Lifeline Animal Project is an Atlanta-based nonprofit that works to end the euthanasia of healthy animals. Lifeline manages the DeKalb and Fulton County animal shelters and is the largest animal welfare organization in Georgia.
“This is a big shift in animal services,” said Chief Marketing Officer Heather Friedman. “A long time ago dog catchers were there to round up dogs and bring them to the shelter. The mentality has since shifted to focus on keeping animals and people together.”
Founded in 2002, the organization kicked things off by creating an online database of animals up for adoption in local shelters and launched metro Atlanta’s largest trap-neuter-return cat program, named Catlanta. Since then, the organization has opened a rehabilitation facility for homeless dogs, multiple spay and neuter clinics, a cat adoption center, and the Lifeline Community Animal Center, which opened in 2019 to ease the burden of the local shelters. The center offers several services, including a fully functional vet clinic, an adoption area, and lots of roaming room for the dogs to play.
Since Lifeline began managing the Fulton and DeKalb shelters in 2013, workers and volunteers have worked tirelessly to improve conditions and reduce the number of animals being euthanized. Both shelters now operate at no-kill levels, meaning that over 90 percent of the animals that come in are saved. A shelter is considered a no-kill shelter at 90 percent because some animals are too sick or traumatized to live healthy lives. In these cases, euthanizing the animals is the kindest thing to do.
“This is some of the hardest work I’ve ever seen,” Friedman said. “When [team members] have to let an animal go, it’s done with such anguish. They did paw prints to honor the dogs they had to lose. It’s not about a number; it’s about looking every animal in the eyes and trying to do what’s best for them.”
Lifeline also runs a foster program, operates two veterinary clinics, and provides various services to pet owners in need. Services include helping families who may be struggling to pay for pet food or surgeries, or who may need assistance making their homes or yards more dog-friendly.
Beyond this, every spring and fall Lifeline offers free vet care to people in Fulton and DeKalb counties by setting up events in public parks. Hundreds of people show up with their pets to get free vaccines, microchips, and vouchers for free spaying and neutering. The overall goal is to keep pets safe, healthy, and out of shelters.
All of these services have made a huge positive impact on local animals in need, but lately, things are getting more complicated for Lifeline workers and volunteers.
The issue currently facing Lifeline is that more animals are coming in than are being adopted. About 20 to 40 animals come in every day, with the average length of stay at the DeKalb shelter being around 86 days. This number has increased as adoptions have dropped by about 30 percent. In June, the Fulton shelter had 192 dogs adopted, but 210 dogs came in, putting them at a deficit. During a recent adoption day event, 160 dogs were adopted, but 190 were brought in.
One of the main causes of pet homelessness and displacement is the lack of affordable pet-friendly housing. Many people can’t afford houses and instead rent apartments, and several apartment complexes have breed restrictions. This is likely why the most common animals brought into local shelters are larger dogs and restricted breeds.
“Animals are not defined by breed but by the humans that raise them,” Friedman said.
Community members can help by fostering cats and dogs and volunteering to spend time with shelter animals. Lifeline offers foster programs from as short as a day to a period of weeks. Volunteers can also sign up to walk dogs or even take an animal home for a day just to give them a break from the crowded, noisy shelters.
“If you find a lost pet, wait 48 hours before taking them to the shelter,” Friedman said. “Sixty-three percent of dogs people find are a mile from home, [so it’s more effective] to ask neighbors and take a picture to post on Facebook and Nextdoor, instead of immediately taking the animal miles away to the nearest shelter. We recommend pet owners use microchips and collars and tags with ID. Also, Petco has facial recognition software called Petco Love Lost that will compare pictures of your pets to animals in local shelters.”
Lifeline also encourages people to adopt from shelters instead of breeders, who are intentionally creating more animals for profit at a time when overcrowding is already an issue. Instead of focusing on a specific breed, Friedman suggests people adopt dogs based on personality. Lifeline can help match pet parents with animals based on energy levels, personality, medical needs, and other factors to create the perfect pet relationship.
To learn more about Lifeline’s services and how to help local animals, visit lifelineanimal.org.