By David Pendered
Fewer dogs and cats are being euthanized in Fulton and DeKalb counties now that a non-profit organization hired last year is promoting adoption of animals and counseling for owners who had planned to abandon their pets.
The euthanasia rates in February were about 14 percent in DeKalb and less than 25 percent in Fulton, according to Rebecca Guinn, executive director of LifeLine Animal Project. Historic highs have been near 85 percent at each facility.
LifeLine has been able to reduce the destruction of healthy animals through two major initiatives: Providing offsite adoptions in busy areas within communities, rather than only at the county shelter; and surrender counseling to pet owners who initially intended to leave their animals at a county shelter, Guinn said.
The stat sheet from December shows that 52 individuals who had intended to abandon their animals to the DeKalb shelter decided to keep them after being informed other community resources. In Fulton, several animals were taken to new homes through 10 offsite adoption sessions.
LifeLine won the Fulton County contract for animal services and field operations and began in March 2013. No other group submitted a bid, Guinn said. In DeKalb, LifeLine won the contract for the shelter and started in July; DeKalb kept the field operations program within the government.
Guinn formed LifeLine in 2002 with the specific purpose of reducing the euthansia rate of unwanted animals in metro Atlanta.
“At that time in Atlanta, in a 20-county area, about 140,000 animals were impounded at county shelters and about 100,000 were dying,” Guinn said. “To me, it was a problem that seemed horrific.”
Guinn was a practicing lawyer at the time, specializing in white-collar crime, and eventually took on the animal welfare issue as her full-time job.
LifeLine reported total revenue of $1.48 million in 2012, according to its non-profit tax filing listed on guidestar.com. That’s up from $1.1 million reported in 2009. Total income from 2008 through 2012 was $6.2 million, according to the 990 tax form.
Expenses listed on the return for 2012 include: spay/neuter clinics, $670,584; dog house and kitty motel, to treat and rehab abused animals, $327,127; trap-neuter-return service for feral cats, $69,233; and Guinn’s salary, $56,700.
LifeLine’s statement of purpose to the IRS is simple: “Stop the euthanasia of healthy and treatable cats and dogs in the Atlanta area shelters by promoting homeless pet adoptions, spay/neuter programs and public awareness.”
Guinn said LifeLine implements the mission statement by providing alternatives to the practice of shelter euthanasia as a way to deal with animal overpopulation.
“We have a stewardship for all animals,” Guinn said. “This is a species of animals we created and they are completely dependent on us. We have obligations to ensure their care.
“Our society’s way to deal with animal cruelty was to kill the victim,” Guinn said. “When an animal cruelty case was brought, the dog was usually impounded in the county animal shelter and at the end of the case, because there was no where for the animal to go, the animal was euthanized. The emphasis of our organization is to end that practice.
“We’ve had to make some really hard decisions,” Guinn said. “We are a ‘no kill’ organization, but we still have to euthanize some of the animals in our care.”
This shift in DeKalb and Fulton counties, away from a reliance on euthanasia to manage unwanted animals, has occurred out of the spotlight. That may be because animal welfare is an issue that tends to rise to public attention only when controversy arises.
The last big flap in metro Atlanta was in 2012. A national protest focused on Atlanta and Fulton County for allowing a circus to perform despite its use of bull hooks to control elephants.
In 1984, the outrage was over the death of Twinkles the elephant. Twinkles once lived in Atlanta’s municipal zoo and died not on a Georgia farm, as the zoo first reported, but while performing with a traveling circus in North Carolina. The ensuing controversy resulted in the creation of Zoo Atlanta.