On a Sunday morning in December, firefighters responded to a blazing house on Lori Lane in south Fulton County. Working their way inside, they opened a door and found dozens of scared faces staring back at them.
When LifeLine Animal Project, who manages Fulton County’s animal control services and the county shelter, received a call from the first responders, they were told to expect 50 dogs from the home. They ultimately rescued 97, all apparently victims of animal hoarding, according to LifeLine spokesperson Karen Hirsch.
Hirsch says that LifeLine occasionally sees hoarding cases, but “nothing of this magnitude,” and says this the largest hoarding case the nonprofit has seen since they took over managing Fulton County Animal Services five years ago. “It’s just unfathomable that 97 dogs could be living in a house, not even that big of a house,” she says. “One of the animal control officers reported the dogs had actually chewed holes in the walls of the house to get back and forth between rooms.”
The dogs were traumatized and unsocialized, so the team had to use care while examining and vaccinating them once they arrived at the Fulton County shelter. “We had to put blankets over their heads to calm them down while we checked them out,” Hirsch says. “The animals were terrified.” According to WSB-TV, the owner was charged with animal cruelty.
But the sheer number of dogs taken from the home overwhelmed the shelter’s capacity. Over the course of several weeks, LifeLine placed many of the dogs—puppies and young adults, some pregnant—with other rescue groups and shelters, and volunteer foster parents took home many of the more than 300 dogs already living at the Fulton County shelter. About 20 to 25 of the hoarding victims remained at the Fulton County shelter, where employees and volunteers worked daily to socialize and comfort them. As of this week, all of the Fulton County dogs are ready to be adopted.
“They are brave enough now to come up to people, they like to be petted. They just have had no socialization prior to [the last month],” Hirsch says.
For the dogs, rehabilitation involved plenty of positive reinforcement. At first, employees and volunteers would simply sit in a dog’s enclosure, allowing the dog to become comfortable with having a person in their space. Then they began giving the dog treats, petting it, and taking it outside to explore the shelter’s yard. The goal was to show the dog that a person coming to its enclosure is nothing to fear, but rather an indication that treats, affection, and time outside are about to arrive.
“They’re shy,” Hirsch says, “but they’re coming around,” noting that one foster parent reported that after about 48 hours, one of the dogs was “practically on her lap.” They are frightened of leashes and some have to be carried to the yard, she notes. But with a patient owner who is willing to give the dogs time to acclimate to the sounds and smells of a home, they’ll make great pets, Hirsch says.
Owners who can be around a lot, such as those who work from home, would be great partners for these dogs. The small to medium sized-dogs are a jumble of breeds: some appear to be hound mixes, other have longer, stumpier bodies that are reminiscent of corgis.
Anyone interested in adopting one of the dogs can inquire at the Fulton County animal shelter (860 Marietta Boulevard). But even if one of these dogs isn’t the perfect future pet for you, Hirsch notes that the shelter recently added a “matchmaker,” a staff member onsite who can help prospective pet owners find the particular dog that best meets their needs.