09/15/2011 12:05 am ET Updated Nov 14, 2011

Animals With No Place to Go... But Home

In late July, I drove our rescue truck 300 miles to West Virginia to help two shelters with overwhelming problems. One shelter in the northeast mountains of the state had an achingly high euthanasia rate. The other, a little closer to the Maryland border, had just lost the use of an entire building when they lost their animal control contract, leaving over 100 animals with literally nowhere to go.

Which is exactly why we went. Caring for and finding homes for animals with nowhere else to go is what we do at the Washington Animal Rescue League. Both in our own community, and virtually anywhere else that our help is needed.

That day, we brought nearly 30 animals back from these two shelters, and we sent our truck back 600 miles later to get even more. We would have liked to have emptied out both shelters, but there is only so many one truck can hold. And one shelter's dogs were all so big that, even by removing the dividers in our cages, we only had room for four of the largest ones. But we squeezed in all the animals we could, including Betty, a four-month-old mixed lab puppy who was slated for euthanasia by the shelter that had simply run out of room.

Back in Washington, Betty and the other dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens all went through our Medical Center for complete veterinary evaluations, vaccinations, and any special care they needed. Then our behavior and training team started their behavioral rehab with a temperament assessment to help our adoptions staff match them with the right adopters. And when the team ran into any behavioral problems that might be obstacles to adoption -- or cause the animals to be returned from their adoptive homes -- they drew up plans to correct the problems through enrichment and positive reinforcement training.

Finally, when these animals were ready to meet adopters, we moved them into our adoption area, just in time for the 33-hour, non-stop Adopt-A-Thon we held in August. We opened our doors at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning and didn't close them again until 8 p.m. Sunday evening. By that time, we had nearly emptied our shelter, uniting 119 rescued animals, who had previously been neglected, abandoned, abused, or some combination of the above, with happy families. Almost all of these West Virginia animals were among the lucky ones who found the new homes and new lives they deserved that weekend. Scores of excited families were enriched by the addition of their new best friend. And our League family grew accordingly.

But that's not the end of the story. We always send animals home with more than a leash or a cat carrier -- our "alumnae" come with a virtual life-long membership card that makes them a permanent part of our family. We guarantee our support in any way we can give it: medical, behavioral, emergency housing, even food and supplies in hard times. Everyone who adopts an animal from the Washington Animal Rescue League also adopts all of us.

Some people might think that this is a lot to go through for the sake of some animals nobody wanted. But they might feel differently if they had ever looked in to the faces of the hundreds of dogs and cats in the overcrowded shelters we visit to pick up animals for transport. On these visits, we know that we never have room for all of them. And we know that three to four million homeless animals are euthanized each year in the United States simply because people do not care enough. Something has to be done.

Happily, we are not alone in helping these animals, who really do not have anywhere else to go. Our shelter, with its full-service Medical Center and professional behavioral rehabilitation team, is funded entirely through private donations. At least 200 volunteers give their time to help our animals, and thousands of adopters open their homes to our cats and dogs each year.

As I often say, homeless animals need all the friends they can find. I invite you to become one of them. Through your donations, your gift of volunteering, and most importantly, adoption, you can make a profound difference in the lives of animals whose futures depend entirely on the kindness of people.

And if you're still wondering if it's worth all the effort, I wish you could have been here when Betty, the lab puppy whose future once hung by a thread, walked out of our doors and into her new life with her beaming adoptive family. That precious moment would have convinced even the most skeptical heart that there are very few things more rewarding than animal protection work.