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 /

In plans for Fulton County animal shelter, some want more prevention

Plans are underway to build a new animal shelter in Fulton County, but for some pet lovers, that isn’t enough.

“I’ve been really disappointed that prevention isn’t part of this conversation,” said Laura Dobson, who lives in Atlanta. “I’m an advocate for a new building. There is no question we need a new building. … You can’t build a building big enough unless you start addressing why they’re there.”

The county shelter was built in the 1970s to house no more than 120 animals, but had 405 dogs and 91 cats on hand Thursday morning. In May, county commissioners approved a $270,000 feasibility study to look at locations for a new building; they intend to spend about $25 million to build a new shelter. The third and final meeting to gather community input on the process was Thursday night.

For many, the experience was enlightening. Atlanta resident Andrew Pofahl said he was glad to see how professional the presenters were; they had built about 1,000 animal shelters and had answers to questions about everything from how the animals would be housed (individually, ideally with both indoor and outdoor access and both clean areas and areas where they felt comfortable using the bathroom) to whether additional private funding is being considered (it’s a possibility).

Kelli Carroll, who lives in Atlanta, said she thought the project was going in the right direction. Atlanta resident David Drolet said he thinks the proposals for the new shelter are progressive and interesting.

“We, as Fulton County, can be a good example for other counties,” he said. “I’m excited.”

But there are others, like Milton resident Shari Cahill, who wanted more. She said most of the audience at the community meeting volunteered at the shelter, and she thought more people who are not so intimately involved needed to have their questions answered and their voices heard.

Kathy Davis and Sara LeClerc, both Atlanta residents, said they had hoped for more information about what the shelter would actually be like. There aren’t any renderings yet, and the final plans have yet to be approved. County commissioners are scheduled to vote on the study’s recommendation for where a new building should be located in October, and commission chairman Robb Pitts said he wants to break ground — at least symbolically — by December. The shelter should be open, if all goes to plan, in the early months of 2021.

“When they’re talking about symbolically breaking ground, there’s a huge gap between that and where we are now,” LeClerc said.

Davis expressed concern that having just one shelter would make it hard to get volunteers — and adoptions — across the county.

“We’re too big,” she said of Fulton. “People don’t want to be in traffic.”

Fulton’s animal shelter is managed by LifeLine Animal Project, and CEO Rebecca Guinn said she was “really enthusiastic” about the questions that were being asked by residents and the progress that was being made. A bigger shelter is an imperative, she said, and more work will be done to reduce the need for shelter and educate people about animals as the county has a better facility in which to do so.

“We’re excited to move forward,” she said. “The county recognizes that something needs to happen and we need the public to support it.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.