It’s been one year since LifeLine Animal Project, a nonprofit animal welfare group based in Avondale Estates, took over the management of the DeKalb County animal shelter. And, the association seems to be going well.
“I think this has been a very productive partnership,” said DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader. “LifeLine is not only performing to the specification of the contract, they are also achieving great things in reducing the euthanasia rate and placing more animals with loving families in DeKalb.”
LifeLine has been contracted with the county since July 1, 2013. The $2 million, five-year contract allows LifeLine to manage operations of the county shelter, including veterinary care and outreach programs.
According to LifeLine’s founder and CEO, Rebecca Guinn, euthanasia rates at the DeKalb shelter have fallen from a peak of 80 to 85 percent to approximately 20 percent. According to a release from LifeLine, the lowest euthanasia rate on record was achieved in December, with a rate of 13 percent. The DeKalb shelter and the Fulton County shelter, which LifeLine also manages, are now no-kill for cats.
“We are charged by the state constitution to manage the welfare of animals in DeKalb County,” Rader said. “They are a vulnerable population because they have no one but people to depend upon. Being able to compassionately and efficiently care for animals is a unique responsibility of the county.”
Guinn said the shelter, which requires dogs to be housed together, no longer fits the best practices standards in the industry. She said the building itself is the biggest problem, though the county is working towards building a new one.
“Immediately we made some operational changes,” Guinn said. “We wanted to make sure every animal was vaccinated on intake. We changed some of the cleaning protocols and got some diseases under control. On average we did about 20 animals a day–it’s a fairly high intake shelter.”
Other improvements include sprucing up the intake photography area and taking a picture of each animal as it comes into the shelter. The photographs are put online rapidly, increasing the chance that either an owner or an adopter will see the animal quickly. LifeLine also fully implemented shelter software that gives an accurate count of the animals, as well as a central way to access each animal’s health records.
“We are thrilled with the statistics,” said Commissioner Kathie Gannon. “They are definitely making a difference in the number of animals that are leaving the shelter alive. They have been very patient with us as we struggle through our options for a new shelter, and they are making the most of a bad situation at the existing shelter. They have met and gone beyond our expectations.”
Part of the way LifeLine has reduced the euthanasia rate is by offering monthly adoption specials.
Before it started managing the shelter, Guinn said, many people didn’t know about the shelter at all–either that they could adopt there or that their stray pet may have been picked up and placed there by animal control officers. The adoption special for July is $30 for dogs and $17.76 for cats.
The overall adoption rate for the last year has increased by 140 percent.
“We want as many animals as possible to leave the shelter alive,” Gannon said. “[The shelter’s] care and their programming has to be around that mission. LifeLine goes above and beyond the adoption programming with volunteers to care for the animals because you want them to be strong healthy friendly animals so they can be adopted.”
Currently LifeLine is only contracted with the county to manage the shelter, Rader said in the future the county may explore contracting LifeLine to conduct animal control operations as well.
Guinn founded LifeLine in 2002 after finding a dog trapped in a fence in her backyard. After calling animal services, she was told the dog would be taken to the county shelter and, if not reclaimed or adopted within five days, likely euthanized.
“On the fourth day, I went down to the shelter,” Guinn said. “The dog had not been reclaimed, but I was not prepared for what I saw. It was full. To this day I have never seen it that full. There were about eight dogs to each run, easily 400 dogs at that time.”
The fifth day came on the following business day, a Tuesday. The dog was still there, but the shelter was now nearly empty. Almost all of the 400 dogs had been euthanized over the weekend.
“It was one of those moments that changed my perspective and changed my life,” Guinn said. “And now we run that shelter. There is a better way but it took a lot of research. We had to find out what was missing in the Atlanta area; why is it like this.”
LifeLine started out just publicizing the shelters and their animals. Then, it opened a shelter, first for dogs, then for cats in 2004. In 2013, Fulton County animal services went up for bid and, seeing no one else apply, LifeLine stepped in. That same year Lifeline applied for and accepted the DeKalb bid.
Guinn said a lack of low-cost spay and neuter clinics contributed to the rampant pet overpopulation issue in Atlanta. LifeLine now runs two clinics as well as the Spay-Neuter Impact Program, or SNIP, which low-income families can apply for a free spay or neuter for their pets.
They also use a system called trap-neuter-return where feral cats–those cats that are effectively wild and cannot be adopted as pets–are humanely trapped, fixed, and released rather than euthanized. Guinn estimates they have treated up to 22,000 feral cats in DeKalb and Fulton. LifeLine also rehabilitates sick or poorly socialized animals and partners with rescue groups in Georgia and around the country to foster out and adopt more pets.
Contracting with LifeLine, as a nonprofit, has benefitted the county, Rader said.
“When we deal with a third-party nonprofit, it is able to bring more resources to the table, and they compete effectively to get charitable donations,” he said. “Nobody makes charitable donations to government because they have the ability to raise taxes. LifeLine has a unique perspective they bring to the issue.”
Guinn agreed and said their status as a nonprofit may have made them more nimble than the county-run shelter protocols were.
“It’s a lot of work, but as a nonprofit we are able to do some things that the county couldn’t,” Guinn said. “We don’t have any red tape so we are able to implement solutions faster.”
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