Repeat issues prompt external audit of DeKalb County Animal Shelter

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Two dogs are held in a cage on left and poop is shown on a cage on right at the Dekalb County Animal Services, Thursday, October 5, 2023, in Chamblee. The DeKalb shelter is run by a nonprofit contractor, Lifeline. But lately, severe overcrowding has led to higher euthanasia rates and urgent pleas for people to adopt or foster to get dogs out of the shelter. (Hyosub Shin / [email protected])


DeKalb County is hiring outsiders to conduct an external audit of its troubled animal shelter and the nonprofit that manages it.

Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson requested the audit, saying she continues to receive an “enormous” number of calls and emails about problems at the shelter, which is managed by LifeLine Animal Project. Since the start of 2022, volunteers and state inspectors alike have repeatedly flagged concerns about overcrowding, health and sanitation issues.

Cochran-Johnson said an external review is necessary to put the community’s concerns to rest.

“I want people to know that we are taking action,” she said.

DeKalb’s shelter has run afoul of state regulations far more often than any other Atlanta-area shelter. Most of its issues stem from overcrowding, which can make it harder to comply with rules around health and cleanliness. Inspectors have found cages too small for dogs to stand or turn around, as well as enclosures caked with fecal matter and urine.

Shelter volunteers have told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that animals there are living in conditions that would get a private owner charged with neglect.

Cochran-Johnson introduced a resolution calling for an audit at Tuesday’s commissioner’s meeting. Zach Williams, DeKalb’s chief operating officer, told commissioners the county agrees on the need and is already in the process of hiring an auditor. One should be selected by the end of the week, he said.

LifeLine also backs the audit.

“We are very supportive of the shelter assessment initiative and applaud DeKalb County’s commitment to pets and the people who love them,” LifeLine CEO Rebecca Guinn said in a statement.

LifeLine has managed the county shelters in DeKalb and Fulton since 2013.

The county built a new shelter in Chamblee in 2017 but it’s been over capacity since it opened. It was built to comfortably hold 250 dogs but opened with about 400. At times, it’s held as many as 700 dogs.

As of Tuesday, there were 562 dogs at the shelter, down slightly from 615 dogs in mid-October when LifeLine announced the shelter would substantially increase the number of dogs it euthanized for space as part of a plan to reduce overcrowding. Their goal was to get the population down to 450.

The county has paid LifeLine roughly $30 million since 2013. Commissioners OK’d a one-year contract extension for $5.7 million in September and have pledged money for an overflow shelter. DeKalb is also in the process of developing programs designed to help owners with financial hardships keep their pets.

The auditors will investigate whether adequate animal services are being carried out, as well as make recommendations for improved quality of care.

Read the article on The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.