Some dogs share kennels in the main building. Fulton County proposes to spend an estimated $25 million to build the largest animal shelter in the state (and one of the largest in the country). Their existing shelter, built in the ’70s, is overcrowded and needs renovations. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Fulton County leaders intend to build a new $25 million animal shelter

Eight dogs crowd each kennel in the Fulton County animal shelter, and more are held in cages in the hallway.

The shelter wasn’t built for cats at all, so they live stacked in a separate trailer, some without enough space to have any distance between their litter boxes and where they sit. They share the area with the vets, who spay and neuter cats and dogs in the same outbuilding.

“It looks like a third- or fourth-world facility,” said Robb Pitts, the chairman of the Fulton County commission. “It’s not representative of the progressive county that we are.”

County commissioners agreed last week to spend $270,000 on a feasibility study to find the best site to build a new shelter. They plan to spend an estimated $25 million to build a new, modern facility that’s pleasant for the animals and welcoming to the humans who volunteer there and for those who want to adopt pets.

When the animal shelter was built in 1978, it wasn’t designed for animals to leave alive, said Rebecca Guinn, the CEO of LifeLine Animal Project, the company Fulton County contracts with to run the shelter.

Last month, the save rate was 90 percent — good for the animals, but bad for logistics in the overcrowded facility that also has problems with rats, asbestos and lead paint.

The shelter, built to house no more than 120 animals, had 377 dogs, 29 cats, two gerbils and a hen on site Monday.

In addition to space issues, Guinn said, the current facility is outdated. It wasn’t designed to be open to the public for adoptions, and there’s no area to isolate sick animals.

“This is a really tough environment for them,” she said. “Everything about it is obsolete.”

Plans for the new facility are still in the works, but leaders envision a spacious area with room for each animal to be housed separately, and plenty of room for dogs to play outside. They want space for behavioral modification training, and training services for the general public. And they hope to be welcoming for adoptions.

They’re looking at property near the county’s airport, Charlie Brown Field, and have grand plans for a shelter that they say would be the biggest in the state and cost some $25 million to construct.

But the details will be determined over the next several months, as PGAL, the contractor conducting the study, looks at locations, designs, comparable facilities and animal welfare trends. They’ll finish the study this fall, and the county intends to open the new building in 2021.

“We’d like to leave behind the pound vision,” Guinn said.

Now, the facility is near the Fulton County jail, and any expansion on that site would be hampered by nearby railroad tracks and difficult topography. There’s a steep dropoff at the back of the property that would make it hard to build more. Still, the county is spending about $300,000 to make the space more habitable in the short term.

Construction is currently ongoing at the front of the building, to improve an adoption area, and work was being done on the air conditioning system, and to improve food storage to make it less accessible to rodents.

“The existing shelter, it can only be described as grim,” said Alton Adams, the county’s deputy chief operating officer for public safety.

Pitts will announce newshelter plans in his Tuesday state of the county address, along with other improvements planned at the county airport. While the study is just the first step, he said he is “really excited” about the plan, which is one of the largest new construction projects for the county government in recent memory.

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