Metro shelter ordered by state to stop taking in animals over severe overcrowding

Channel 2 Action News has learned that state officials have ordered DeKalb County’s 5-year-old animal shelter to stop accepting new animals because of severe overcrowding.

State Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black told Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher that the DeKalb shelter is the only urban shelter in Georgia facing this restriction, but there is some dispute about the goal for the shelter population.

Overcrowded shelters are a national problem, but inspectors from the Department of Agriculture concluded DeKalb’s problem was so severe that it issued an order last month forbidding any new intakes.

At the time, the shelter had more than 500 dogs in a facility built for 470.

“Step number one is to get a handle on the situation, so we had to stop intake. The stop order means don’t receive any more animals until you can bring the numbers down,” Black said.

The question now is, how much does DeKalb have to reduce the number of dogs to satisfy the state?

Shelter officials and supporters say the overcrowding isn’t a surprise even in a state-of-the-art facility that opened just five years ago.

“You have the aftermath of COVID. You have inflation. You have the housing crisis. All those have really affected the lives of the animals here,” said Heather Friedman, marketing director for LifeLine Animal Project, which manages the shelter for the county.

“It’s been a perfect storm,” said Sonali Saindane.

She chairs the citizen advisory committee for the shelter.

The overcrowding was obvious, Friedman said.

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“There were 550 animals in the shelter. We definitely need animals to be in homes where they belong. They don’t deserve to be in shelters,” Friedman said.

But Friedman and Saindane told Belcher they were surprised to learn the state wants the number of dogs reduced to 250 — almost 50% below the designed capacity.

“I don’t know where the 250 came from. What I do know is this is an amazing state-of-the-art facility that has enclosures to house 470 dogs,” Friedman said.

Saindane echoed that conclusion.

“The 250, you know, seems arbitrary, and I’m surprised by that number, and I would like to know where that is coming from as well,” Saindane said.

Black said county officials were not kept in the dark.

“That was not anything that they received in an email or in the mail. That was through a civil discussion of what was the strategy moving forward. That was something that was agreed to,” Black said.

A spokesman for DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond confirms that county officials were aware of the 250-figure target.

Friedman said the shelter has reduced the number of dogs by 30% since the state order took effect, but she and Saindane acknowledge they need help.

“We need the community to help. We need the community to adopt,” Saindane said.

Another problem, according to Friedman and Saindane, is a backup in DeKalb Magistrate Court, which handles cases of animal neglect and abuse.

They tell Channel 2 Action News that there are about 100 dogs, in effect, waiting for their day in court and some have been waiting for over three years.

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