For The Record

Metro Atlanta nonprofit brushes aside criticism over free adoptions

By: - August 14, 2019 8:30 am

Six dogs squeeze onto a bed inside a kennel at the Fulton County Animal Shelter in July. The shelter was overwhelmed by the number of animals brought into the shelter last month.

Metro Atlanta’s public shelters are turning to the appeal of free adoptions in hopes of freeing up space after a surge of animals overwhelmed the facilities this summer.

The Fulton and DeKalb county shelters took in a combined 1,850 animals during July. That is hundreds more than even last July, when a spike strained shelter capacity, and it follows a month when another 1,800 were brought into the facilities.

“We’re just hoping it’s a fluke and that things are a little crazy this summer,” said Karen Hirsch, public relations director for LifeLine Animal Project, a nonprofit that manages both county shelters. “One thought is that maybe more people know who we are and are more comfortable bringing animals in.”

LifeLine relies on donations to use a variety of programs meant to minimize the number of animals who are euthanized in metro Atlanta. Hirsch said her organization, for example, spays or neuters dozens of animals every week in Fulton County’s poorest zip codes.

But one of the group’s go-to strategies for reducing its head count tends to raise eyebrows.

When LifeLine recently announced on social media another fee-waived adoption event for this month, the questions quickly followed. Is a free adoption really in an animal’s best interest? Would the event attract people with wicked intentions?

“It’s not so much that people are getting an animal free as they hear about the need for animals to be adopted because of the fee-waived events,” Hirsch said.

Hirsch pointed to national studies that have shown that the recidivism rate for animals adopted without a fee is no different than the rate for those where the adopter paid a fee. She said the same has proven true for LifeLine.

A LifeLine staffer can also decline to adopt out an animal if red flags are raised during the adoption screening process, Hirsch said.

“But it’s never based on income,” she said. “We think everybody deserves to have the love of a pet.”

The last free adoption event was held in June. More than 800 animals were adopted, including 560 dogs, 246 cats and one rabbit.

This “Clear the Shelter” event will run from Aug. 17 to 26. The adoption fee will be waived on all animals at the two county shelters as well as LifeLine’s Cat Adoption Center in Scottdale. The animals are vaccinated, spayed or neutered and microchipped.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.