How Atlanta Animal Shelters are Reaching No-Kill Status

Two of the animal services divisions in the Atlanta area are nearing no-kill status. Here’s how Atlanta shelters are saving thousands of animal lives each year.

More than three million shelter pets are killed every year, because animal shelters are overflowing with lost, stray and surrendered animals. What’s truly shocking about those 3 million animal deaths is that 80 percent of the dogs and cats killed at shelters each year were healthy and adoptable.

The problem isn’t that shelter animals are sick. It’s just that animal shelters can only house so many dogs and cats. Animals that have been in so-called “kill shelters” for too long are euthanized to make room for the daily influx of new animals.

In Atlanta, though, shelters have a different story to tell. In 2013 the nonprofit, LifeLine Animal Project, took over operations at both DeKalb and Fulton County Animal Services. Dekalb and Fulton Counties make up the city of Atlanta, and both departments of animal services were high-kill.

Under LifeLine’s management, Fulton County Animal Services reached no-kill status last year, and DeKalb is almost there*. No-kill shelters save the lives of 90 percent of the animals that come through their doors. Some no-kill shelters turn animals away, but that is not how LifeLine operates. They have an open admission policy. They’re also going beyond rescue work and looking at what’s driving shelter overpopulation.

LifeLine Animal Project has a special place in my heart. Back in 2012, LifeLine was still a tiny animal rescue operating just east of Atlanta. They did adoption events all over town, and that’s where we met our dog, Jenna. Jenna’s story is a heartbreaker. LifeLine saved her and her brother from a hoarding situation in 2010.

LifeLine did extensive training and fostering work to transform Jenna and her brother. When they first brought them in, neither dog would leave their crates. If you put a collar on them for a walk, they’d completely shut down, quivering and huddling in a corner. It took two years of rehabilitation to get these sweet, loving dogs to an adoptable place.

When we met Jenna at an adoption event, she was still a nervous dog, but nothing like the terrified creature they’d rescued two years earlier. LifeLine let us do a long-term foster with her, rather than asking us to commit to an adoption right away. After a month, we knew she was part of our family. I can’t imagine life without Jenna, and I’m eternally grateful to LifeLine for the patience and care they took to save her and her brother.

Jenna, a year after we adopted her from LifeLine Animal Project

Jenna, a year after we adopted her from LifeLine Animal Project

That spirit of rehabilitation is part of how LifeLine is achieving no-kill status in its county shelters. When they took over county animal services, they did assessments to figure out why so many animals were being killed. As you might guess, one of the big problems was overpopulation from strays and surrendered pets. Animals who had undergone trauma were also at risk in county shelters.

Once they had that data, they launched programs to address those issues. They’ve expanded spay and neuter services to reach underserved areas. To address cat overpopulation, which is a huge problem in the Atlanta area, they started the Catlanta program. Catlanta is a Trap-Neuter-Return program (TNR). They loan residents free traps so they can humanely round up feral cats. LifeLine spays and neuters the animals and returns them to the neighborhoods where residents have agreed to care for them. LifeLine also provides free donated food for these cats once they’re back in their neighborhoods.

When you surrender an animal at a LifeLine-operated facility, you don’t just hand them the animal and walk away. They sit you down with a professional who talks through the problems you’re having and tries to find a solution. If you do give up your animal, they try to re-home her right away or find a small rescue to take her.

LifeLine has also expanded its rehabilitation services to reach county shelters with a private rehab clinic for severely traumatized animals like Jenna. They have a volunteer program where people can feed orphaned kittens who normally would be put down. Volunteers can also foster a pet; instead of adopting, they agree to take animals into their homes temporarily. This break from shelter life especially helps nervous dogs by getting them socialized away from a stressful shelter situation. Fostering made a huge difference for Jenna. She would go home on weekends with one of LifeLine’s employees.

Volunteers are a critical part of LifeLine’s work. Volunteers foster animals, take them for walks, bathe them and work at adoption and education events. In an interview with Neighbor Newspapers, LifeLine Animal Project founder Rebecca Guinn said, “Our campaign and goal is to reach that 90 percent threshold in 2016, and we need the community’s help. Everything you do to help a homeless animal can help our mission and make Atlanta a no-kill community.”

If you’re in the Atlanta area and want to get involved, LifeLine has a list of volunteer opportunities on their website.

*Correction: As of April 1st, Dekalb County Animal Services has achieved no-kill status.

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7 Ways You Can Support Your Local Animal Shelter Without Spending a Dime

Main image via LifeLine Animal Project, Jenna photo by Becky Striepe


Richard A
Richard A2 years ago

Thank you for this article.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Sundae F.
Sundae R3 years ago

I wish all shelters could be this way! What a wonderful role model for all shelters!

Sierra B.
Sierra B3 years ago

Thank you Atlanta.

federico bortoletto

Grazie della condivisione.

S Gardner
sandy Gardner3 years ago

We need more people that are like Georgians!

Shirley S.
Shirley S3 years ago

A much better outlook for unwanted animals. Also pet insurance comes in handy.

M s
M s3 years ago

i agree with Scarlett Many people want to keep their pets but can't afford the RIDICULOUS FEES associated with animal vets! its why we don't take our animals to the vets annually for preventable illness We need more facilities like the Atlanta ones!!!!!!!

Elaine W.
Past Member 3 years ago

This is a very encouraging trend and good to know about.