Reducing shelter kill rates

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

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By Karen Hirsch

I am an animal lover, and I work for an Atlanta-based organization dedicated to animals — the LifeLine Animal Project. Employees here do things like staying up all night to bottle-feed young kittens and venturing into dangerous neighborhoods to save strays, all because they are compelled to help animals.

Founded and led by Rebecca Guinn, LifeLine has been tirelessly helping animals since 2002. LifeLine has performed 65,000 low and no-cost spay and neuter surgeries; provided thousands of free and low-cost vaccines to pets, and rehabilitated thousands of animals at its no-kill shelter.

Recently, LifeLine took over the management of Fulton County Animal Services (FCAS) and DeKalb County Animal Services (DCAS). For an organization whose goal is to end euthanasia of healthy animals in shelters, moving into county shelter management hasn’t been easy. And despite all that is done to save lives, it’s still a numbers game that most Atlantans don’t really grasp.

Here’s the reality: The per capita amount of public funds spent on shelter animals in DeKalb and Fulton counties is about two-thirds less than that of counties considered no-kill, where 90 percent of animals entering a shelter are adopted out. Therefore, LifeLine has to raise money and make up the difference.

Additionally, at FCAS and DCAS, there are enough spaces to house a maximum of 300 animals, but every day, 30 to 40 animals are brought in. That’s 210 animals per week. If the shelter can only hold 300 animals, and 840 are brought in each month — well, you do the math.

So we try to save as many lives as possible. We transfer hundreds of animals to foster homes; we transport animals to shelters in Northeastern states where they are easily adopted; we work with hundreds of rescue groups; and we promote adoptions through “Pet of the Week” stories in newspapers, monthly appearances on TV morning shows and through special rate promotions.

We hold four to seven offsite adoptions weekly. We house some cats offsite in stores for more exposure. We counsel people who want to turn in their pets, offering resources to help them keep them. And we have trainers train shelter dogs weekly to make them more adoptable.

We do everything we can to save lives but, sadly for all of us, it’s still a numbers game.

Granted, we’re making progress. Since taking over management of FCAS in March, the kill rate has fallen — from 61 percent from April to September 2012, to 38 percent during the same period this year. And at DCAS, though the intake rate has increased, the kill rate has been reduced substantially in just the three months LifeLine has operated the shelter.

If the majority of Atlantans would do these things, we could put an end to euthanasia:

– Adopt from shelters instead of buying animals.

– Fix your pet and encourage everyone else to do the same.

– Foster a shelter animal.

– Support LifeLine by making a tax-deductible donation:

With your help, Atlanta can become a progressive, no-kill city.

Karen Hirsch is communications director for the LifeLine Animal Project.

3 comments Add your comment


October 14th, 2013
5:50 pm

Kudos to Ms. Hirsch and other like-minded individuals who give of their time and energy to help homeless animals. There are few more noble causes.

To her excellent list I would add one more: whenever you can manage it adopt a stray animal to prevent it from landing in a shelter. My two beautiful cats, both former strays, are loving and loyal pets. I can’t take in every homeless cat however I do keep cat food in my car. Every one I come across gets fed, if nothing else maybe it helps them have another day of life.


October 14th, 2013
11:43 am

It’s easy to see the passion that Ms. Hirsch brings to this issue and I applaud her for the work that LifeLine is engaged in. I also like to see the fact that LifeLine is attempting to innovate and look for new solutions to reduce the kill rate in these facilities.

Much of the responsibility for these unwanted animals falls upon negligent owners who do not properly care for their animals. While I realize additional resources may not exist for increased enforcement I wonder if more significant penalties for violators who are indentified might have a greater impact.


October 14th, 2013
11:42 am

I’m disappointed to see that the Atlanta Forward Blog has been bumped from the home page. While I realize not everyone has an interest in the issues discussed here it seems they still should get as much importance as discussions of Project Runway, the Falcons and Dumb & Dumber. I realize those of us who attempt to stay engaged can track the blog down, but it seems the goal should be to connect with as many people as possible by locating a link on the home page.