The Animal Rescuer

The Animal Rescuer

Maureen Sosa, 31, Takoma Park, shelter director of The Washington Animal Rescue League

| Published:

I do this for love of animals, but really love of dogs.

I grew up with dogs from the time I was born. I started as a volunteer. I have been here for nine years and have been the shelter director for almost three. I oversee the animal staff, the maintenance of our buildings, our food bank program and animal intake. I communicate with local shelters to try to save as many animals as we can.

When we bring animals in, they get vaccines and a vet exam, and if there’s anything going on, we treat it. Then they get a temperament test, where we see how they react to different situations so we can see what kind of family the animal will be best suited for.

We have an adoption program called “Meet Your Match,” where we place people and animals in different color categories based on personality. It’s not set in stone, but it gives people an idea of where to start: If you run two miles a day, get a high-energy dog that will run with you. If you like watching TV, get a couch potato. The whole point is not just to find an animal that you think is cute, but find one that’s a good fit for you.

Some of the animals come from terrible situations. At puppy mills, the overseer keeps dogs in tiny pens with no human contact and minimal food and water, and forces them to reproduce so the puppies can be sold. You go to a pet store and see the adorable puppies. What you don’t see is the horror behind how they got there. The dogs are so defeated that even getting them to trust us enough to take food is hard.

Hoarding situations are also horrible. We’ve seen people with 30 dogs living in feces and mess, and the animals have never had a friendly interaction with a person.

We have a rehab program to help the animals get comfortable with people, but we don’t ever place aggressive dogs. So sometimes we have to make the hard decision to use euthanasia, which is horrible. It never gets easy. But for the animals that aren’t aggressive, we’ll keep them as long as it takes to find them a home.

I love pit bulls, so for me the highlight of working here was when we had 11 of [Philadelphia Eagles quarterback] Michael Vick’s fighting dogs. Getting to know them was the most incredible experience. They had been through these horrific things, but they were the nicest dogs, and we all fell madly in love with them.

People always ask how I come to work and don’t want to bring all the animals home. Well, the last one I got really attached to, I did take home. But for me, this place is like a second home, so I can fall in love with the animals and enjoy them and be a friend to them until they find someone.

My 1-year-old son already comes to see the animals. I want him to appreciate how amazing animals are, and hopefully one day he’ll teach people to be kind to them.

Tessa Berenson, a former Bethesda Magazine intern, is a junior at Yale University and is from Bethesda.

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