that surrender is the best option for their pet. If the decision is made, we support the family through what can be a difficult process and then begin the process to find the pet a new home.  

Our staff conducts a behavior evaluation to determine what type of home would be best suited for that animal.  Finally, we place the animal up for adoption, all the while providing them with warm beds, safe housing, lots of enrichment, and daily care. And, of course, outstanding support from volunteers ensures they receive exercise, love and attention!

We work diligently to gather information from previous owners (the pet’s likes and dislikes, is he/she a couch potato or a runner). We evaluate and monitor them to see if they need additional support, whether through medical care or behavior work. Sometimes, these pets benefit from a foster home experience rather than time in the shelter.  

Like people, our incoming animals have a special history. In many cases, older animals may already “know the ropes” of living in a home and are quick to understand the house rules. They can easily adjust and many times may already be housebroken, saving the adopter the trouble of teaching their new pet where to “go.” 

Finding an animal that fits into your lifestyle can make the entire process of adopting and owning a pet so rewarding. You give an animal a new start and, in return, they will bring you years of joy and companionship. Finding new homes for these animals is truly a team effort. At HRA, we would not be able to help these animals if we didn't have adopters who believed these animals deserved a second chance.


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