Fulton County opening new $40M animal shelter as communities struggle to care for homeless pets

Officials in Fulton County celebrate the opening of a new $40 million animal shelter. (Sam Gringlas/WABE)

Fulton County is preparing to open a new $40 million animal shelter, as communities in metro Atlanta and across the country struggle to care for huge influxes of homeless animals.

County officials (and some adoptable dogs dressed up in bow ties for the occasion) gathered for a ribbon-cutting on Thursday ahead of an official public opening on Dec. 2.

“We expect that the thousands of individuals, couples and families that visit this facility over its 40 to 50-year life are going to walk out saying wow, this place is incredible,” said Alton Adams, Fulton County’s chief operating officer for Justice, Public Safety and Technology.

Shelter Director Audrey Shoemaker hopes a more welcoming facility will help more pets find homes.

“Finally, people can come and visit, see what’s going on, they can actually see the dog,” she told WABE. “That’s going to make it a lot easier for us to operate.”

The new, state-of-the-art Fulton County Animal Services facility includes a veterinary clinic, 33 play yards, three surgery tables, a dog maternity room, separate ventilation systems for sick animals, as well as more natural lighting and better acoustics to improve the well-being of the animals.

The 50,000-square-foot shelter will be able to house 376 dogs, 99 cats, 12 small animals, 18 chickens and six livestock. 

Rory Hawkins, known as Catlanta, painted a mural at the front entrance of the new shelter. (Sam Gringlas/WABE)

Shoemaker, who’s been with the shelter for a decade, says the current facility was built in the 1970s to house up to 80 dogs and had become a challenging environment. At one point this summer, 400 dogs had to be squeezed inside.

“The community is I think probably a little tired of hearing us say crisis. It could not be truer,” Shoemaker says. “It’s really, really reaching new levels of frankly being pretty scary.”

The number of homeless animals has kept growing since the pandemic.

“One of the reasons we see people surrendering their pets is housing,” Shoemaker says. “Inflation is certainly at play. When people struggle, our animals are going to struggle as well.”

The cost of veterinary care has also been going up. And as the pandemic subsides, more people are traveling and deciding they no longer want to care for a pet.

In neighboring DeKalb County, some advocates are encouraging officials to reconsider their shelter’s no-kill policy, saying severe overcrowding is creating inhumane conditions as intakes keep rising and adoptions decline. No-kill shelters typically euthanize less than 10% of animals.

The non-profit Lifeline Animal Project operates both shelters.

But Shoemaker says she believes the right approach is to focus on programs that target the root of the problem, like expanding spay and neuter services, pet food banks and affordable veterinary clinics so fewer pets end up homeless in the first place.

Lowering the barriers to adoption is also key, she says.

Fulton County is hoping to find homes for all the animals living in the old facility before moving over to the new one at 1251 Fulton Industrial Blvd. in Atlanta, so adoption fees will be waived at all Lifeline locations from Nov. 24-27.