‘Every dog’ in DeKalb shelter at risk of being euthanized, LifeLine CEO says

The number of dogs euthanized in DeKalb each week could more than quadruple under a new plan to reduce overcrowding at the county’s animal shelter — up to 63 per week. At various points in recent months, nearly 700 dogs have been held at a shelter built for 250.“I don’t know how to stress this enough, we’re at a point where we’ve run out of time. Every dog in the DeKalb County shelter is at risk of euthanasia.”, LifeLine Animal Project CEO Rebecca Guinn.On average, the shelter has been euthanizing two dogs each day, she said. As part of a 60-day plan to reduce the shelter’s dog population, that number now could rise to as many as nine dogs each day.Adopt or foster a dog: The DeKalb County shelter is located at 3280 Chamblee Dunwoody Road. The shelter is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.The list of dogs scheduled for euthanasia can be viewed at dekalbanimalservices.com/urgent. To adopt or foster one of the dogs on the list, email urgent@dekalbanimalservices.com

The number of dogs euthanized in DeKalb each week could more than quadruple under a new plan to reduce overcrowding at the county’s animal shelter — up to 63 per week.

LifeLine Animal Project CEO Rebecca Guinn announced the decision Thursday night on a call with members of the county’s Animal Services Advisory Board. The nonprofit, which manages the shelter, and county officials came to the agreement jointly, she said.

DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond called for the meeting with LifeLine officials following a report by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about problems at the Chamblee shelter, which the state has cited for health and sanitation violations more often than all other public shelters in metro Atlanta combined.

Until now, the DeKalb shelter under LifeLine’s management has aimed to keep euthanasia rates as low as possible, a decision some now blame for the severe overcrowding. At various points in recent months, nearly 700 dogs have been held at a shelter built for 250.

Guinn said the shelter is at a breaking point and cannot humanely manage the number of dogs in its care.

“I don’t know how to stress this enough, we’re at a point where we’ve run out of time,” Guinn said. “Every dog in the DeKalb County shelter is at risk of euthanasia.”

On average, the shelter has been euthanizing two dogs each day, she said. As part of a 60-day plan to reduce the shelter’s dog population, that number now could rise to as many as nine dogs each day.

Any dogs who are adopted, fostered, or transferred to another rescue organization will count towards the population goals. Guinn didn’t say the specific number the shelter must hit but said there are 150 to 160 more dogs than they can manage.

On Friday afternoon LifeLine posted a letter from Guinn on the Facebook pages for LifeLine and DeKalb County Animal Services detailing the policy change.

There are now 615 dogs in the DeKalb shelter, and that must be consistently reduced to 450 or fewer, Guinn’s letter said. That means at least 21 dogs a day must leave the shelter “whether through adoptions, foster, rescue transfers, or euthanasia.”

On average two animals a day die at the DeKalb shelter from illness, injury and euthanasia, Guinn said. So if nothing else changes, LifeLine would need to euthanize seven more per day, Guinn said.

Beyond the emotional difficulty, the plan is likely to be logistically difficult, too. LifeLine, which has struggled with staff turnover, doesn’t have enough veterinarians at the DeKalb shelter to perform so much euthanasia.

Currently, LifeLine identifies dogs for euthanasia and puts them on an “urgent” list a couple of days in advance of the procedure. The list goes on LifeLine’s website and is also shared with volunteers, who then begin a frantic effort to find people to adopt or foster the dogs. For weeks, LifeLine’s Facebook groups have been deluged with post after post trying to get urgent dogs out.

It can be a chaotic and fraught process fighting against the ticking clock.

After last Wednesday’s euthanasia list was released, a volunteer realized that two of the dogs were never marketed for adoption before they were put on the list to be euthanized.

The dogs, one of which had been in the shelter since mid-August, didn’t have online profiles where members of the public could see the dog and due to the overcrowding, they were kept in kennels located in non-public parts of the shelter.

Sonali Saindane, the chairwoman of the advisory board, told LifeLine staff that if the euthanasia rates must increase, it’s critical for LifeLine to market dogs before listing them.

Shelter Director Kerry Moyers-Horton told Saindane that generally, when staff makes the decision to add a dog to the list, LifeLine will make sure they have an online profile. But there are instances where a dog won’t be marketed before that point if staff don’t believe they are safe for placement. Dogs in quarantine for biting also don’t have online profiles.

The two dogs with missing profiles both got a reprieve. A foster stepped up for one. The other dog was transferred to LifeLine’s private shelter in Fulton County.

Staff said the issues marketing dogs on Wednesday’s euthanasia list were isolated problems. Still, when the latest list was released during the meeting, there was at least one dog on the list who didn’t have an online profile.

Members of the advisory board and residents who were on the call said they were devastated to hear the shelter will need to euthanize more dogs. Through the end of September, the euthanasia rate was around 7%, up from an average of around 4% between 2020 and 2022.

“Even the rate that it is now, it keeps me up,” Saindane said.

Some on the call asked for an audit or investigation into the shelter’s operations and shared concerns about how LifeLine leaders treat staff and volunteers.

“It is just the most toxic environment,” volunteer Christina Ward said.

LifeLine was founded with a mission of reducing euthanasia and bills itself on its website as a no-kill shelter, a type of shelter that limits euthanasia to no more than 10% of animals.

In recent months, as conditions at the shelter have deteriorated, volunteers have questioned whether a no-kill approach is humane. State inspectors have cited the shelter numerous times for health and sanitation issues after seeing dogs in cages covered in urine and feces.

Following the AJC’s report, Thurmond joined the calls of those questioning whether a no-kill policy was feasible under the current circumstances. His interest in reconsidering the policy was applauded by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, but criticized by The No Kill Advocacy Center, whose director wrote to county commissioners and said no-kill policies can work.

LifeLine also manages animal shelters in Fulton County. LifeLine Public Relations Manager Tiki Artist said the situation in DeKalb will not currently affect Fulton operations.

But Guinn’s letter noted that there are 375 dogs in the main Fulton shelter, living up to 6 per kennel. The shelter has “humane capacity” for 300, she said. Another 105 dogs are in the Midtown overflow shelter.

“Each day, two more animals arrive than leave our Fulton County shelter,” Guinn said. “We must increase outcomes at the Fulton shelters as well.”

LifeLine is adding staff, cleaning resources, more veterinary care and more spay/neuter access in DeKalb, she said. Guinn ended with a plea for more adoption and fostering.

Guinn told the advisory board that LifeLine doesn’t have a no-kill policy.

“I think that would mean we categorically oppose to euthanize. That is not true,” she said. “We do have a no-kill aspiration.”


MORE DETAILS

The DeKalb County shelter is located at 3280 Chamblee Dunwoody Road. The shelter is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The list of dogs scheduled for euthanasia can be viewed at dekalbanimalservices.com/urgent. To adopt or foster one of the dogs on the list, email urgent@dekalbanimalservices.com.

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