Rebecca Guinn is founder and CEO of LifeLine Animal Project, the non-profit organization that which manages both the DeKalb County and Fulton County Animal Services. In this file photo she holds a puppy at DeKalb’s then-new animal shelter. (CASEY SYKES / CASEY.SYKES@AJC.COM)
Photo: Casey Sykes
Photo: Casey Sykes

Advocates concerned new proposal undermines progress at DeKalb animal shelter

Animal welfare advocates are sounding an early alarm about DeKalb County’s plans to negotiate a new contract for operations of its animal shelter. They worry that years of progress leading to more pet adoptions and less euthanasia might be undermined by provisions the county has floated adding to any new agreement.

One new provision would require animals to remain in the shelter longer before they are released to third-party rescue organizations, another requires these rescue groups to give DeKalb County more data about where animals end up and a third would potentially add a new layer of bureaucracy over shelter operations.

VIDEO: Previous coverage on this issue

The shelter says it's averaging more than 700 animals a month.

“We were surprised by the new language added into it, mainly because we were not sure why it was added and how it would have a positive impact on life-saving,” said Sonali Saindane, chairwoman of the DeKalb County Animal Services Advisory Board, an oversight group of residents appointed by elected officials.

Lifeline Animal Project’s five-year contract to operate the shelter in Chamblee was set to expire in June, but the Board of Commissioners approved an extension through November. At the same time, county staff began drafting a Request for Proposals to seek out companies interested in running the animal shelter and related services for the next few years.

The Animal Services Advisory Board got an early look at the draft, and its contents eventually leaked out to the larger community of animal advocates. Several portions were panned.

“Initial reviews of the proposed RFP indicate cause for concern on several fronts related to adoptions, transfer to rescues, and euthanasia policy,” the group Advocates for DeKalb Animals wrote on its Facebook page.

Among the concerns is a provision extending the amount of time animals must be held at the shelter before they are released to rescue groups from three days to six. The county said that will give the public more time to adopt animals before they are scooped up by rescue organizations, but animal advocates say it could increase shelter population and is an unproven remedy.

Another new stipulation requires the shelter to collect more information from rescue groups about where the dogs or cats the take from the shelter ultimately end up. Critics said this data collection could be considered an invasion of privacy and cause rescue groups to avoid working with DeKalb’s shelter.

A third complaint centered around the county’s decision to appoint an employee, likely from its Code Enforcement division, as program manager over the shelter. That change, opponents said, could undermine Lifeline’s autonomy and progress made over the past few years.

Sisters Ella, 7, and Arrington Boggs 5, interact with Seth, a shorthair mixed kitty at the DeKalb County animal shelter in this 2017 file photo. KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC
Photo: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC

DeKalb County released a statement saying that Lifeline’s contract was extended for five months to allow ample time to receive community feedback and finalize the necessary documents.

“The Animal Services RFP process will continue to be one of inclusion and transparency for citizens and stakeholders in the animal community as the draft is finalized,” the county said.

A spokeswoman for Lifeline said the organization plans to submit a proposal to continue operating the shelter. Until then, the company has declined to speak publicly about the RFP process or any issues that have been raised.

The advisory board vocalized its concerns about the RFP during a presentation to the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday. That included an overview of progress made since 2012 and discussion about where more work is needed to reduce the number of pets that end up at the shelter.

For example, although adoptions are increasing and fewer animals are being killed at the shelter, there are still too many pet owners who are deciding to surrender their dogs and cats. Advisory board members also outlined their concerns about the RFP and suggested fixes.

Saindane said she feels confident that commissioners and CEO Mike Thurmond’s staff are listening and open to changes before the document is finalized in the coming weeks. Eventually, companies will be asked to submit proposals that will be evaluated by the county to determine which one will operate the shelter starting on December 1.

“I think that over time they trust our judgment,” she said. “So, I’m really hopeful.”

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