‘It’s bad’ | Overcrowded metro animal shelters are in crisis mode

Intakes are up and adoptions are down, as agencies implement new programs to encourage adoption. Here’s how you can help.
Published: Oct. 10, 2022 at 12:36 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Two of metro Atlanta’s largest animal shelters are in crisis mode as intakes are up and adoptions are down. It’s a startling trend being seen across the state and here in the metro area.

One non-profit, Best Friends Animal Society, estimated 181,000 animals entered Georgia animal shelters last year and 14,000 of them were euthanized.

At Fulton County Animal Services, some dogs are now being housed in crates as every kennel is full, sometimes with three dogs sharing one space.

“Everybody is full, beyond full,” LifeLine Animal Project’s Michelle Harmon said. “We are passed code red. It’s bad.”

The Fulton County Animal Services shelter was built in 1978 to accommodate 85 dogs. Right now, it houses more than 300 dogs.

The Fulton County Animal Services shelter was built in 1978 to accommodate 85 dogs. Right now,...
The Fulton County Animal Services shelter was built in 1978 to accommodate 85 dogs. Right now, they more than 300 dogs.(Rachel Polansky)

The Reason

Harmon said adoptions are down 19% compared to pre-pandemic statistics.

Harmon insists these are not dogs that were adopted during the pandemic. “We would know because we microchip our animals. So, if an animal left during Covid, we would find the microchip and we’re not,” she said.

But Harmon believes the surge in surrenders is pandemic related.

“A lot of people are losing their jobs or losing their housing or having to move to places that don’t allow pets or places that have higher rent or higher pet fees,” Harmon said.

Atlanta News First Investigates watched first-hand as a man surrendered his dog. He said he didn’t have the space to keep him.

“The whole housing issue; you move from one place to another, sometimes it doesn’t work,” he said. “I want her to be treated well. I’m not the type to leave a dog on the street.”

New Programs

To help relieve overcrowding, LifeLine has created new programs like “Take 48.″ The program encourages people who find lost pets to keep them for 48 hours, and asking them to post on social media and walk around the neighborhood looking for the owner, instead of immediately taking the lost animal to a shelter.

“Fulton is a huge county,” Harmon said. “So if you found the dog all the way across the county, the chances of the owner thinking to come here to look for it are less.”

To encourage more adoptions and help with shelter overcrowding, LifeLine’s “Friendly Finders” program provides resources and supplies for those willing to help foster or adopt a stray.

To help relieve overcrowding, LifeLine has created new programs like Take 48 and Friendly...
To help relieve overcrowding, LifeLine has created new programs like Take 48 and Friendly Finders.(Rachel Polansky)

“They really make it almost low cost to no cost for the person fostering and adopting,” Michael Petersen said.

Petersen participated in DeKalb County’s Friendly Finders program two months ago after he found a stray dog without a collar. “They literally gave me a crate and a collar and food for the first five days,” Petersen said.

After the stray-hold period expired, Petersen adopted the dog, named her Millie and now has a new best friend. “The connection was just there,” he said.

Meanwhile, construction is underway on a new Fulton County Animal Services shelter which will bring more space, including more indoor and outdoor kennels and play yards.

Dog Breeds in Shelters

Genetic testing is not a common practice for most shelters. During intake, dogs are labeled based on their appearance.

Staffordshire Bull Terrier known as “Pit bulls” are a very common breed in shelters across the country. According to BARK, each year 1.2 million dogs are euthanized, of those 40% are pit bulls.

“Of all the common dog types to appear in shelters, Pit Bulls are by far the most likely to be euthanized, while they’re only the third most likely to be adopted,” BARK said.

Embark, a canine DNA testing company, says from nearly 1 million dogs with mixed-breed ancestry they’ve tested in North America, 14.8% have American Pit Bull Terrier in them.

“It’s important to note that there’s no scientific evidence behind the negative stereotypes of the APBT and Pit Bull mixes. Several organizations, including the MSPCA-Angell in Boston, are working to debunk myths about the misrepresented breed. At Embark, we believe that all dogs are good dogs,” said Ryan Boyko, Embark’s co-founder and CEO.

Walking around the Fulton County Animal Shelter, Atlanta News First Investigates saw many pit mixes, as well as huskies, labs, shepherds, beagles, and a lot of others.

As for Millie, Petersen says when he took her home, he didn’t know what breed she was. On top of that, he didn’t know anything about her health history. He just hoped she would be able to live a happy and healthy life.

“I used a random dog scanner app and it said Carolina dog,” Petersen explained.

Embark provided Atlanta News First with a DNA kit. The results are not what Petersen expected.

The results for Millie, not a Carolina dog, but Embark found she is 28% American Pit Bull Terrier, 21% Labrador Retriever, 15% Chow Chow, 10% Siberian Husky, 10% German Shepherd, 7% Vizsla, and 6% Weimaraner.

“Pits get a bad rap. I knew she was a mutt, but the results are interesting. I’m just happy to know,” Petersen explained.

With more than 1 million dogs in their database, they say about two-thirds are mixed, many having four or more breeds in them.

“Every day, we hear from Embark customers who are surprised by their dog’s breed results,” Boyko said.

The Embark DNA kit also came with a health report that calmed Petersen’s worries. It tested variants for over 200 genetic conditions. Of those, they found Millie inherited only one variant, progressive retinol atrophy, or prcd. The report went on to say “this result does not impact your dog’s health. It could have consequences for siblings or other family members.”

Click here to take a closer look at dogs who are available for adoption right now in Fulton and DeKalb counties.

Dogs available for adoption
Dogs available for adoption(Rachel Polansky)

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