In 1944, a small group of concerned citizens in Arlington County, Virginia, saw the need to establish a humane organization dedicated to improving the welfare of stray, abused and neglected animals in Northern Virginia. Led by Pearl and Paul Twyne and Mrs. Hugh Hanna, they incorporated the Animal Welfare League on June 7, 1944. Since the League had no shelter, animals were housed at veterinary hospitals and the members' homes. There was a County-run dog pound in Arlington at the time. The League's initial effort was to raise funds to build a shelter.
The Board of Directors succeeded in borrowing enough money from the American Humane Association to purchase land and buildings suitable for conversion to a shelter. On February 12, 1949, Arlington County, recognizing the League's work, entered into a contract with the League to jointly finance a new shelter. Under the contract, the League agreed to assume a number of County responsibilities, such as picking up injured or dead animals from the street, holding lost animals until owners could be located, treating sick and injured animals and other services. The current shelter building was opened in 1974. On July 1, 1983, the League took over animal control duties from the county and hired three animal wardens.
In 1976, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) began accrediting local humane societies nationwide under a rigorous set of standards for quality animal care, humane education, animal control, cruelty investigation, administrative practices and communication. In 1977, the League became one of the nation's first humane societies to be accredited. While HSUS no longer accredits shelters, the League endorses HSUS' high standards. Key League personnel have participated in HSUS' training programs, including the Professional Education and Training Services Program, to ensure high quality care and humane procedures.
Since 1944, the League has gone from a small converted building to a modern, totally-enclosed shelter designed specifically for the comfort of the animals. The small group of 12 volunteers has grown to over 300. The League's humane work has expanded from the care and shelter of needy animals to include a formal humane education program and community services.