The city of Atlanta, Georgia, had long been perceived as one of the most challenging communities in which to make real progress toward no-kill. This was due in part to the patchwork of counties that make up metro Atlanta, a history of neglect by animal control contract holders toward shelter adoptions, and the sheer volume of animals entering the various county systems. Yet, Atlanta is on target to achieve no-kill in 2016, and the remarkable progress is owed largely to the efforts of one determined woman — Rebecca Guinn.
I first met Rebecca in 2001 at the first Best Friends conference (then called the No More Homeless Pets Conference), which was held in Seattle, Washington. Rebecca had a flourishing criminal defense law practice in Atlanta, but after having a personal experience with the deadly dysfunction of the Atlanta animal control system, she wanted to learn how she could be an agent of change.
In keeping with her very practical get-it-done style, Rebecca founded LifeLine Animal Project. Rebecca dived headfirst into the implementation of on-the-ground solutions by initiating LifeLine’s first program, Catlanta, a much-needed trap/neuter/return (TNR) program. This was followed with the opening of a private shelter for cruelty case and special-needs animals. A low-cost spay/neuter clinic was not far behind, and yes, her lucrative law practice was history.
Rebecca is also committed to animals beyond her neck of the woods. When Best Friends deployed to the New Orleans area to begin search and rescue efforts in the immediate wake of Hurricane Katrina, one of the first things that we did was to relieve Bert Smith, Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter director. Prior to the storm, Bert had moved animals from his most vulnerable shelter to the safety of the Washington Parish Fairgrounds in Franklinton, Louisiana.
After the storm, that shelter was dead in the water and Bert was stranded in Franklinton looking after the animals on his own. Best Friends stepped in, but in those first few days we were stretched thin: creating an emergency shelter on the grounds of St. Francis Animal Sanctuary in Tylertown, Mississippi; getting into the flood areas to rescue stranded animals; and holding down the fort at Franklinton.
I was trying to coordinate our resources from our operational headquarters at Best Friends in Utah, and I don’t recall if I called Rebecca or if she called me. But she wasted no time in putting her hand up to do whatever she could to help and, within short order, she had relieved the folks in Franklinton. Rebecca stayed on there in very difficult circumstances until safe haven could be arranged for the animals in her care.
I have never known Rebecca to shy away from a challenge, however unconquerable it may seem. In 2012, she again attended the Best Friends conference, and while sitting through a session on strategies to Save Them All, she heard the stories of others who had stepped up to be agents of change in their own communities. She says she realized that if anyone was going to right the wrongs of Atlanta’s shelters, it was her. So in 2012, she entered successful bids for LifeLine Animal Project to take over animal control operations for DeKalb and Fulton counties, and in a six-month period in 2013, she was awarded both contracts.
After the first full year of operation, Rebecca had banished the ghosts of Atlanta shelters past. She led Fulton County from a 35 percent to a 76 percent save rate, and DeKalb County from a 55-60 percent to an 80 percent save rate — and the progress continues. So far in 2015, both facilities have a save rate of more than 84 percent.
You can hear Rebecca speak and pick her very accomplished brain at this year’s Best Friends National Conference, which takes place in Atlanta July 16-19.
Because of Rebecca Guinn and people like her, we truly can Save Them All.
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