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Off Leash: Bringing the Holidays Home

In the nation’s capital, a few humane officers spend Christmas bringing toys to forgotten pooches

In Washington, D.C., the winter holidays are a mixed bag. Politicians have flown back home, so Capitol grounds are quieter. The days hover just around freezing but are typically snowless. Lights and glowing plastic Santas decorate some neighborhoods, while other parts of the city remain dark, the only decorations the graffiti on the walls of abandoned businesses. Shoppers fight for parking spaces, kitchens fill with tantalizing smells, and families gather to celebrate and bicker.

Meanwhile, in lots around the nation’s capital, dozens of guard dogs do not know it’s Christmastime at all. For them, it’s just another day tethered in a rocky lot or pacing a chain-link fence patrolling for intruders—or so it was until, more than 10 years ago, a humane officer from the Washington Humane Society decided to play Santa.

While making his rounds back then, Adam Parascandola was struck by the city’s guard dogs. Now the director of animal cruelty issues at The Humane Society of the United States, Parascandola saw them as the loneliest of animals. “Most of them are really sweet, and they just want attention,” he says.

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