‘These are very strong words’: Animal-rescue group announces new name

The merger of two Washington animal-welfare groups has produced cost savings and benefits for thousands of animals and now a new name, said the city’s most prominent animal-rescue organization.

The Washington Humane Society and the Washington Animal Rescue League, which merged in February and began operating with a single budget, announced Monday that the united group has rebranded as the Humane Rescue Alliance.

The organization worked with a firm that compiled 1,700 name options, but president and chief executive Lisa LaFontaine said the title she chose wasn’t on the list. She said Humane Rescue Alliance combines the “strongest” part of each legacy organization’s name.

“These are very strong words in the community that meant something to people,” LaFontaine said. “And so preserving those words was important.”

Since February, the organization had been known as the Washington Humane Society-Washington Animal Rescue League.

“Not only was it clunky to have two names, but it just didn’t fit anymore because we could see that we were doing work that was so much stronger and more significant than what either of us had done alone,” said LaFontaine, who headed the Washington Humane Society.

For the new name, words such as “society” and “league” felt too exclusive, she said.

“An alliance assumes that you’re a part of it,” LaFontaine said. “It’s inclusive and welcoming to people. It’s more magnetic.”

Since the merger, the organization has saved $1 million by consolidating space and buying medicine, food, vaccines and other supplies in bulk for lower prices, according to LaFontaine.

The Humane Society moved out of its two former buildings, including administrative offices in Georgetown, after the merger was announced. The combined organization now operates out of two adoption centers, at 71 Oglethorpe St. NW, where administrative offices are housed, and 1201 New York Ave. NE near Gallaudet University.

The Humane Rescue Alliance is in the design phase for a new facility on the Capitol Riverfront in Southwest to expand capacity and serve as the agency’s headquarters. David M. Smith, chief communications officer for the organization, said the consolidation has streamlined operation and administrative functions.

“We’re able to promote animals more widely to a larger audience,” he said. “We are definitely reaching more people.”

The organization serves more than 60,000 animals annually, and since the merger, it has lowered the average time an animal spends with the organization from more than 20 days to nine, she said.

“The longer they stay with us, the more emotionally fragile they can become,” LaFontaine said. “It’s expensive to feed them and provide ongoing medical care.”

The Washington Animal Rescue League, which was the smaller of the two, formed in 1914 and would often provide its more comprehensive veterinary services to animals rescued by the larger Washington Humane Society. The two organizations offered services that were distinct but complementary, LaFontaine said.

The Humane Rescue Alliance may also serve as a model for other animal-welfare organizations that offer similar services. LaFontaine said groups from other parts of the country have asked for advice.

“We feel a huge sense of responsibility to get this right,” she said.

LaFontaine said success hinges, in part, on community outreach, which played into the decision to include words in the new name from the two legacy groups.

“If we don’t focus on the human side of the equation, we’re going to be stuck in the work that we were doing in 1870 when we were founded,” she said, referring to the Washington Humane Society. “We have to make the entire community advocate with us for better care for animals.”

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