Finding Forever Homes: FOHA’s Story

Finding Forever Homes: FOHA’s Story

Nearly 50 years ago, Anne Lewis took a stray dog to a local shelter, hoping it would find a loving home. When Lewis went back to check on the dog, to her horror, she found it had been euthanized.

“That got her mission rolling,” said Tracey Griffith, Friends of Homeless Animals’ Program Manager, the group Lewis founded to prevent another animal from suffering the stray’s fate.

That mission continues in several Northern Virginia adoption events coming up this spring. FOHA members will help out on April 29 at Happy Hound in Lansdowne, hoping to further the work of a group that’s given homes to tens of thousands of animals.

The experience with the stray dog left  such an impact on Lewis she got involved in animal rescuing, and she dedicated her next 32 years to the cause before passing away in 2005. She wanted to support a shelter with a strict no-kill policy, but when she couldn’t find one, she decided to create her own. Thus, Friends of Homeless Animals (FOHA) was born.

Founded in 1973, FOHA has saved thousands of dogs and cats. The FOHA facility sits on 40 acres in Aldie and includes walking trails, three play yards for dogs, three buildings of kennels, two catteries and a welcome center.

FOHA receives new animals every other week and is now home to around 100 dogs and 20 cats — with more dogs and cats in foster care. All new intakes are quarantined for two weeks while they go through a number of tests and observations to make sure they are not sick and suitable for adoption.

The group also takes animals from other shelters across the state and sometimes farther. Once an animal comes to FOHA, they remain with the organization until they are adopted. An average stay is around three months, but some dogs and cats spend years at the shelter.

Griffith said. “No matter what the situation, they stay with us,” Griffith said.

Andre, a five-year-old hound, is available for adoption at FOHA. Photo/FOHA website.

Buckley, a three-year-old English Coonhound, ended up at FOHA when his owners broke up.

That included Goldie, a Hurricane Katrina dog that lived at FOHA for 12 years in the facility’s Senior Village. Other dogs like Andre, 5, and Buckley, 3, have both been at FOHA for over a year, Griffith said. Some dogs like Rosalyn, 13, were adopted from FOHA, but came back — in her case, 10 years later.

Rosalyn, a 13-year-old lab mix, has been at FOHA around two years.

Likewise, FOHA has housed hundreds of cats in the past few decades. If they have the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), they’re placed in a separate facility. Volunteer Melanie Miller said there are several misconceptions surrounding FIV which often contributes to FIV positive cats staying at shelters longer and ultimately being euthanized.

Unlike human HIV, cats don’t need medication to stay healthy and they live just as long, Miller said.

Miller has four cats of her own and is also fostering an FIV positive cat and has had no problems. She said many vets now inform perspective adopters that FIV is nothing to worry about.

“Our guys fly off the shelf now,” Miller said.

The several dozen cats live in large groups with each other at the multi-room catteries. This communal living can leave some cats intimidated, but Miller said even the shyest ones will open up once they’re at a home. After cats are adopted and taken out of shelter environments, their coats improve and their personalities blossom, she said. Unfortunately, some cats like Izzy have been at the shelter for years, waiting for their forever home.

Izzy was dropped of at FOHA in a cat carrier with a note asking staff to take care of her. Photo/FOHA website.

“When cats come home, they become their true selves,” Miller said.

Since the organization is a nonprofit, staff is minimal, Griffith said. FOHA operates with three managers among a 13-person staff, as well as nearly 100 volunteers.

There are several volunteer opportunities for dog walking, cat socializing, grounds keeping, animal transportation and adoption events. The staff says it appreciates all volunteers.

FOHA also relies on public and corporate donations. Some people have left money for the organizations in their wills or even set up trusts. Community members have also fundraised for the organization and continually donate supplies. People can also set up FOHA as a beneficiary on Amazon Smile, which allows customers to allocate a portion of every purchase to the shelter.

For those looking to adopt, Griffith recommends they fill out an application, even if they don’t have a dog or cat in mind yet. The adoption process takes about a week once the application is approved, as volunteers and staff process the information, plan a home visit and contact vets and landlords, she said.

The facility is open to the public Friday through Monday from noon to 5 p.m. and also participates in adoption events across Northern Virginia. Potential adopters can contact the shelter for the exact address.

The event at Happy Hound runs from 11 a.m. till 3 p.m. Other events include 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 6 at the Pet Fiesta at the Reston Town Center and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 13 at Breaux Vineyard’s Dog Day Event.